Assuming there are thousands of other blogs discussing Avatar today, the movie and the money and the whole zeitgeist of it all, I feel pretty comfortable offering you a bit of counter-programming. I just saw a little movie - teensy in the shadow of James Cameron's juggernaut - which, if there is any justice left in the world, ought to earn at least one Oscar in the new year.
How much do I love thee, Jeff Bridges? Let me count the movies that would make up my personal pantheon of favorites when it comes to the guy who may well be my favorite American actor: Starman (1984), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Fearless (1993), The Big Lebowski (1998) and now Crazy Heart (2009).
A glance at the filmography suggests that although Bridges is up for an Oscar for playing a guy named Bad, he's rarely, if ever, been anything but good - even when stuck in middling mainstream melodrama (e.g. Against All Odds, 1984), ahead-of-its-time genre weirdness (Tron, 1982) or too dark for the room misfires (The Vanishing, 1993).
Though he's been perfectly believable as both an American president (2000's The Contender), and a nefarious comic book villain (Iron Man, 2008), Bridges has long been seemingly most well-suited to playing shaggy-haired underdog misfits (e.g. 1972's Fat City, 1981's Cutter's Bone). But he's also done the romantic leading man thing many times over, even holding his own with Jane Fonda (The Morning After, 1986) and Streisand (The Mirror Has Two Faces, 1996).
Perhaps what's contributed to Bridge's versatility in this regard is his cool but oddly amenable reserve. He's removed - one step back behind those shrewd but kindly eyes. He's both present (in a palpably vulnerable way), and hidden (figuring out the angles of whatever defensive edifice his character is trying to construct). His feelings are visible, but you're conscious of the effort he's putting into trying to keep them to himself.
Up until now I'd have agreed with popular consensus that The Iconic Jeff Bridges Role would be Lebowski. But go see Crazy Heart (this is, after all, the point of my meandering valentine) and see if you don't agree: as Bad Blake, a nearly washed-up, literally and metaphorically wasted country western singer, Bridges has never been better.
That Bridges fits so well into the worn blue jeans of Bad is due in part to the exemplary efforts of one great musical team: T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton wrote the songs for him. Sadly, Bruton - for years Kris Kristofferson's guitarist - died recently, but this makes quite a swan song.
Many movies have attempted to make credible, memorable singer-songwriter characters come to life on the screen, but Crazy Heart delivers the goods: you believe these are hit songs, you believe Bad Blake wrote them, and well before the closing credits, you want to buy the soundtrack: these aren't throw-away faux-numbers, they're great tunes, period.
It helps that Bridges can sing (you can hear some of his own compositions on his website). Helps that the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal plays opposite, and it surely helps that newbie director Scott Cooper (who also wrote the adaptation of Thomas Cobb's novel) has done such a fine job with such predictable material.
Make no mistake, this is an old, familiar story - you've seen it before, and in the case of supporting actor Robert Duvall, you've even seen it with that guy in it (Duvall essentially played the Bridges part in Horton Foote's Tender Mercies in 1983). But Cooper has added surprising notes and undertones to an old wine to make it memorable.
Avatar will be bursting off its 3-D screen for months to come, and you'll have your pick of theaters (and dimensions) to see it in. Crazy Heart may soon disappear, and be harder to find, so you might want to seek it out. And those Academy voters ought to put that gold thinger into the hand where it's long belonged.