Total Recall

Jeff Bridges' 10 Best Movies

We run down the best-reviewed films of the Seventh Son star.

by | February 4, 2015 | Comments

Not even a family tree full of dramatic DNA automatically adds up to the kind of talent Jeff Bridges has displayed over the course of his nearly 40-year career. Bridges has gone on to score six Best Actor Oscar nominations (winning one, for 2009’s Crazy Heart), all while assembling one of the more interesting, and critically successful, filmographies in the business. So successful, in fact, that Bridges’ top eight films all boast Tomatometers at or above 90 percent — and although we sort of doubt his work in this weekend’s Seventh Son will match that level of critical love or add another Oscar nomination to the pile, we still thought it offered the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to a life in pictures. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. Fearless (1993) 85%


Cheating death sounds like an incredible gift — but what do you do after you’ve accepted you’re about to die and walked away from the experience? As Peter Weir’s Fearless powerfully argues, that second lease on life can sometimes be harder to come to grips with than we might imagine — especially if you’re like protagonist Max Klein (Bridges), who survives a plane crash that ends up killing almost everyone on board. The type of thought-provoking adult drama that seems all but extinct in the modern studio system, Fearless didn’t make much of a dent at the box office after its 1993 release, but many critics rightly applauded it as a vehicle for one of its star’s finest efforts. “Bridges turns in another in what has become an astoundingly long list of brilliant performances,” wrote Hal Hinson for the Washington Post. “Using the simplest means imaginable, he steps into a role as nonchalantly as he might slip into his trousers.”


9. The Iceman Cometh (1973) 91%


Every Total Recall list has its share of films you know are going to make the cut, but it’s often just as much fun to find the more esoteric entries in an actor’s filmography — the movies that, for whatever reason, slipped through the cracks and aren’t closely identified with the star in question. Case in point: 1973’s The Iceman Cometh, the four-hour film adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play that was released as part of the American Film Theater series. Directed by John Frankenheimer and featuring a cast that included Lee Marvin, Fredric March, and Robert Ryan in one of his final performances, Iceman helped Bridges extend his early-career streak of solidly reviewed films with excellent pedigrees. As Roger Ebert wrote, “For four hours we live in these two rooms and discover the secrets of these people, and at the end we have gone deeper, seen more, and will remember more, than with most of the other movies of our life.”


8. Cutter’s Way (1981) 91%


Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate spent years being maligned as one of the biggest directorial follies in cinematic history, but some good things did come out of it, at least for Jeff Bridges. He took one of the sets and turned it into his home, for one thing — and United Artists execs impressed with his work in the movie ended up offering him a co-starring gig in Cutter’s Way, too. And while Cutter’s was far from a hit, taking in less than its reported $3 million budget, director Ivan Passer’s adaptation of the Newton Thornburg novel Cutter and Bone — about two pals (Bridges and John Heard) investigating the potential conspiracy behind a young woman’s murder — reaped plenty of critical praise; as Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian wrote, “The film moves with an easy uncoerced swing: moment by moment, scene by scene, we are unsure what to think or where we are going. It is a fascinating, organically grown drama.”


7. Crazy Heart (2009) 90%


Bridges won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart, and rightfully so; in a long line of deeply naturalistic performances, it’d be hard to argue that Bridges’ turn as the bloated, alcoholic misanthrope Bad Blake didn’t deserve a spot at or near the top. You might not think you’d ever be the kind of person who’d root for a middle-aged guy who passes out in his underwear on the bathroom floor, but Bridges made it work here, breathing extra dramatic life into another variation on the oft-told tale of the middle-aged guy who’s piddled away his prospects while delivering believable renditions of some hummable country-rock songs and anchoring a picture whose small, eclectic cast also included Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Duvall. “On first viewing, Crazy Heart seemed like a pretty good movie with one great performance,” mused Slate’s Dana Stevens. “After a second time through, it’s sneaking up on the title of my favorite film of the year.”


6. Bad Company (1972) 92%


Director Robert Benton has made a career out of crafting films that make brilliant use of quiet moments and seemingly ordinary people — and, sometimes, some pretty unusual situations. He showed his flair for character studies with his debut, 1972’s Bad Company, which focuses on the efforts of a group of young men (including Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges) to avoid being drafted into the Civil War. One of a handful of counter-culture Westerns during the period, Company carefully deconstructed the romantic myths of the genre while underlining its gently comedic tone with a surprisingly moral message of social responsibility. Roger Greenspun of the New York Times was one of the many scribes who applauded the film, writing, “A naturalistic, irreverent and sometimes broadly comic view of a largely ignored aspect of the Civil War gives Bad Company a refreshingly good name.”


