‘Crazy Heart’ has the goods

Posted by · 2:31 pm · November 4th, 2009

(from left) Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bridges in Crazy HeartIt’s not just Jeff Bridges who leaps onto the Oscar landscape with Scott Cooper’s “Crazy Heart.” It’s possible in a few months that we’ll be talking pretty seriously about Maggie Gyllenhaal in the supporting actress race and, most certainly, T Bone Burnett’s contributions as the film’s music supervisor.

Fox Searchlight screened the film this morning to a handful of press and will do so again this evening, looking to gauge reactions to what could be a big boost both on the awards front and commercially.  With “Amelia” losing money at the box office and a dwindling slate of product for the Oscar push, it seemed almost inevitable that this little mid-summer pick-up would find its way onto the 2009 schedule.  More and more, that’s looking to be the case.

But back to the film.  I would rather not offer up a proper review for a movie that hasn’t been color-timed, still has some sound mixing work to be done and, on the whole, just isn’t finished yet, but I feel comfortable calling it a slow burn that settles warmly in the tradition of “Tender Mercies” or “Nobody’s Fool.” While it might be unfair to reduce it to a “country-music ‘Wrestler'” (as The Hollywood Reporter’s Steven Zeitchik did yesterday without having seen the film), that is nevertheless a pretty streamlined way of describing the narrative.

More importantly, however, that “performance of a lifetime” from Jeff Bridges that Fox Searchlight was on about when the studio bought the film nearly four months ago?  I think it could be this year’s Oscar-winning lead actor turn walking away.

Bridges fully embodies the broken but spirited Bad Blake, an alcoholic country singer touring the Southwest in his 1970-something Suburban, playing any dive that’ll have him.  He brings every inch of charisma and charm he has to a role that certainly doesn’t seem made for him on the surface, but somehow ends up entirely owned by the actor come film’s end.

Bridges haunts the stage behind a dark pair of aviator sunglasses, under a silvery, unshampooed mane, unmistakably conjuring the image of Hank Williams Jr. as he belts out a number of tunes from gig to gig.  He shares the screen with Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays Jean, a journalist and single-mother love interest.  Gyllenhaal holds her own and provides a complex, emotional core to the story that could also nail down a few kudos here and there.

Colin Farrell has something of a glorified cameo as Tommy Sweet, a famous modern country star who owes his career to Blake, while Robert Duvall (who also serves as one of the film’s producers, along with Burnett, in fact) offers a small but meaningful supporting turn as Blake’s confidante.

Speaking of Burnett, it’s entirely likely (barring any unforeseen music branch silliness…which, you never know) he and his team will be recognized for the original songs that appear in the film, something like seven or eight tracks that should make for a wonderful soundtrack.  The final song, “The Weary Kind,” is probably the best bet, as a number of moments in the film’s third act are dedicated to Blake’s writing the song, which draws upon his emotional journey as an alcoholic seeking sobriety.  The tune also plays in the final scene and through the closing credits.  I couldn’t get it out of my head on the drive home.  “Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try.”  (Check out one of the songs, performed with Farrell, in the clip below.)

Other nods could follow.  Best Picture might be a longshot given the scope of the film, though an adapted screenplay notice for Cooper is certainly possible.  But the story here, it goes without saying, is Jeff Bridges.

From where I sit, I’m having a hard time arguing with his potential as this year’s Best Actor Oscar winner — especially when you look at the competition.  George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Morgan Freeman — they all have their Oscar.  The potential for a big awards comeback from Robert De Niro was considerably muted when “Everybody’s Fine” landed with a thud at AFI Fest last night, while other contenders just won’t have the strength of “The Story” that a Bridges campaign will have.

The man is one of the great unrecognized American actors.  “Crazy Heart” will give voters a chance to both remember his consistency, recognize that he remains Oscarless and, best of all, feel good about checking the box next to his name.  Because this really is one of his finest moments.

I imagine we’ll be talking about “Crazy Heart” more and more in the coming weeks and months, but those hoping for a last-minute shake-up certainly look to get their wish.  These are the moments I live for in an Oscar season.




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34 responses so far

  • 1 11-04-2009 at 2:44 pm

    j said...

    I wouldn’t mind Bridges winning. The only big contender I would prefer is Firth, both so that his career can finally be acknowledged and because I hope for A Single Man to be my favorite film of the year. Though his winning might be a tad too much gayness for the Academy – thrice in 5 years.

    Looking at the winners, I didn’t know 3 of the last 5 were for biopics. Hmm.

  • 2 11-04-2009 at 2:45 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    YES. This sounds like exactly the film (and performance) I had in mind.

  • 3 11-04-2009 at 2:53 pm

    Chris said...

    Jeff Bridges is long overdue. He should have won 16 years ago for ‘Fearless.’

  • 4 11-04-2009 at 3:09 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    This makes so so god-damn happy to hear. Jeff Bridges has been one of my favorites for a long, long time, I’d love to see him nominated again and not only is he “due”, but it’d be fantastic if he won it for a truly deserving performance too and not a career achievement Oscar a la Newman and Pacino, among others.

