Let's cut to the chase. "True Grit" is one of the very best films of the year. Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, it takes a sharp offbeat turn on the basic elements of Hollywood cowboy movies. It's full of dark humor and snappy dialogue, but less strange than "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" or "No Country For Old Men."

Jeff Bridges gives another bravura performance. He plays the one-eyed crusty lawman Rooster Cogburn, made famous in the original film by John Wayne. But Bridges adds another deep layer of grit and gravel to the whisky-drinking hero. His words ring true but his actions speak louder to reveal his rustic character.

Matt Damon plays a Texas Ranger on a mission to capture the same bad guy that Rooster is after. But little known actress Hailee Steinfeld steals the show as Mattie Ross. She's the 14-year-old girl with her own true grit who hires Rooster to chase down the man who killed her father. She is the pioneer woman who anchors the plot and rides herd on the rough-hewn men stalking each other.

This film has top-notch acting, directing, writing and cinematography. It's sure to draw Oscar attention.

*

Falling down the 'Rabbit Hole'

Of 2010's memorable performances by actresses, most of the characters were scary overbearing moms ("Animal Kingdom," "The Fighter," "Black Swan"). But in "Rabbit Hole," the mothers are the damaged ones.

"Rabbit Hole" deals with the aftermath of a life-changing event — in this case, the death of a child — how it affects us, how we look at the world from that point on. Based upon a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it has humor and pathos that feels genuine if sometimes a bit remote.

Becca and Howie (excellent Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) are a perfect suburban couple dealing with the death of their little boy eight months earlier. Becca has closed herself off emotionally to family and friends, and Howie tries to be sensitive to her needs although his own are being ignored.

"Moving on" is different for everyone, but never has it been more tenderly explained than by the amazing Dianne Wiest, as Becca's mother, in the film's best written scene.

"You never get over it" she tells her daughter, and Becca is crushed to hear it, yet it also gives her an odd sense of calm.

No one who has ever fallen down the "Rabbit Hole" is likely to forget this film's haunting, bittersweet beauty.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.