Jeff Bridges has already been nominated and/or won several awards for his performance as "Bad Blake" in Crazy Heart (93 screens), including a SAG award, a Golden Globe and a Los Angeles Film Critics Award. And, of course, many people have pointed out the film's similarity to Tender Mercies (1983), the feature that finally won Robert Duvall an Oscar (after being passed over for things like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now) -- not to mention that Duvall is actually in the new film, too. These awards, and potentially an Oscar nomination, are just our way of suddenly waking up and saying, "you know who's really good? Jeff Bridges." Frankly, Crazy Heart is a "just okay" film, but he's great in it. I guess there's just something about sad country singers that captures the voters' attention (with the added bonus that Bridges' character is an alcoholic).
I won't begrudge Bridges his hard-earned Oscar, but it's a case worth looking at. The reason Bridges generally goes unnoticed (with four Oscar nominations scattered over three decades) is because he's so good, and because he works so often. He has worked in many leading roles, but he's not exactly what you'd call a big movie star, and he has worked in many supporting roles, but he's not exactly what you'd call a character actor. He disappears into each role, but he does it without calling attention to the disappearing act, as Brando did. Some actors choose to work less often, and thereby turning each movie into an event. Chaplin was a famous case, and Daniel Day-Lewis is a good example today; he has appeared in just fifteen major movies over a 30-year career. But Bridges works a couple of times each year, and it's easy to take that quantity for granted.
Check out a random sampling of fifteen Bridges films: The Last Picture Show (1971), Fat City (1972), Bad Company (1972), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Winter Kills (1979), Cutter's Way (1982), Tron (1982), Starman (1984), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Fearless (1993), Wild Bill (1995), The Big Lebowski (1998) and Iron Man (2008). You can see his face in each and every one of those films, and yet you're looking at fifteen different faces; he's like a master of disguise, but one that still shows his heart and soul in each performance. He never hides behind a role. He also shares the screen with his co-stars. He never steals a scene, except in the quietest, slyest ways. The critic David Thomson likes to compare him to a modern day Robert Mitchum, and that's flattering, but I'd rather think that there's no one quite like Bridges.
Of course, all this focus on Bridges is going to draw attention away from the other performances in Crazy Heart, notably a huge-hearted one by Maggie Gyllenhaal, but also a very small and potent one by Colin Farrell as mega country star Tommy Sweet, who owes his career to Bad Blake. Farrell has movie star good looks, he was groomed for stardom, and some of his bad boy behavior launched him into the headlines. But I think he's headed for a career much like Bridges' (who, let's face it, was also once cast for his good looks). Aside from a few duds, Farrell has chosen well, working with interesting directors like Woody Allen and Terrence Malick, effortlessly trading menace for kindness, and generally disappearing into a wide range of roles. Maybe he'll win his Oscar in 20 or 30 years by returning an older, hard-drinking Tommy Sweet in Crazy Heart 2.