By Michael S. Palmer
'True Grit' is more than an Oscar-nominated Western by filmmakers Joel and Ethan Cohen starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon and the astonishing Hailee Steinfeld. It's more than a 1969 film starring John Wayne in an Oscar-winning role. Heck, it's more than a renowned novel by Charles Portis. For our purposes, True Grit is a state of being...
A bench mark by which all westerns should be judged (not to say either adaptation of' True Grit' is a perfect film, or the best westerns ever made). True Grit, as defined by 14-year-old Mattie Ross, is being tough enough to take down the fiercest foe. A broken past. A roughian. A darkness. A gritty edge.
True Grit Westerns are films with imperfect heroes and worthy antagonists. Films that feel real in the worlds they present and in the lives at stake. Films that stand alone in their true toughness and badass'dom.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have No Grit westerns. Not necessarily Bad films at all, No Grit Westerns lack a certain toughness and roughness. In one way or another, they're too light around the edges. Too safe, perhaps. Or too comedic. [It should also be said that a "No Grit" ranking also means "Not Enough Grit".]
With that criteria, we embark on the first step of a Blu-ray journey, ranking available westerns as to whether or not they have True Grit or No Grit. I've tossed in some odd sub-genres just for fun; you may be a little surprised about what titles have been included.
No Grit. This might be a controversial ranking -- I'm open to changing it -- but the overall feeling and tone of this film is light and larger than life. For me, it's borderline Grit, falling down the side of too much fun for a True Grit ranking.
True Grit. This iconic western masterpiece looks fantastic on Blu-ray and may be one of the best examples of True Grit. In fact, just about every Clint Eastwood western has some serious Grit.
No Grit. I love Jimmy Stewart, but this movie is more about the Cinerama than being a great western.
True Grit. One of Martin Scorses's favorite Blu-rays, 'The Searchers' is among the first gritty revenge westerns. A departure for John Wayne and director John Ford from their earlier work.
True Grit. Sam Peckinpah is King Grit.
MODERN ERA WESTERNS
True Grit. Every once and a while a western actually gets made in Hollywood, reminding us why they were once the town's most popular genre. '3:10 To Yuma' features great characters who are constantly tested by how much Grit they truly possess.
No Grit. Another borderline ranking... In a movie where a man (Viggo Mortensen) must test his Grit in just about every scene. Yet, for me, the film is a little too safe and clean to be True Grit, which is definitely okay. It's a family film.
No Grit. This disaster of a film fits just about all of the requirements for True Grit except it's boring and makes little sense.
Doulbe-ought No Grit. While the first film may be an adventurous, swashbuckling ride, these re-imaginings of the hero with the black mask don't have much Grit at all.
True Grit. A fantastic, leather-tough Australian western, directed by John Hillcoat, with startling bleakness and realism. So much Grit.
True Grit. Clint Eastwood's Best Picture Oscar winner redefined westerns, given them a fresh life, by showing us what it's like for an older cowboy. Personally, this is my favorite western, and also the western that first got me interested in the genre (I still have so much to see).
No Grit. The Brat Pack goes to the old west. It's violent, but in the end it's a little too Rock N' Roll to be considered True Grit.
True Grit.Everything about this film is True Grit, from the world itself, to Gary Oldman as Carnegie, to the bandits roving the wasteland hunting and killing and... eating.
No Grit. Too earnest and silly to have any real Grit.
True Grit. On the borderline. There's so much over-the-top acting here, but in the end, Mel Gibson's performance grounds this violent after-world. And like all films with True Grit, the anti-hero finds something worthy to protect.
No Grit. A film brimming with solid performances, but at the end of the day, I personally find all Ang Lee films to be utterly boring, including this one. You may love it, and that's okay too.
No Grit. Let me be clear, I love this movie. It's awesome, but it's also revenge porn like another one of my personal favorites, 'Man on Fire'. In the end, it's a little too easy to shake off the film's violence because of how big and fun it is. Also, Scorpio is a bit silly. So close to True Grit, but not quite there for me. How about you?
True Grit in this case means most Grit in recent history (including the Cohen Brothers' follow up film, 'True Grit' which of course, also has True Grit). It's not a perfect film -- for me at least -- but Anton Chigurh (as played by Javier Bardem) is the scariest character captured on celluloid since perhaps Hannibal Lecter. Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones complete the Grit character-trilogy on display here. Nothing in 'No Country' is simple, easy, or safe. Epic Grit.
'The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada'
True Grit. Available only as an import Blu-ray, this is another, lesser known, Tommy Lee Jones film that is almost pure Grit. Jones plays a man who forces an accidental killer on a long, horseback journey to return a murdered immigrant's body to his hometown for reburial. It's tragic, and deeply moving. Hopefully it will soon find a US Blu-ray release. Has anyone seen any of the imports? Let us know in the forum.
SCIENCE FICTION WESTERNS
True Grit. Though these two classics are better known in the horror and action genres, respectively, 'Alien' and 'Aliens' are full blown westerns.
No Grit. Alas, I'm an unabashed fan of the entire BTTF trilogy. I love it, even the goofier aspects (the Cubs winning the World Series?), but in terms of Western authenticity, this one falls very short of having any Grit. That being said, "This isn't a holdup, it's a science experiment", may be one of my favorite lines ever.
No Grit. Sorry, Whedon fans. This film pays a lot of homage to the western genre, but it's a little too tongue-in-cheek to have any real Grit.
No Grit. Okay, I'm cheating with this one, as it's not out on Blu-ray just yet, but the pre-order's up so that has to count for something, right? 'Star Wars' (the original trilogy) is one of my favorite movies of all time. It's also clearly a Western in Space. But alas, this blockbuster franchise doesn't have an ounce of Grit.
That's a pretty good start to a list, going off the movies A) I've seen and B) are available on Blu-ray. Hit up the forums to tell us where you agree, disagree, and more importantly, what you're adding to the list -- there are so many Westerns still in need of an official True Grit/No Grit ranking.