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YouTube Hall of Fame: Celebrating Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges

With Jeff Bridges attempting to kill his legendary career with this weekend’s release of RIPD, we dedicate this YouTube Hall of Fame to remembering his greatness. He was so beautiful once, before he became a corpse-chasing supermodel who hangs around with Ryan Reynolds. Hey, a national treasure’s gotta eat.

The Big Lebowski


netw3rk: Picking a favorite line/scene/joke from the Coen Brothers’ 1998 detective-noir, existential comedy, The Big Lebowski, is impossible. It’s like picking your favorite child, if you had, like, dozens and dozens of awesome and equally deserving children. I don’t like doing that. My mother’s favorite child is Tiger Woods, so I know that pain. Also, I am extremely indecisive, so just the whole concept of selecting things from among other things causes me to expend undue brainpower. Einstein was the same way; he had a closet full of identical suits to streamline his daily decision making, then he used that surplus brainpower to write that formula I don’t understand, and now he’s considered a genius. So, I’m not going to say that this scene — in which our grizzled, toasted hero uses the Scoobie-Doo scribble technique to uncover the secrets of the villainous pornographer Jackie Treehorn — is my favorite. I’m just a sucker for a good dick joke.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream


Bryan Curtis: For me, this is the lost Bridges performance. Tucker was like The Rocketeer and The Aviator — the filmmakers built cool retro sets and designed a swingin’ soundtrack but forgot to add a soul. In Tucker’s case, this is explained by the fact that the director, Francis Ford Coppola, originally wanted the movie to be musical. He was overruled by his producer, George Lucas. You can see why the story of Preston Tucker appealed to them. Tucker, a failed auto baron, was an insurgent, a noodge. Thirty years later, he would have been making films for American Zoetrope.

Anyway: Here’s Bridges in his big courtroom scene, trying to stay out of jail when the auto company goes belly-up. Bridges is enthusiastic and convincing and fun. Problem is, he was driving a lemon.

Tron


Brian Phillips: Singing in the old bars
Swinging with the old stars
Living for the fame
Kissing in the blue dark
Playing pool and wild darts
Video games

The Fisher King


Sean Fennessey: I’ve always liked The Fisher King, and for a lot of reasons. It’s director Terry Gilliam’s smallest film, his most patient and least manic. It arrived in a moment before Robin Williams’s hummina-hummina, accent-man shtick had worn down the public. It has a great, sort of forgotten Academy Award–winning performance by Mercedes Ruehl as the kind of character with whom your mother completely identifies. It has a clever, wending script by Richard LaGravenese, who also wrote this year’s Behind the Candelabra and several less interesting films in between. The music is varied and intelligently chosen; the above scene, a cynical moment, features Coltrane’s heartsick “I Wish I Knew” (with McCoy Tyner on the keys) transitioning into Trip’s “Chill Out Jack” and then into Chill Rob G’s “The Power.” I like it because it’s about the Holy Grail and talk radio and falling out of everything you’ve worked for because you can’t control the world beyond yourself and even then there’s only so much to wrangle. I also like that this is Jeff Bridges’s least Bridges-ian performance. He plays a shock jock who delivers a heartless rant that leads to devastating consequences involving Williams’s crazed character. If you haven’t seen it, go look for it. It was produced by Lynda Obst, the Hollywood fixture who’s been making the rounds of late, decrying the state of Hollywood and its utter lack of interest in making films like The Fisher King; modest but studio-financed; weird but affecting; ripe with movie stars willing to be outshone by their supporting players. The Fisher King made $40 million once upon a time. That sort of thing is less likely today.

The Men Who Stare at Goats


Mark Lisanti: There’s a pretty good chance you skipped The Men Who Stare at Goats, the Clooney/Heslov joint (that yearned to be a Coen joint) that pulled in a modest $32 million back in 2009, and wasn’t quite as much fun as maybe a movie about a secret Army unit that tries to use paranormal abilities should have been. Bridges plays Bill Django, whom you’ll be tempted to imagine is just a sideways universe Dude who awoke from his Jackie Treehorn–mandated beating to discover he had psychic powers, joined the military, and then spent the rest of his career trying to teach soldiers to kill farm animals with their minds. But you shouldn’t give in to that temptation because (1) it’s lazy to view post-Lebowski Bridges performances as mere variations on his (and perhaps modern cinema’s) greatest character, and (2) no matter how severe the head trauma, the Dude would not mince around in a braid. Too much upkeep, man.

In this clip, Django dances. Sideways Marty would be so thrilled he learned something from his cycle.

The Last Picture Show


Molly Lambert: Jeff Bridges in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. One of the few examples of a perfect book made into an equally perfect movie. Bridges finds his acting rhythms, and his California drawl easily tilts Southern. A ’70s movie about the ’50s adapted from a book written in 1966, it’s a timeless story of love triangles and old friendships drifting apart. (Also, it should be said, Jeff Bridges looks fine as hell in it.) Despite growing up in Hollywood, Bridges was born to play the part of restless Texan small-town boy Duane. He reprised it in 1990 for Bogdanovich’s sequel, Texasville.

The Contender


Charles P. Pierce: There’s more than a little LBJ to Bridges’s portrayal of a smiling, cunning, and ultimately ruthless president in The Contender, and there’s just enough to flavor up a script that might get bogged down in Beltway cliché and terminal righteousness. (And Sam Elliott’s chief of staff is a little too flinty to do it by himself.) From the minute he tries to get Christian Slater’s ambitious young congresscritter to share a shark-steak sandwich to him, to his hustling up elaborate cookies from the White House mess, to the way he eventually eats Gary Oldman’s pissant senator for dinner at the end, this is a president of overwhelming and uncompromising appetites. We haven’t seen one of those in a while, and Bill Clinton doesn’t count.

