‘True Grit’ Vs. ‘Winter’s Bone': Is It Us, Or Are These Two Awards Contenders Eerily Similar?

What were you pleased as punch about during your high-school years? Reppin’ a spot on the debate team? Leading your soccer squad to the state finals? Scoring straight A’s?

Catch the performances of two of this year’s youngest critically-acclaimed darlings and you’ll wonder why the heck you spent so much time patting yourself on the back over all that trivial jazz.

Hailee Steinfeld, 14, and Jennifer Lawrence, 20, are relative newcomers to the Hollywood scene, but you wouldn’t know it after watching them kick cinematic butt in “True Grit” (now in theaters) and “Winter’s Bone” (currently available on DVD and Blu-ray), respectively. Steinfeld superbly holds her own amongst the formidable screen presences of veteran greats Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, while Lawrence successfully carries the entire weight of an indie film on her petite shoulders. These ladies didn’t back down from their make-or-break roles, and — now that awards season is upon us — they’ve got the roster of nominations to prove it.

Among their many nods, Lawrence is up for a Golden Globe, a SAG Award and an Independent Spirit Award, while Steinfeld is a contender for a SAG Award. But the accolades aren’t all that bond these actresses. The plots of “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone” are strikingly similar. Here are five reasons why these celluloid gems are a match made in back-to-back-viewing heaven.

Let’s Hear It For the Girls
Try to trick Lawrence’s 17-year-old Ree Dolly into thinking a burnt-down house is a recently-exploded meth lab and she’ll point out: “You must think I’m a stupid idiot. There are weeds growing chin-high in there. It’s been at least a year since that thing blew.” And when Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn attempts to covertly flee town without Steinfeld’s 14-year-old Mattie Ross in tow, she hops a horse and rides across a river to catch up with him, only to cap off her tenacity by promptly correcting Cogburn’s spelling. Don’t let their ages fool you: These gals aren’t messing around. They’re smart, fearless, devoted to their respective causes and quick-witted in the face of danger. If 130 years didn’t separate their characters’ lives (“True Grit” takes place in 1880, “Winter’s Bone” is set in present day), they’d be BFF’s.

The Absentee Father Factor
Both Ree and Mattie are fatherless and forced to leave school in order to care for their brother, sister and ineffective mother. Right away, we’re told that Mattie’s father was killed by a drifter named Tom Chaney (Brolin) and — though her extended clan is never pictured — she describes her siblings’ vulnerability, the Ross’ lack of funds and her mother’s inability to manage figures or even to simply spell the word “cat.” Ree, on the other hand, is entrenched in her family’s poverty-stricken life — acting as main caregiver to every member while also solving the mystery of her bail-hopping, crystal meth-peddling father’s disappearance. Both protagonists have a reason to pursue their tale’s bad guys: Mattie will stop at nothing to avenge her father’s death; Ree must prove that her father is, in fact, deceased in order to save her home from court confiscation.

Totally Hardcore Male Leads
Lest our heroines be forced to go it alone, they manage to employ the aid of an A.T.D. (that’s Appropriately Tough Dude). Mattie tracks down Bridges’ U.S. Marshal Cogburn, who –- under court oath –- is asked to restrict the amount of men he’s shot to those he’s killed “so that we may have a manageable figure.” Ree tells her embattled, explosive uncle Teardrop Dolly (pitch-perfectly played by the unflinching John Hawkes), “You always have scared me” –- to which he responds, “That’s because you’re smart.” The men provide convincingly venomous fronts, but eventually arc to show their true compassionate colors. Honorable mentions go to Tate Taylor, who plays bondsman Mike Satterfield in “Winter’s Bone” and Matt Damon, who plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf in “True Grit.” Both secondary characters are in the game for their own gain, but manage to give credit where it’s due come time for our ladies to triumph.

Villains Who Aren’t Afraid to Hit a Lady
“True Grit” is a traditional Western told with classically-Coen Bros.-esque dialogue, while Winter’s Bone is something of a backwoods mob movie involving methamphetamine’s “Godfather”-like family ties, but both films boast the slowly-unfolding tension of a well-crafted dramatic narrative. And what would such a story be without epically scary antagonists? There are two truly menacing factions at work within both movies: “Winter’s Bone”’s Thump Milton and clan, and the outlaw gang of Ned Pepper (played, seemingly serendipitously, by Barry Pepper) in “True Grit.” These groups serve as fitting miscreants who sufficiently rough up the female leads.

There’s This Thing About an Arm
Pivotal scenes in both movies involve that essential upper limb. It may seem cryptic, but — unless you’re jonesin’ for a spoiler — you’ll just have to check out the flicks to get the skinny.

What do you think of the similarities between these two films? Are you psyched to see them… or have you already? Share your thoughts in the comments!