Jeff Bridges had to sort through what he calls an "interesting batch of emotions" when the Coen brothers approached him with the idea of playing Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit."
"I said, 'Why do you want to remake that,' you know?" Bridges recalls. "But they were thinking about the book and not the movie, which was a relief for me. I didn't want to be emulating John Wayne. Who would?" He pauses, shakes his head and lets out a laugh. "Who could?"
Bridges made the whiskey-soaked marshal enough of his own man to win an Oscar nomination, making Cogburn the 16th film character to earn more than one actor love from academy voters. Here are highlights of that gallery along with who fared best in the role.
John Wayne, "True Grit" (1969)
Jeff Bridges, "True Grit" (2010)
The winner: Wayne has the Oscar; Bridges has the Coens and the better movie. Let's call it a draw and let both Roosters crow.
Anthony Hopkins, "Nixon" (1995)
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon" (2008)
The winner: Oliver Stone's "Nixon" bombed commercially and KOd his career as a provocateur. But lost in the rubble was Hopkins' extraordinary portrayal of a blindly ruthless and, yes, tragic figure. There's a danger present in his work that's missing from Langella's skilled performance.
Judi Dench, "Iris" (2001)
Kate Winslet, "Iris" (2001)
The winner: Winslet and Dench portray the younger and older versions of prolific British novelist Iris Murdoch in the same film. It's Dench's movie, though Winslet does what's required, showing Murdoch's intellectual restlessness, making the latter-day decay all the more mournful.
QUEEN ELIZABETH I
Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth" (1998)
Judi Dench, "Shakespeare in Love" (1998)
Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (2007)
The winner: When you're trading in melodrama, there's a fine line between electricity and just plain nuttiness. Case in point: Blanchett's two Elizabeth's, separated by nearly a decade and a chasm in terms of critical acclaim. Meanwhile, the droll Dench appears in just eight minutes of "Shakespeare" but commands every inch of the screen during those brief scenes. Blanchett's great, but her two movies cancel each other out, don't they?
Jason Robards, "Melvin and Howard" (1980)
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Aviator" (2004)
The winner: Robards (very briefly) embodies the legend. DiCaprio shows how the myth came into being. DiCaprio would seem the natural pick by the sheer weight he's carrying, and yet the scruffy "Melvin and Howard" has loads more to say about the American Dream than Scorsese's hollow biopic can begin to summon. Score one for the soulful Robards.
Marlon Brando, "The Godfather" (1972)
Robert De Niro, "The Godfather Part II" (1974)
The winner: Audiences then, now and for generations to come. Still, Brando birthed the character and you don't hear anyone imitating De Niro from "Part II," do you?
CYRANO DE BERGERAC
Jose Ferrer, "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1950)
Gerard Depardieu, "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1990)
The winner: Ferrer's stagebound "Cyrano" hasn't aged particularly well, though that doesn't negate the technical proficiency of his work. Depardieu himself hasn't aged particularly well, but he made his "Cyrano" at the height of his powers, and it remains the definitive portrait, though we do have a soft spot for Steve Martin's overlooked "Roxanne" too.
Robert Montgomery, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941)
Warren Beatty, "Heaven Can Wait" (1978)
The winner: The acting — and the pallid films themselves — aren't markedly all that different. The actors? That's another story. Montgomery gave friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee and worked for Eisenhower. Beatty made "Reds" and campaigned for McGovern. Cast your vote accordingly.
Leslie Howard, "Pygmalion" (1938)
Rex Harrison, "My Fair Lady" (1964)
The winner: Both actors make a strong case for their arrogant intellectuals. Really, it comes down to whether you prefer to hum along with your Shaw. Personally, I've grown accustomed to the songs.
KING HENRY VIII
Charles Laughton, "The Private Life of King Henry VIII" (1933)
Robert Shaw, "A Man for All Seasons" (1966)
Richard Burton, "Anne of a Thousand Days" (1969)
The winner: A king who had no problem speaking or indulging in any number of varying appetites, Henry has inspired filmmakers and hammy actors for the last century. Of the academy's favorites, Shaw displays cunning charm and Burton hits all the expected blustery beats. But neither tears into those drumsticks with the same zest as Laughton.