December 15, 2010 at 12:00 PM EST

Image Credit: Wilson WebbBesides The Tourist earning three nominations that no one saw coming, the biggest surprise of Tuesday’s Golden Globe nominations may have been the complete snubbing of True Grit. The Coen Brothers’ remake of the Oscar-winning 1969 Western has been considered one of the award season’s few sure things ever since the project was announced. On Monday, the film garnered 11 nominations from the Critics’ Choice Awards — including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Jeff Bridges), and Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld). Early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and the movie’s already won awards or received nominations from critic organizations in Boston, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Los Angeles, Phoenix, St. Louis, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. But when Josh Duhamel, Katie Holmes, and Blair Underwood stumbled out of their beds to announce the Globe nominations Tuesday morning, True Grit was firing blanks. Nothing for the Coens. Nothing for Bridges. Nothing for Steinfeld. The Dude does not abide.

So what, if anything, happened? There are a few explanations being tossed around, but first, it’s important to point out that True Grit‘s absence at the Globes is merely a minor speed bump in its awards-season trajectory. The Golden Globes and the Academy Awards have increasingly gone their separate ways these past few years, and EW’s Oscar guru, Dave Karger, still has True Grit positioned to pick up major Oscar nominations in Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Supporting Actress. But the movie’s no-show status at the Globes is nevertheless baffling, especially when you consider what movies did get invited to the party. (Ahem, The Tourist.) Let’s examine the various theories behind the award season’s biggest upset so far, and see whether any of them pass muster:

1. The Golden Globes aren’t fans of Westerns.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a non-profit organization made up of about 90 international journalists, is the brain behind the Golden Globes. With journalists representing countries as varied as Chile, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, the Netherlands, and South Africa, it can be argued that something as quintessentially American as the Western genre could be a hard sell for the HFPA. “True Grit is a classically told American movie that simply didn’t connect with [the HFPA],” says a source close to the film. “The humor was absolutely lost on them.” However, that didn’t stop the HFPA from nominating modern-era Westerns like Unforgiven and Dances with Wolves, so maybe True Grit‘s snubbing has to do with something else, like…

2. The Golden Globes don’t “get” the Coens.

Again, there’s a line of thinking that the HFPA members are more sympathetic to European prestige films (see Atonement) and dramas with an international composition (see Babel or Slumdog Millionaire), and that the Coens’ films will always end up as outliers on the Globes’ radar. But while the Coens have won only one Golden Globe compared to four Academy Awards, the Globes have no problem with nominating the brothers’ work. In fact, the Golden Globes have handed out nominations to more of the Coens’ films than the Oscars — Burn After Reading was ignored by the Academy Awards but received two nominations from the Globes. So while the HPFA may not adore the Coens to the extent that Oscar voters do, they don’t seem to have a vendetta against the filmmakers either. So it must be a case of Paramount botching True Grit‘s awards campaign, right?

3. The Coens don’t play the awards-season game.

The HFPA has been criticized in the past for being susceptible to the studios’ campaign efforts. (Honestly, how else did The Great Debaters squeeze into 2008’s crowded Best Drama category?) In addition to screening their award contenders, the studios also host press conferences with their films’ talent exclusively for the HFPA. So maybe the Coens, who live in New York and aren’t exactly known as schmoozers, didn’t wine-and-dine the HFPA voters to the extent that other award contenders did? But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Paramount screened True Grit for the HFPA and then orchestrated individual press conferences with the Coens, Bridges, Steinfeld, and costar Barry Pepper. That leaves one option…

4. The HFPA simply didn’t like True Grit.

Ultimately, the HFPA may simply be True Grit‘s version of Armond White, the famously contrarian New York Press critic. They didn’t see what all the fuss was about and decided to go their own way. Others may find it bonkers that The Tourist, Burlesque, Red, and Alice in Wonderland secured Best Picture nominations (albeit in the Musical/Comedy category), while True Grit was overlooked like Steven Seagal’s last dozen films. But it all makes for an amusingly nutty awards season. It’s a long and exhausting road to the Oscars, and this isn’t the last time we’ll be hearing about True Grit. Or about the HFPA’s suspect taste in cinema, either.

For more on December releases, check out EW’s event calendar here.

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