Ethan Coen and Joel Coen’s “True Grit” (Paramount, 12/25, PG-13, trailer) was, along with James L. Brooks’s “How Do You Know” (Columbia, 12/17, R, trailer), one of the last two major awards hopefuls to be unveiled — that is, until Saturday night, when it was screened for journalists on both coasts for the first time.
Reactions were strictly embargoed until now for reasons that I don’t entirely understand, since the news is virtually all good. Mine — as reflected in my latest updated projections — are these:
- The Coen brothers — 53 and 56, respectively — have added yet another classic to their impressive filmography, and it just happens to be the best (true) Western since “Unforgiven” (1992), which won the best picture Oscar.
- Roger Deakins’s cinematography is, as always, extraordinary, and somewhat reminiscent of his Oscar nominated work on “No Country for Old Men” (2007), so perhaps the Academy will finally get their act together and throw him a ninth Oscar nomination and a long overdue win.
- Jeff Bridges will, in all likelihood, be nominated for the same best actor Oscar that he won last year for “Crazy Heart,” and for the same part for which John Wayne won his best actor Oscar 40 years ago.
- Matt Damon, who’s as well-liked as anyone in the industry, will probably sneak into the best supporting actor race for his turn as Bridges’ unlikely sidekick, especially considering that he managed to do so last year for the less impressive “Invictus,” but there won’t be enough room for his co-stars Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper, who were also very good but in much smaller parts.
- And — the biggest news of all — 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld totally steals the show and, if my gut-feeling at the moment is correct, will prevail in this year’s weak best supporting actress race. She gives a first-rate performance as a precocious character; hers is easily the largest and most substantive of the parts that have any shot of being nominated (and “the tallest midget” usually wins); she has an awe-inspiring personal narrative (she was picked from more than 15,000 girls who were considered for the part; this is her first feature film; etc.); and she seems very likable and impressive in person (she conducted herself very well during a Q&A that followed Saturday night’s east coast screening of the film, throughout which she and co-star Damon recounted stories and traded friendly barbs). Remember, this is the category in which young people get rewarded: Tatum O’Neal won for “Paper Moon” (1973) when she was 10 and Anna Paquin won for “The Piano” (1993) when she was 11, so it can happen.
One funny note: when the end credits were rolling, I noticed a job described as “Mr. Damon’s abs double” — even though Mr. Damon’s abs are never seen in the film — that was attributed to one “Buster Coen.” Towards the end of the evening, I asked Damon what that was all about, and he laughingly told me that Ethan’s 15-year-old son Buster had served as an assistant to the script supervisor on the set during the making of the film, but had indicated that he wanted a more important-sounding credit than that, and had apparently requested that one!
Photo: Damon and Steinfeld during a Q&A that immediately followed the New York screening for SAG nominating-committee members on Saturday night. Credit: Scott Feinberg.