If anyone was due for an Academy Award for Best Actor last year, it was the perpetually underrated Jeff Bridges, an actor who has spent 40 years playing everyone from presidents to bums with an intensity that is rarely flashy but always memorable.
The son of famed actor Lloyd Bridges, the actor got his first credit as an infant in 1950's 'The Company She Keeps,' and since the early 1970s has displayed an unparalleled versatility. Bridges is one of Hollywood's few A-list actors to successfully divorce the terms "actor" and "celebrity," which may explain why his immense body of work has flown so under the radar for so long (it took him nearly 60 films to win that Oscar, for 2009's 'Crazy Heart'). Yet you can always count on Bridges to deliver noteworthy performances, even in mediocre movies ('Against All Odds,' 'Tideland,' 'Stay Hungry.')
This month sees Bridges star in two of the year's most anticipated films: 'TRON: Legacy,' in which Bridges reprises his role from the original 1982 film, and 'True Grit,' the Coen Brothers' remake of Henry Hathaway's classic 1969 western of the same name. To honor Hollywood's most underrated actor, we've put together a list of Bridges' ten best roles -- but, yeah, well, you know, it's just, like, our opinion, man.
[Please note: Some of these clips are NSFW.]
10. Kevin Flynn, 'Tron' (1982)
It may not have been the smash Disney was expecting when it was first released, but in retrospect, this video-game-disguised-as-a-movie stands as a paramount example of 1980s flash and computer graphics. Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a computer programmer who gets sucked into the world he's creating. With its groundbreaking graphics and fusion of technology and the real world, it's easy to see the influence the film had on 'The Matrix,' 'Total Recall,' and the entire Pixar catalog (among many others). Shockingly, 'Tron' didn't even get a nomination for Best Special Effects because the Academy said using computers was "cheating." Prescient brilliance, guys.
9. Lightfoot, 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot' (1974)
Michael Cimino's directorial debut remains an underrated effort by both Bridges and co-star Clint Eastwood (who reportedly was so impressed with Bridges that he felt his co-star upstaged him). Eastwood plays a retired thief who teams up with Bridges to recover money from one of the former's old robberies. Eastwood got most of the attention for steering away from the westerns and tough-cop films that made him an icon, but Bridges would earn his second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in this heist film-cum-road movie.
8. President Jackson Evans, 'The Contender' (2000)
Joan Allen deservedly got most of the notice for this political thriller about the vetting of a female vice-presidential pick, but as President Jackson Evans, Bridges conjures up the perfect mix of diplomacy and merciless guile. The role of commander-in-chief is usually played with stodgy gravitas, but Bridges infuses Evans with warmth and geniality, a deft counterpart to the snakes on both sides of the aisle that surround him. His rousing speech to Congress doubtless helped lock up his fourth Oscar nomination.
(Warning: video contains spoiler and some rough audio/video syncing.)
7. Michael Faraday, 'Arlington Road' (1999)
Woody Allen once said "Paranoia is knowing all the facts," an apt quote for this film in which Bridges plays a widowed college professor whose wife, a FBI agent, is killed by right-wing extremists. When Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack move in as the seemingly friendly neighbors, Bridges begins to suspect something's not right with their behavior and subsequently believes they are part of a terrorist plot. The film itself divided critics, but Bridges and Robbins continually make you question who the real villain is until the very end.
6. Barney Cousins, 'The Vanishing' (1993)
George Sluizer's original 1988 Dutch film of the same name is the better movie, thanks largely to its un-Hollywood ending. But casting Bridges as sociopathic kidnapper Cousins in this remake was the filmmaker's best move. It's three years after Sandra Bullock disappeared and boyfriend Kiefer Sutherland still hasn't come to terms with the loss. When Bridges arrives without warning to confess, he offers Sutherland a choice: Kill him and never find out what happened or endure everything she went through. Bridges plays Barney just normal enough to be terrifying and the scariest role in his career remains one of his best.
5. Starman, 'Starman' (1984)
Bridges would earn his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his part in John Carpenter's sci-fi romance about an alien that falls to Earth and assumes the identity of his discoverer's deceased husband. Carpenter's mix of geeked-out interstellar travel discussions, pioneering special effects and interspecies love between Bridges (in a role that originally went to Kevin Bacon) and Karen Allen made this one of 1984's most interesting and acclaimed films.
4. Duane Jackson, 'The Last Picture Show' (1971)
Bridges was only 22 when he landed his first lead role, playing Duane Jackson in Peter Bogdanovich's landmark film about the lives that intersect in a small, dreary Texas town in the 1950s. The closing of a local movie theater -- Howard Hawks' classic 'Red River' is to be the film -- sets the backdrop for Bogdanovich's nostalgic tribute to Hollywood's Golden Age, and the director's minimalist style earned the film eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Bogdanovich thought Bridges' outgoing personality would temper Duane, a surly, disagreeable character in the Larry McMurtry book on which the film was based. He was right. Bridges earned his nomination for an Academy Award, in the Best Supporting Actor category.
3. Jack Lucas, 'The Fisher King' (1991)
Terry Gilliam's most heartfelt film sees Bridges as Jack Lucas, an angry, disillusioned shock jock prone to invective and tirades. When Lucas unwittingly inspires one of his listeners to go on a murderous spree, the deejay devolves into a years-long depression heading toward suicide. A despondent Jack meets Parry (Robin Williams), an eccentric homeless man who tells Jack great things are coming if he can find the Holy Grail buried somewhere in Manhattan. Gilliam's normal sense of absurdity and whimsy is augmented with emotional performances by Bridges, Williams and Mercedes Ruehl. And while Williams and Ruehl got an Oscar nomination and win, respectively, Bridges nails Jack's egotistical, self-loathing, and eventual redemptive qualities.
2. Otis "Bad" Blake, 'Crazy Heart' (2009)
As Hollywood likes to say, 2009 was Bridges' "time" to finally snag an Oscar for Best Actor, though that hardly diminishes the brute honesty and emotional resilience he displayed as aging, itinerant country singer Otis "Bad" Blake. What was originally a direct-to-video release shot in three weeks became a surprise hit and critical success. The story of an outlaw creative type who attempts to redeem himself and correct bad life decisions is an old one, but Bridges' mix of surliness and charisma -- one hand offering you a beer, the other slamming the door -- is a blunt, mesmerizing performance. Oh, and the man can sing.
1. Jeff Lebowski, 'The Big Lebowski' (1998)
'Crazy Heart' got him all the awards, but 100 years from now, when Jackson Evans, Barney Cousins and even Bad Blake have faded from public consciousness, The Dude will still abide. In Jeff Lebowski, we see the flipside of what many of us might become -- or wish to -- if convention, family, mortgages, 401(k)s, children and life didn't get in the way. Carrying on the tradition of Captain America in 'Easy Rider' and Kowalski in 'Vanishing Point,' Lebowski is both a hero and bum, and in his insouciance toward everything except rugs and bowling, Bridges embodies all that is right and wrong about hippie culture. His attitude -- a wry, sardonic take on the best-selling book 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff' -- continues to resonate with legions of devoted followers. Now where's the sequel?
Honorable mentions: 'Fabulous Baker Boys,' 'Fat City,' 'Tucker: The Man and His Dream,' 'Iron Man,' 'Door in the Floor,' and 'Fearless.'