Over 40 years in any job, it’s pretty safe to say that you will have accomplished a lot in your field (or at least not sucked hard enough to get fired). That can certainly be said for Jeff Bridges – the accomplishments part, not the “not sucking” part – who has 70 or so movies on his resume and six Oscar nominations to go with them. He’s back in theaters on Friday with the bizarre-looking R.I.P.D., where he plays some sort of ghost cop alongside Ryan Reynolds, which inspired me to look back at his movies and whittle them down to the nine best. I know, I know, “best” may not be the best word to describe any list that includes TRON, but come on – you gotta love TRON.
The Big Lebowski
Might as well save the best for first. I did my spiel on Lebowski in my Best Of post for John Goodman, so I’ll keep the gushing to a minimum. Jeff Bridges’ Dude is pretty much the idol of a generation of stoners who dream of stumbling onto piles of money, beautiful women, and a Sam Elliott spirit animal all while doing the absolute least amount of work possible. Not to mention the character is single-handedly responsible for my love of White Russians. It only helps that Jeff Bridges is apparently a lot like the Dude in real life.
The Fisher King
I haven’t seen this movie in a while, but I remember it running the gamut between dark and disturbing and fantastical. For those who don’t know, Bridges plays a radio DJ who makes an offhand comment that inspires someone to commit mass murder at a bar. He goes on to befriend Robin Williams’ character, Parry, a mentally disturbed homeless man who was a college professor before his wife was killed in that very same bar shooting. This is a Terry Gilliam movie, so there are some visually stunning moments throughout, particularly when we see the hallucinations that haunt Parry. The Fisher King is really worth a watch, but be warned that it will hit you hard.
The Last Picture Show
I saw The Last Picture Show in a film class in college and it’s stuck with me ever since. A movie about a 1950s small town hit hard by a failing economy hits pretty close to home nowadays, and it’s made all the more resonant by stark black-and-white and incredible performances from Bridges and Ben Johnson (yeah namesake!). It’s a haunting story of growing up faster than your surroundings and having to choose between a familiar but dying past and an unknown future. This is one of the most poignant coming-of-age movies that you’re ever going to find.
Jeff Bridges has reached that age where he’s taking on more and more “grizzled old veteran” roles. His Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit is probably my favorite. This is a very different version of the character than the one from the original movie – frankly, I’ve never thought John Wayne ever really played anybody but John Wayne (this time with real eye patch action!). Bridges adds layers to the tough old Marshall that Duke never did, largely thanks to a spot-on script that sticks much more closely to the book. Hailee Steinfeld is also excellent as Mattie Ross – watching her play off Bridges’ gruffness is a lot of fun. True Grit really captures the feel of the old-school Westerns that the Coens were clearly inspired by and that most filmmakers have struggled to capture since the days of Eastwood, Newman, and Redford.
I said above that Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn was my favorite of his old grizzled characters, and that’s true, but he is at his absolute best as washed-up country musician Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. Blake has a tough go of it throughout the movie – he’s his own worst enemy, responsible for all the low points he hits. He might be a hard character to root for in someone else’s hands, but Bridges gives Blake a depth that makes you want him to rise above and get out of his own way. Bridges also gets major cool points for writing, playing, and singing most (if not all) of Blake’s music for the soundtrack.
OK, Bridges was a total ham in Iron Man. He was not very good. But this is one of the more fun movies of the last few years, re-igniting Robert Downey, Jr.’s career and making The Avengers a possibility. I think Jeff was a little too aware that he was playing a comic book villain and it was pretty difficult to take him seriously as a threat. Plus he really doesn’t look right without that glorious mane of hair. But hey, at least he wasn’t as bad as Mickey Rourke’s parrott-loving Russian from Iron Man 2!
God the ‘80s were great. No, TRON is not anywhere near the top of the list when it comes to sci-fi movies, but it really does go all out in trying something different. The effects look just about as dated as you might expect, and there are definitely points during the movie when I felt like I might have a seizure, but I have to respect its ambition, however campy the result. I’m tempted to take away points for the sequel that came out a few years ago, but then I remembered that amazing Daft Punk soundtrack and all is forgiven. TRON!
The Vanishing is a remake of a Dutch movie about a man whose girlfriend disappears into thin air. Years later, the man (Kiefer Sutherland in the American version) is contacted by the abductor, who tells him that he’ll reveal what happened to his girlfriend if he allows the same thing to happen to him. Bridges is suitably creepy as the kidnapper (though the Dutch-ish accent he uses is completely unnecessary and a little jarring), and while it’s not as good as the original film, The Vanishing makes for a solid thriller.
This is a bit of a weird one – an alien takes the form of Karen Allen’s dead husband in order to convince her to help him/it to get back to his ship while they are pursued by government agents because ALIEN. So it’s basically like E.T. meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a dash of road trip hijinks and the whole, “this guy looks like my husband but is clearly an alien so I can’t love him, but I totally do.” Like I said, weird movie. But it did get Bridges his third Oscar nomination (his first as Best Actor), so he obviously did something right here.