Oscar Opens Bayou Doors
For the better part of three decades, Jeff Bridges was ranked among the most adventurously versatile and consistently impressive American film actors of his generation. And yet, despite his prodigious talent and prolific output, true superstardom eluded his grasp.
Indeed, he was so good, so often, that his accomplishments were more or less taken for granted. A cover blurb for a 1993 New York Times Magazine profile summed it up best: ''Jeff Bridges — Hollywood's Most Underrated Actor.''
But that was then, this is now: At age 60, Bridges finally is getting his due. He has spent the few months on a virtually nonstop victory lap, collecting all manner of prizes — including an overdue Academy Award — for his vividly detailed yet subtly nuanced and altogether terrific performance in Crazy Heart. He has attained sufficient stature — and, yes, radiates more than enough star power — to fill John Wayne’s boots in Joel and Ethan Coen’s upcoming remake of True Grit.
And he is inspiring both longtime fans and newly-won admirers to take second glances (or, in many if not most cases, first looks) at the films that represent his career highlights.
The secret of his success?
Well, consider what he told me during an interview shortly after that New York Times Magazine article appeared: ''I do the movies that are interesting to me, that I'd like to see. Or if I'm drawn to the challenge.''
In his view, nothing else mattered all that much. ''The classic movie star thing is, 'I'll make all these movies that Hollywood wants me to make, and then I'll get to do what I really want to do," Bridges said. "So I just skip the middle man, and do what I really want to do. That makes more sense to me.''
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Houston Film Critics Society have joined forces to showcase some of those “interesting” movies, and to celebrate a singular career, in an aptly titled retrospective -— We ♥ Jeff Bridges — that kicks off this weekend at MFA.
The first offerings in the nine-film series: Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (7 p.m. tonight), the 1971 drama featuring Bridges’ breakthrough performance as a callow young rowdy in a small Texas town; and Ivan Passer’s Cutter’s Way (7 p.m. Saturday), a film noir-style thriller that has Bridges cast as a tarnished LA golden boy who may link a wealthy businessman to a brutal murder.
The latter film, it’s worth noting, has a significant H-Town connection. Originally known as Cutter and Bone, the title of the novel on which it’s based, it was a box-office flop when it opened with minimal hoopla in New York in early 1981. But some savvy folks at United Artists Classics opted to give the film a second chance by re-launching it — with a new title — at the WorldFest/Houston International Film festival, where it was cheered by audiences and hailed by critics.
Thanks largely to the publicity generated by the WorldFest/Houston exposure, Cutter’s Way was successfully released on the art-house circuit, attracted a sizeable cult following — and, not incidentally, helped establish UA Classics (which later released Diva, The Last Metro and The Night of the Shooting Stars) as a top-tier distributor of indie and foreign-language films.
Other titles in the We ♥ Jeff Bridges lineup: Tucker: The Man and His Dream (7 p.m. May 14), The Big Lebowski (7 p.m. May 15), The Fabulous Baker Boys (7 p.m. May 28), Starman (7 p.m. May 29), The Fisher King (7 p.m. June 11), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (7 p.m. June 18) — and, of course, Crazy Heart (7 p.m. June 25).
Each of the films will be introduced by a member of the Houston Film Critics Society — I’ll be doing the honors for Tucker — and all of them will be screened in the MFA’s Brown Auditorium Theater.