Fearless


Chris Ryan: Probably my favorite non-Dude Bridges turn, and one of the most underrated movies of the ’90s. Fearless has a plane-crash scene that will make you think about buying Amtrak tickets in bulk, but the real attraction is Bridges as possibly a savior, maybe a nut, definitely a PTSD sufferer. At his best, Bridges is able to play his classic American-hero looks (had he been a ’50s movie star, he could have been one of the great Western icons) off as an obvious, inherent … weirdness. In Fearless, his character, Max, is the perfect vehicle for these two competing impulses; he plays the scene somewhere between a selfless Christ figure and being a total nutbar. Also, the U2 helps.

8 Million Ways to Die


Andy Greenwald: Has there ever been a more natural actor than Jeff Bridges? Watch him in anything, doing anything: He always seems completely relaxed and yet it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. (If you doubt how difficult this is, next time you’re at a party try getting everyone’s attention while remaining completely in your own skin. Heck, try getting to the fridge to grab a beer while remaining completely in your own skin. Good luck. I’ll wait.)

Anyway, Jeff Bridges is fantastic in everything and this is a given. He’s the best thing in good films and even better in bad ones. So it’s particularly interesting to watch him ballet dance through a creaking ruin. 8 Million Ways to Die, from 1986, is an incredible, fascinating, amazing movie. But it’s also a disaster, so much so that it’s basically unavailable to watch unless you don’t mind sitting through stitched-together YouTube clips or happen to be watching EpixHD at four in the morning. Adapted from a novel by beloved New York City crime writer Lawrence Block, the script (written by Oliver Stone with an uncredited assist from Robert Towne) nonsensically relocates alcoholic ex-cop Matthew Scudder to the hot, unblinking daylight of Los Angeles. This was the final film directed by the legendary Hal Ashby (The Last Detail, Shampoo, Being There), and it was forcibly taken away from him by the studio, as the notorious perfectionist had fallen completely into drug abuse and paranoia. But it’s an amazing thing, watching Bridges hold it together while an entire movie falls apart around him. Wearing a limp mustache like you would a favorite T-shirt, he waltzes through the picture like a temporarily sober swell who’s absolutely confident it’s happy hour somewhere.

In this scene Bridges meets the baddie — played by a young, electric, and ponytailed Andy Garcia — and together they eat passion fruit snow cones, poured fresh out of the trunk of a car. At a certain point you get the sense that Bridges and Garcia had expended the words on the page and were expecting Ashby to yell “cut.” Then you can see the two realize the cameras are going to keep rolling as long as they are. And then the real fun starts.

Jeff Bridges, man. Not even a drug-addled director can turn his eyes away.

The Door in the Floor


Katie Baker: “I’m an entertainer of children … who loves to draw,” Jeff Bridges explains more than once in The Door in the Floor, as if he’s discovering the words for the first time. He’s Ted Cole, an arrogant children’s book author, a charming but cold man with a beautiful house in the Hamptons and a family that has shattered around him. (A tiny Elle Fanning plays one child.) And Ted Cole is all sharp edges himself — as the bright-eyed kid who comes to intern for him one summer finds out. The Door in the Floor is based on the first third of John Irving’s A Widow for One Year (Irving himself loves the film), and it’s as gloomy and devastating a tale as anything involving the Under Toad in Irving’s The World According to Garp. But as Cole, Bridges is magnetic. The movie can be hard to watch, but you don’t want to look away.

Arlington Road


Rafe Bartholomew: Nobody runs toward a bomb with his mouth agape and horror in his eyes like Bridges. Apparently, he felt like he didn’t do quite enough to confirm this in 1994’s Blown Away, so he made Arlington Road in 1998. Also, at 2:25 we see where Rihanna stole her best line in Battleship from.

The Last Unicorn


Danny Chau: A 32-year-old Jeff Bridges does the voice of Prince Lir in The Last Unicorn. Two years ago, a girl made me watch it with her. Bless her heart.

The Fabulous Baker Boys


Michael Weinreb: Steve Kloves, the writer of The Fabulous Baker Boys, once described Jeff Bridges as a “seamless” actor, which makes sense, since The Fabulous Baker Boys is the sort of seamless movie that props up Bridges’s underrated midcareer, pre-Lebowski filmography. I held off on watching it for more than a decade after its release because I couldn’t imagine that the story of a pair of washed-up lounge singers could possibly be interesting. Then I watched it nine or 10 times in the course of a year. Everyone’s great in it; it has to be the peak of Pfeiffer’s career, both acting-wise and hotness-wise. It might only be the second-best movie written by Steve Kloves with the word “Boys” in the title (behind Wonder Boys), but that still means it’s pretty damned devoid of seams.

Starman


Mike Philbrick: The Jeff plays an alien/energy life form who disguises himself on Earth by cloning the human form of Marion Ravenwood’s dead husband. Still with me? Good, because The Jeff got nominated for an Academy Award for this role. (Sorry, he lost to F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus). Anyway, I don’t remember this girl getting any Emmy noms by basically acting the same way. Hollywood is so prejudiced against robots. As far as this scene, it’s the pivotal one where Marion Ravenwood is so moved that she decides not to try to run away from the cloned version of her dead husband, but to help him get back home, or at least to E.T.’s house or something.