Thursday, July 23, 2009

Crazy Heart and Chemical Reactions

Yesterday In Contention began poking at the Best Actor buzz on Jeff Bridges who plays an alcoholic singer in Crazy Heart. Let's all poke away together. Currently Fox Searchlight is looking at Spring 2010 instead of an Oscar run. One assumes they'll change their minds soon.

Bridges is enormously overdue for Oscar love. He's considered by many to be one of the great American actors but it's easy to understand why he hasn't ever come close to winning the big one. He's effortless onscreen or appears to be which amounts to the same thing. Other actors huff and puff away to achieve greatness but Bridges just seems to stroll right up to it, casually running his fingers through his hair. While this doesn't make his work any less than wonderful it does make it more invisible when it comes time for the industry back-patting. We saw this recently with The Door in the Floor in which he was just superb as a selfish womanizing author (my vote for Best Actor of 2004). He received not one nomination for his work... only a career tribute trophy from the National Board of Review.

Awards voters want to see actors huffing and puffing towards greatness. Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Daniel Day-Lewis, the most recent lead acting winners, are fine examples of how much sturm und drang voters typically expect to see and want to reward. Whether or not one thinks they individually achieved greatness in their respective performances one can't really argue that they weren't all obviously striving for it. When it comes to Oscar, never always let them see you sweat.

Here's Bridges filming a Crazy Heart scene onstage with Colin Farrell.



I love that he's doing his own singing. And provided the performance is as good as its backers are saying "performance of a lifetime" (It might be true but they have to gush... it's part of the job) it'd be especially gratifying to see Bridges honored for a musical performance. It'd be a nice way for us all to collectively pretend that his excellent work on The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) is finally being recognized twenty years after the fact.


And though I know you know where I'm going with this I have to go there anyway. It's completely insane that Michelle Pfeiffer and Bridges never worked together again after that piece of magic in 1989. They're obviously still fond of each other: Pfeiffer referenced his greatness, unprompted, at the press day for Chéri (she wasn't even talking about Baker Boys) and Bridges showed up for her star unveiling for the Walk of Fame in 2007. Yet an onscreen reunion never happened. That's poor career planning on the part of the actors and/or their management. It's their loss and ours.

Electric chemistry in the movies is so tricky to find, one wonders why we don't see more regular pairings of actors who've already proved that they have it (outside of franchises I mean, where they're locked into it contractually). For every Maggie Cheung & Tony Leung Chiu Wai out there who have captured their paired lightning in a bottle multiple times, there are screen couples like Pfeiffer & Bridge, Sarandon & Davis and Spacey & Bening who have not or screen couples like Emma Thompson & Anthony Hopkins (sensationally good together both times) or Douglas & Turner that gave up too soon. What gives?
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18 comments:

Guy said...

C'mon Searchlight, wake up on this one. Save us from another biopic winner!

Thanks for the link, Nat.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments that it's the squeaky wheel that usually gets the awards and he is wonderful, effortless and utterly believable in most everything he does. But, to be fair, isn't it the truly memorable performance -- the one that stays with you and runs through your mind for hours after the movie ends -- that deserves awards attention? He has had a few of those but something about him usually just falls away for me when the credits roll.

Alison Flynn said...

I love Jeff Bridges. It's true that he's underrated and underappreciated.

On the other hand, I did feel that DDL deserved his Oscar for TWBB. It's true that there were big, over the top scenes and we know that's what Oscar was looking at. But there were subtle, quiet moments in the film and the performance too, and he pulled them off flawlessly. And in addition to the Oscars he was one of the deserving Film Bitch Award winners along with one of my other favorites of that year, Tony Leung in Lust, Caution. :D

Encore Entertainment said...

About Emma and Anthony. Did you really think they were sensationally good in Howards End. I mean Emma was sensational...Anthony...one of his few less than perfect performances. But yes, Jeff and Michelle need to tema up together again. And although I don't want to go there I have to...at least Jeff Bridges has four nods, the others Jeff [Daniels], has zero.

Wayne B. said...

I'm excited to hear Jeff Bridges sing again. A Bridges favourite is his voice-over performance in "The Last Unicorn." I was surprised to find out that that's his actual voice singing with Mia Farrow during "That's All I've Got To Say." I wonder how him and Maggie Gyllenhaal's chemistry will work out.

Speaking of screen couples, how come Brad Pitt and Edward Norton don't re-team again??

Victor S said...