5. Iron Man (2008) 94%


He hasn’t been asked to do it many times, but Jeff Bridges plays a mean bad guy (check out his wonderfully creepy turn in 1993’s otherwise rather mundane The Vanishing for a good, albeit mostly wasted, example). He got to show his villainous colors again in 2008’s Iron Man, shaving his head and growing a wicked beard to play Obadiah Stane, the treacherous business partner-turned-armored nemesis of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). Though Stane fell below “awesome fight scenes,” “shots of the armor in action,” and “funny one-liners from Downey” on the list of things people went to Iron Man to see, you can’t have a truly entertaining superhero movie without a worthwhile heavy, and Bridges sunk his teeth into the scenery with appropriately menacing results. In the words of the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, “The gadgetry is absolutely dazzling, the action is mostly exhilarating, the comedy is scintillating and the whole enormous enterprise throbs with dramatic energy.”


4. The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) 96%


We like to complain about the lack of original ideas in Hollywood, but The Fabulous Baker Boys is proof positive that you don’t need to do something new to make a great movie — you just need to do something really, really well. And Baker Boys does a few things well, actually — including exploring the tension between a pair of piano-playing brothers (played by real-life siblings Jeff and Beau Bridges), the fading hopes of musicians resigned to pursuing commerce instead of art, and — perhaps most importantly — highlighting the luminous beauty of Michelle Pfeiffer. It wasn’t a huge commercial hit at the time of its release, but it was profitable, and the overwhelmingly positive critical reaction has since been shared by the many millions who have seen it at home. “The Fabulous Baker Boys is like a beloved movie from the glory days of Hollywood,” wrote Rita Kempley of the Washington Post. “It transports you. It’s an American rhapsody.”


3. True Grit (2010) 95%


It takes some major stones to step into John Wayne’s boots for a remake of one of the Duke’s classic pictures, so even if the Coen brothers’ True Grit had well and truly stunk, we’d have to give Bridges credit for having something extra in his saddlebag — not just any actor would have been able to take the role of the cantankerous Rooster Cogburn and make it his own. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Bridges (in vintage late-period marble-mouthed form) was surrounded by an ace supporting cast that included Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld, or that the Coens went back to Charles Portis’ original novel for inspiration; in the end, the result was a career-launching hit for Steinfeld, a mainstream hit for the Coens, and a suitably successful follow-up to Crazy Heart for Bridges, who earned the admiration of the Patriot Ledger’s Al Alexander in a review that argued, “Duke has been usurped by the Dude, and I couldn’t be more thrilled by the experience of watching one of our finest actors take a role as iconic as Rooster Cogburn and indisputably make it his own.”


2. Fat City (1972) 100%


Long before he’d earned the right to play grizzled, down-on-their-luck ne’er-do-wells, Bridges paid his dues playing the young men who look up to them — as he did in John Huston’s Fat City, a beautifully unadorned look at a washed-up boxer (Stacy Keach) who takes a young contender (Bridges) under his wing. A babyfaced 23 years old and only one film removed from The Last Picture Show, Bridges displayed an uncommon grace and calm grasp of his craft in his scenes with Keach, and Huston — who ended the movie on the sort of unsettling note we see far too rarely today — made the most of Bridges’ emerging gifts. “The movie is crafty work and very much a show,” wrote J. Hoberman of the Village Voice, adding, “in one way or another, right down to the percussively abrupt open ending, it’s all about being hammered.”


1. The Last Picture Show (1971) 100%


If you love movies, you’ve probably seen The Last Picture Show — and even if you haven’t, you’re almost certainly aware of its impact. Selected to the National Film Registry, named to the AFI’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, and the recipient of eight Academy Award nominations (Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman both took home Oscars for their supporting roles), Picture Show launched the careers of Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, and director Peter Bogdanovich, whose previous credit was Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Here, Bridges’ youth and easygoing charm are put to good use in the role of Duane Jackson, a high school football star whose restlessness sends him in and out of Shepherd’s bed — and, like many young men of the ’50s, off to Korea. “Ultimately,” observed James Kendrick of the Q Network Film Desk, “The Last Picture Show is remembered and probably always will be because it is truthful. It doesn’t shy away from the inherent awkwardness of life, but instead embraces it as its subject matter.”

 


Finally, here’s Bridges in a recent ad you may have seen, helping good folks get their well-deserved rest:


 

 

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