    A bit worrisome that the film isn’t finished in post though, will they be able to get it done and out there in time? It’s November after all and there’s no trailer, no poster, no publicity, nothing. It’d be terrible if it’s deserving but is fumbled.. On the other hand, if Fox Searchlight has (nearly) nothing else to hope for, they could put all into this.

    Also, Kris, a question, is there any risk that Walk the Line could hurt it’s chances? Are there enough difference between the two? Crazy Heart is obviously not a bio-pic, but just reading your comments it sounded like familiar territory so I’d just like to hear your thoughts on that.

  • 5 11-04-2009 at 3:17 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    Bridges, Clooney, Day-Lewis, Firth and Freeman sounds like the perfect line-up for the Oscars, with Damon and Renner as dark horses.

  • 6 11-04-2009 at 3:19 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    aspect: I don’t think Walk the Line will figure in at all, actually. The comparison will be, for the lazy, The Wrestler, and for those willing to consider, the titles I mentioned: Tender Mercies and Nobody’s Fool. But Crazy Heart is very much its own thing.

    As for the post issue, it’ll be finished. Color-timing and sound issues are always cleared up toward the end.

  • 7 11-04-2009 at 3:29 pm

    Morgan said...

    Word on “Fearless” – a film which should have received even more Oscar attention than Rosie Perez’s well deserved nom.

  • 8 11-04-2009 at 3:32 pm

    slayton said...

    If this performance ends up going toe-to-toe with Firth, I have a feeling it’ll win.

  • 9 11-04-2009 at 3:35 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Our friend Greg Ellwood chimes in with similar sentiments:

    http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/2008-12-11-awards-campaign-2009/posts/jeff-bridges-jumps-in-to-the-best-actor-race-with-crazy-heart

  • 10 11-04-2009 at 3:41 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Firth’s reward would be the nomination, Bridges is overdue. That’s how it works.

  • 11 11-04-2009 at 3:50 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    Good to hear, Kris, re: Walk the Line.

    I’ve obviously seen neither performance, but I too would think if it ends up being a toss-up between Bridges and First-Time-Firth that Bridges would take it because of his stature as a multiple past nominee.

    Also, it seems odd to say, but if the line-up ends up being Bridges, Clooney, Day-Lewis, Firth and Freeman, judging by the buzz (and a hefty dose of own opinion and gut feeling), Freeman might end up being the lesser performance of the five, though no one knows about Day-Lewis yet, of course.

  • 12 11-04-2009 at 4:00 pm

    JAB said...

    “I imagine we’ll be talking about “Crazy Heart” more and more in the coming weeks and months, but those hoping for a last-minute shake-up certainly look to get their wish. These are the moments I live for in an Oscar season.”

    Kris, I can’t agree more.
    You’ve really piqued my interest on this one. Hopefully it gets an 09 release, I’d love to see Bridges get a win and Maggie Gyllenhaal get her first oscar nomination.

  • 13 11-04-2009 at 4:03 pm

    moviefan said...

    I’m so glad to read this, Kris. This is exactly the movie I was thinking about when I mentioned (in another thread) Jeff Bridges being so much more deserving of an Oscar than Clooney getting nominated again. I heard about Crazy Heart last summer, watched the above trailer and couldn’t wait to see the movie. Jeff Bridges is one of the best actors in the business and has many memorable roles in his filmography. I also agree about Fearless, one of my favorite performances and movies.

    So, OK, Academy, grow some balls and bring it on, nominate Bridges, Firth, Rockwell and then either Renner or Copley for the newbies. If there is an oft nominated actor deserving, fine, but I’m thinking it’s not going to be Clooney or DDL this year.

  • 14 11-04-2009 at 4:09 pm

    Silencio said...

    The funny thing is that shortly before reading that “Crazy Heart” was coming this year after all, I was reading Nathaniel Rogers’ predictions. And he said that Jeff Bridges could win if only the film was released this year. Nice.

  • 15 11-04-2009 at 4:20 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I may be totally thrown for a loop once I see this, but I can’t seem to get past that overly familiar, somewhat cliched storyline. Hopefully there’s more to it.

  • 16 11-04-2009 at 4:28 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    The only thing to be wary of is if Bridges is this year’s Rourke (in terms of film/performance, not comeback factor), and Firth triumphs. But I like the idea of the race being between two non-winners, should it boil down to that (which is looking likely).

    Personally, I have an ideal lineup in mind and this film would make the potential in certain categories more difficult to achieve, so I’m kinda hoping it goes back to 2010. But I’ll be happy if it’s ’09 only because I’ve wanted Bridges to win for a long, long time.

  • 17 11-04-2009 at 4:32 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    If Bridges is in, this might be my predicted actor five:

    Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
    George Clooney (Up in the Air)
    Colin Firth (A Single Man)
    Morgan Freeman (Invictus)
    Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

    If “Invictus” is a stinker, Damon/Day-Lewis or perhaps one of those underdog campaigns for Rockwell/Stuhlbarg to take Freeman’s place.