I saw Howards End for the first time last week (don't judge: its almost imposible to find it in Brazil) and I was amazed by Emma Thompson. Outside the greatness of her performance how the hell she won her Oscar??? Was it one of those rare moments of collective sanity that the Academy has once every 10 years?? I was way to young to follow that Oscar race - my first oscar race was with Titanic. Did she won only on merit?? If thats the case, congratulations AMPAS, you got it right.
I always had in my mind that at my personal Oscars Michelle Pfeifer was the hands down winner for best actress in 1992, and now Emma has put some doubts in my head. That was the only downside of Howards End for: Michelle or Emma? Emma or Michelle??

mrripley said...

i would like to add weaver and kline to the list both excellent when paired weavers light touch in dave helped by klines gift for comedy and kline career best work in the ice storm relly connecting with weavers career best work in that film both sadly overlooked in 97 time to revisit that 1 nat i think.

mrripley said...

i think 92 was weak and thompson was a shining beacon in the line up pfeiffer was good not great film too little at that time for oscar,sarandons fil mand character wre notl ikable,mcdonnells film was too small and agin unlikeable and deneuve was space filler which actually should been mia farrow in hisnabds and wives,thompson was all kinds od brilliant and you fell for margaret shouts to bonham carter with the more difficult role.

AT said...

I guess the implication is that the past 4 lead acting winners overacted their shoes off, which I disagree with and find some fault with. How do you play Edith Piaf in the vision that the director created in a subdued, natural manner? Marion Cotillard was what the film demanded her to be -- all emotion, all passion, and all tragedy, from start to finish. It was a sensational and exceptional performance, and it's my favorite acting winner of this decade. Can't stand "The Reader", so no comment with Kate Winslet. For the guys, I couldn't imagine portraying Harvey Milk and Daniel Plainview as subtle creatures. They're forces of nature in every way, and even if that's not for everyone (which I know is a reality with any subjective awards), it's doing the work a disservice to knock the roles for being what they had to be. Anything else would have made the respective films lesser. I can understanding wanting to see someone else win in both of their years (wouldn't have minded Rourke or Clooney winning), but seeing the work was pretty much avoidable for these characters. But to end on a positive note, I think that Jeff Bridges is one of those unheralded greats that should have an Oscar by now. I hope that this new film is worth it and that he's strong in it. At least he's been nominated a few times. Let's talk about Jeff Daniels, who can't even buy an Oscar nomination after being worth for decades now.

Alison Flynn said...

@AT: I'm with you on Jeff Daniels. A criminally overlooked and underappreciated performer who is wonderful on stage and screen. At least the Tony's have recognized him.

Also I agree with your take on the types of characters the most recent leads played. Larger-than-life, particularly Daniel Plainview - that's not a subtle person and no way would a subtle performance have worked. The character was an over-the-top force of nature. I didn't see The Reader so I can't comment on Kate Winslet (who I admire very much as an actress) but Edith Piaf and Harvey Milk also - famous, larger than life.

Many subtler performances have been nominated, but that's due to the fact that the respective branches nominate - so it's actors only voting there, people who can appreciate that. In the final pool it's everyone however, so we have the non-actors who go for the more obvious, larger-than-life stuff rather than subtle.

NATHANIEL R said...

AT I don' disagree that some roles need to be played that way... My point is that whether or not those performances are deserving (I think half of them are, but each persons opinion will vary) they are big heavy breathing effortful performances -- except for possibly Penn's I suppose since that didn't feel as ACTED as some of his work.

Michael W. said...

Actually Nat, Jeff Bridges was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for The Door in the Floor. So he was nominated for one award ;)

It will be interesting to see where Crazy Heart goes. I'm all for Bridges to win an Oscar. He deserved nominations for The Fisher King and The Big Lebowski on top of the other noms.

Anonymous said...

Has Crazy Heart even started filming yet.

Anonymous said...

I love Jeff Bridges. You're so right Nathaniel - he is the most brilliant, yet underrated, actor out there.

His performance as Max in Fearless was incredible - my fave of his.

Glenn Dunks said...

Nat, I've been meaning to ask you since I thought of this the other week:

What would you say if Michelle Pfeiffer finally won a Best Actress Oscar... at age 81? Beating Jessica Tandy by one year? Would the irony be too much to handle?

Anonymous said...

ALEX, from Spain:

If this year Pffeifer and Bridges won Oscar it will be my favorite Oscars of the all the times

joanne3 said...

I am so tired, I mean SO tired of seeing the word "underrated" followed by the name Jeff Bridges. It was a film critic that started it. Jeff Bridges is NOT underrated. 40 adult years of work. He's very much appreciated by his fans and colleagues. He has a body of work that is interesting and diverse. He will continue to work at whatever he wants for as long as he wants to. His salaries are never revealed, he doesn't punch people in the face. He's turned down many a famous role and glad he did made that choice. He's a working actor that loves that he's under the radar. He has worldwide respect. Academy Awards are nice but they don't seem to mean much. Hello Halle Berry and Adrian Brody?

T.J. said...

I agree that Bridges is an excellent actor and would be happy if he won this year (though having seen Up in The Air, he's got some very stiff competition from Clooney, not to mention Freeman doing Mandela, Damon doing incredible, and Duvall delivering what many are calling best-ever work in Get Low)... but the OP is wrong about Bridges' nomination history.

He's actually been nominated 4 times by the Oscars, for Starman, The Contender, Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, and The Last Picture Show.

For my money, he should've been nominated for Door too, and Fearless, Lebowski, and Fat City, but he's not gone unrecognized.