Last night there were competing Los Angeles press screenings — one for Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville‘s obviously lowbrow Bad Grandpa (Paramount, 10.25) and Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy‘s cold but masterful morality melodrama The Counselor (ditto). I for one wouldn’t see Bad Grandpa with a gun at my back. But I’ll bet there were a lot of critics, columnists and media reporters who figured it was more important to catch Bad Grandpa than The Counselor because the Tremaine-Knoxville, a movie made by and for those treading water in the lower end of the gene pool, is going to make a lot of money and entertain the apes. I don’t know what will happen to Scott’s film, but my guess is that despite (or because of) its clear-eyed brilliance and general absence of conventional emotion it’s going to leave Joe and Jane Popcorn with a queasy feeling and/or scratching their heads. Trust me — that’s Joe and Jane’s problem and not the film’s. No matter what happens box-office-wise Ridley and Cormac are just fine, and so is their impressively cold-blooded thriller, which you do not want to bring your girlfriend to unless she’s very, very special.

The Counselor is ice-cold and hard and gleaming, and (I’m just whacking golf balls off the top of my head) philosophically clear and commanding and unyielding and even (I know how this sounds) oddly personable and compassionate in a perverse sort of way. It really, really doesn’t deliver the thing that audiences tend to go to movies for. I couldn’t figure out some of the plot particulars, but I was in awe of the mood and the tone and the resolve of it. (As well as the sheen.) I knew right away I was watching a smart, well-engineered, well-oiled, first-class thriller-cum-philosophy lecture piece that came from the pit of Hell. Having read portions of the script a few hours earlier I knew what was coming (at least during the first act), but I was delighted with Javier Bardem‘s amiable and jazzy performance as Reiner, a fair-minded entrepeneur and drug dealer; ditto Cameron Diaz‘s performance as Bardem’s predatory, cheetah-loving girlfriend. But my main impression is that The Counselor is about as strong and classy and as uncompromising as a film of this type can theoretically get.

Life is choices, baby, and you’re either a Bad Grandpa guy or a Counselor guy. And among the Counselor guys, you’re either a “what the eff was that about and what about that plot thread that led nowhere and made no sense?” or a “wow, that was really something…so well assembled and acted and so clear of purpose and so amazingly unqualified…I never knew where the story was heading, and it really, really didn’t end like I expected.” I know where I stand. I have nothing but seething contempt for the Grandpa crowd but I guess I’ve made that point over the years so why am I repeating myself?