    And supporting actress–we’ll see about Gyllenhaal. But the Adapted Screenplay could shove “The Lovely Bones” out perhaps (hopefully not “A Single Man”; we’ll see if that has support, and if TLB flatlines or not).

    Confusion! Intrigue! Merriment! Backlash! Hooray, 2009.

  • 18 11-04-2009 at 4:34 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    im down for this, it was looking like firth win though i was hoping viggo, i can get behind it if its as good as you say, is the performance on par with the wrestlers?

  • 19 11-04-2009 at 5:24 pm

    qwiggles said...

    Bridges vs. Firth is a race I can get behind.

  • 20 11-04-2009 at 7:50 pm

    Glenn said...

    It helps that Jeff Bridges is so very well liked by audiences too. As much press as The Wrestler got for Mickey Rourke, I’m sure more would be willing to see this movie than that one.

    If it gets a 2009 release would you see it going down the Musical/Comedy route at the Globes? Either way he’s gonna have major competition since the Globes love a man singing (hello Richard Gere) and Firth would have the “foreign” (and gay) advantage.

    I’m still not thinking Day-Lewis will be Oscar nominated. They can’t nominate him for everything and as Nathaniel Rogers mentions a lot, they have never nominated him for one of his romantic roles.

  • 21 11-04-2009 at 8:18 pm

    Joe Leydon said...

    Any chance Robert Duvall could score a Best Supporting Actor nod for this?

  • 22 11-04-2009 at 9:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I don’t think so, Joe. Not enough screen time or overall impact. Just a nice character in a few scenes, that’s all.

  • 23 11-04-2009 at 10:22 pm

    Cameron said...

    Love Jeff Bridges. Hoping this pans out into awards season, but if not, there’s no doubt Rooster Cogburn will get him some notice

  • 24 11-05-2009 at 2:14 am

    Caleb Roth said...

    I can’t see why nobody thinks Damon could be the frontrunner for best actor. It’s a brilliant and the best performance by a respected actor and megastar, who still hasn’t won for his acting.

    And there’s always a light/comedy Best Actor win every decade, and we still haven’t seen that in 2000’s.

  • 25 11-05-2009 at 2:19 am

    Caleb Roth said...

    And Ellwood says Gyllenhaal may go leading, and not supporting. What do you think?

  • 26 11-05-2009 at 2:20 am

    Beau said...

    I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to hear you say that.

  • 27 11-05-2009 at 8:35 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Caleb: Supporting. Ellwood is playing up the “lead is a weak year” angle by suggesting lead, but it would be an affront to campaign her there. It’s your typical suffering love interest supporting part.

  • 28 11-06-2009 at 2:01 am

    alex said...

    Kristopher¡¡¡¡ For me, that is the best news that you have offered in your blog during all this year¡¡¡¡ I have smiled happily when I have known that Crazy Heart will be screened at 16 december of this year¡¡¡¡

    Jeff Bridges is clearly on of the actors that deserve an Oscar in this life¡¡¡

    If he and Michelle Pffeifer are nominated this will be the best Oscars in 15 years for me¡

    The two deserve the award and Pffeifer is terrific in Cheri (I hope that Miramax will do his job¡¡)

    If Bridges is nominated, the Oscar will be for him or for Colin Firth (but I think Bridges will win as a great performance and too as an honorary award for a great career and a great actor¡¡)

    Thanks Kristopher

  • 29 11-06-2009 at 2:48 pm

    BerkeleyGirl said...

    This news ends my work week with a very happy heart. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, reading this post and watching the clip, tears almost came to my eyes. I’ve loved Jeff Bridges for so long, especially since Starman. With so much talk about 2-time winner Streep being overdue, I’d rather talk about the quiet giants – Bridges, Julianne – who are still without an Oscar.

    To Glenn who says they can’t nominate Day-Lewis for everything, why not? They keep nominating Meryl.

    As for the story sounding like a cliche, I’d say it’s all in the telling. Also want to add, Farrell looks terrific. I wish the guy well. Didn’t understand the hype but, in In Bruges, he seemed to come into his own. I get the feeling that, since cleaning up his act, he’s finally realizing his potential.

  • 30 11-06-2009 at 2:50 pm

    BerkeleyGirl said...

    One more thing: about the concern re lack of publicity at this point. I’ve three words: Million Dollar Baby

  • 31 11-07-2009 at 2:53 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    If Bridges is in the Race, i think the Contenders in the category “Best Leading Actor” will be:

    1. Colin Firth in A Single Man
    2. Jeff Bridges in A Cracy Heart
    3. Morgan Freeman in Invictus
    4. George Clooney in Up in the Air

    Runner Up:

    Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
    Johnny Depp in Public Enemies
    Hal Hoolbrook in That Evening Sun