That Michael Cieply-Brooks Barnes N.Y. Times piece about True Grit (dated 1.14, in the 1.5 print edition) that I managed to ignore essentially cast Joel and Ethan Coen‘s western as this year’s The Blind Side. Their not-unfamiliar idea was that a film that had done so well with the Middle-American paying public ($91.5 million as of 1.4) has earned — required — special attention among Academy voters, especially given the 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Big money, across-the-board praise, a home run.

Okay, more like a triple. Three paragraphs near the end of the story mention that while True Grit has “done well with both the critics and with a robust, web-based circuit of professional Oscar watchers, [it] was quickly judged a miss by some of that crowd.” And then Cieply and Barnes excerpt disparaging opinions from TheWrap‘s Steve Pond and myself. Then they reverse gears and scurry back to the Blind Side notion by quoting David Poland‘s view that box office is a “major influencer” in the awards process.

I can imagine Joel and Ethan Coen shuddering at the Blind Side comparison. Or at least wincing. I certainly would if I were in their shoes. In a roundabout way I think Cieply and Barnes knew that mentioning the Blind Side‘s Oscar precedent, a valid observation in and of itself, would create an analogy and a linkage that would not be entirely welcome. I myself would never compare the two. In terms of craft, performance and austere art-western demeanor, True Grit stands on a barren, windswept mesa that is way, way above that 2009 John Lee Hancock film, which — don’t get me wrong — was and is a perfectly respectable thing as far as it went.

True Grit didn’t rub me the right way, okay, but I’ve said from the beginning that it’s “beautifully made,” “deserves respect,” and is “indisputably solid and grade-A with some deliciously formal old-west dialogue,” etc. And what Cieply and Barnes implied in their carefully honed, gray-lady prose was that True Grit is starting to be seen as a good film that is buying (i.e., ticket-selling) its way into Oscar contention, or in effect riding into the Oscar corral on the backs of Middle-American Joe Popcorn types and their obvious enthusiasm for it.

Whatever happens with the nominations (which almost certainly will include a nomination for True Grit costar Hallie Steinfeld) and final voting, True Grit should be honored for whatever it was before it opened commercially. It’s good enough to stand in the dust on its own two feet.