Evan Benton, Staff Writer

This year, Los Angeles native Jeff Bridges is the forerunner for the Best Actor award for his role as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart.

For fans like me, this attention, praise and heaps of “shoo-in” talk is a long time coming. A major Hollywood presence since 1971 with the release of The Last Picture Show (where he starred with his brother Beau), Bridges has been a fan favorite for decades.

Besides his Best Supporting Actor nomination for Show, Bridges has also been nominated for 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a car-theft thriller that featured alongside the great Clint Eastwood, and 2000’s The Contender. He also earned the first of his two Best Actor nominations for the sci-fi film Starman in 1984.

Following several flops in the early to mid-90s (the terrible remake of The Vanishing, Blown Away and Wild Bill among them), Bridges appeared in what is arguably his most widely recognized role as “The Dude” from the Coen Brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski in 1998. Already known for his on-screen charisma and formidable talent, Bridges channeled his inner So-Cal stoner to give a performance that united classic Bridges fans with a younger generation of viewers.

Coming into the new milennium, Bridges earned several accolades (albeit non-Academy) for his role as Charles Harding in Seabiscuit, and contributed to several animated films before 2009’s Crazy Heart.
In Heart, Bridges plays Otis “Bad” Blake, a washed-up, alcoholic country singer eager to straighten his life out after getting involved with a young journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Bridges showcases his considerable musicianship in the film, playing several songs for Heart, and he displayed this talent recently on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I would describe his voice as a little Waylon Jennings and a lot Kris Kristofferson.

But textured singing voice and intricate fingerpicking aside, Bridges is nominated for his great acting. And in Heart, this performance is considerable. Not quite late enough in his career to be called a swan song, Heart features Bridges as a remorseful, discombobulated man swimming in alcohol, passing through the twilight of his life. Bridges, who has no need to justify himself to anyone given his resume, nevertheless makes an otherwise lackluster, plot-ambiguous film gripping to watch.

Of all the American actors of his generation, none are more natural and less self-conscious in their work than Bridges. Indeed, when you see a movie featuring Jeff Bridges in any capacity, his time on-screen is probably the most enjoyable part of the movie.