Since I saw “Crazy Heart” this week and re-watched “Iron Man”, it’s made me think a lot about Bridges as an actor, how he is the most underrated actor of his generation. There is a reason why Bridges has been nominated for four Academy Awards, and soon to be a fifth and more then likely he will win his long overdue Oscar that has evaded him for years. While great actors from his generation like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino have made films to collect a paycheck, Jeff Bridges hasn’t. He’s carefully selected his roles, bringing something new to each one that he’s taken on. So it goes, my list of top five Jeff Bridges performances of his recent career.
#5) Obadiah Stane – “Iron Man” (2008).
Over Jeff Bridges’ career, he hasn’t played the villain in many films. In 2008’s “Iron Man” Bridges plays Obadiah Stane, the man who ran Stark Industries, after the passing of Howard Stark. He ran the company for nearly thirty years until Howard Stark’s son Tony (Robert Downey, Jr.) turned 21 and took control of the company. Stane remained as the man behind the curtain. The power behind the throne if you will, while Stark was out being a billionaire playboy, Stane was the man who had built most of what Stark Industries had become, how powerful it had become. Bridges’ is phenomenal in this role of Obadiah Stane/Iron Mongorer. I have never seen Bridges play a role of a man that is so volatile with his anger, a man that is so self righteous and a man who is so vindictively evil. I can see the draw this would have to Bridges. He’s playing a character that he’s never played before, he looks different then he ever has before. Bridges brings much emotion to this role, almost making you fear him in certain scenes. His character is filled with pure malice, nothing more – nothing less.
#4 The Dude – “The Big Lebowski” (1998)
I have never met anyone who isn’t a fan of the Coen Brother’s “The Big Lebowski”, in fact there are few people that I’ve met that had never seen it. This stands out with “No Country for Old Men”, “Miller’s Crossing” and “Blood Simple” as one of the Coen Brother’s best films. This film is so much more then a stoner movie. It’s a reworking of the genre film noir, telling a mysterious tale that brings in some helpless sap (The Dude played by Bridges) into this tangled web with a mysterious woman Maude (Julianne Moore who is great as always), a powerful man (David Huddleson) and mobster (Ben Gazzara, but in this case a porn producer). Jeff Bridges is at his absolute best in “Lebowski”, he’s firing on all cylinders and it’s such a joy to watch The Dude. You can’t help but fall in love with him, smile whenever you see him, and get mad every time he talks about how someone pissed on his rug. “The Big Lebowski” wouldn’t have been great without Bridges, and I don’t think there is another actor who could have played him to perfection. Bridges wrote the forward to the book, “I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski” that is essentially and almanac for the film, and it was written by the two men who started Lebwoski Fest. Bridges writes that he was asked by a reporter that out of all the character’s his played, what if The Dude is the one he’s most remembered for. Bridges response? “I’d be fucking delighted.” The Dude abides.
#3 Tom Friend – “Masked and Anonymous” (2003)
This is one bizarre and incoherent film about life, war, music, art, love – everything. It was written by Dylan and Larry Charles (“Borat”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). Charles also directed this film which includes one of the best acting ensemble’s I’ve ever seen. Jeff Bridges plays Tom Friend, a tired and worn out journalist who is sent on assignment by his editor to cover a benefit concert with the headliner Jack Fate (Bob Dylan). Bridges is narcissistic and hopeless, and feels that all the music, all the joy, all the tranquility that Fate had brought to us through his songs (all of the songs Fate performs or wrote are all Dylan’s old classics). None of it came true, and Friend resents Fate, thinks he’s a liar, believes he’s a false profit. As Friend digs deeper, grilling Fate more and more, he begins to spiral out of control, and losses himself completely. Bridges does nothing more then bare his soul in this performance that will bring anyone who can take the film seriously, to their knees.
#2 Bad Blake – “Crazy Heart” (2009)
Bad Blake is one of the finest performances Bridges has ever given. He’s played a villain, a reporter, a President, a self made business man, but Bridges never played a washed up country singer. Bridges reaches new depths with his performance as Bad Blake. The film itself isn’t great, but Bridges performance is. He makes us feel his pain, shows us his tortured soul. Bridges is not only a fabulous actor, but he’s an outstanding singer as well. Bridges does perform with his band on his own, but this is the best of both worlds for Bridges, he gets to show his great range as an actor and a musician to a mainstream audience. This is a beautiful performance by Bridges, and this is what will win Bridges his Oscar.
#1 Ted Cole – “The Door in the Floor” (2004)
There are performances of an actors career, of the year, of the decade, but sometimes an actor can give a performance of a lifetime. That is exactly what Bridges did in his role of Ted Cole, a tortured writer of childrens books who lost his two sons in a fatal car accident. Bridges gives one of the best performances of the decade, along with one of the best performances I have ever seen. Jeff Bridges breaks himself down, and shows us his weak side, he opens his heart to us. Seeing how Ted Cole uses peoples emotions, how he thrives on pleasure, how he is so horribly tortured and broken. After seeing this film, Bridges performance in particular – it will do nothing less then break your heart. You’ll never be able to forget it. And you’ll understand why we sometimes do open the door in the floor.