Jeff Bridges: A career of unforgettable characters

For some, not even the heartbreaking finesse of

broken country singer Bad Blake can eclipse the

pièce de résistance


of "The Big Lebowski's" the Dude back in '98. Others would point to "Starman" or "The Last Picture Show." For me, it was 1992's "American Heart," another broken man stumbling toward recovery.

But nearly everyone agrees that after five nominations, Bridges was long overdue for his Oscar, and "Crazy Heart" was as good a time as any to recognize one of the finest, most versatile and most authentic actors around.

The golden boy he took home Sunday is just the icing on a towering layer cake of a career. Exceptional performances, year after year, were played with such subtly, at such a low volume, that many have been barely noticed.

Bridges wears his characters like old jeans, edges frayed, stiffness washed out ages ago, and "Crazy Heart" is no exception. From the moment he rolls into the cracked parking lot of a used-up bowling alley, heat and drink making the sweat run and the stench rise, Bad is as familiar as family.

At age 60, the actor has created so many unforgettable characters; as good as Bad is, he's just another face in the crowd. It began inauspiciously, the uncredited "infant at train station" in 1951's "The Company She Keeps." He has kept good company since, mostly smaller, character-driven roles with filmmakers who appreciate his range. Bridges stars next in the action epic "Tron Legacy." With a rumored $300-million budget, there's nothing small about it. The Coen brothers' coming "True Grit," with Bridges as the marshal, seems a better fit. The 1969 version won

an Oscar; it could do the same for Bridges. Maybe it's time the academy makes this a habit.