The Last Picture Show 1971 Adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel by Larry McMurtry. Directed by Peter Bogdonovich. A coming of age story whose axis turns on Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and his buddy Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges); their friends and girlfriends; Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd-debut), Billy (Sam Bottoms), Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid); and the middle-aged wife of their high-school coach, Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) who has a poignant affair with Sonny.
North Texas circa 1951/52 is as much a character as any of the players, significant in exemplifying the hardscrabble life, values, and traditions of much of that part of the country. Shot in McMurtry’s small hometown of Archer City. With Ellen Burstyn as Jacy’s mother, Ben Johnson as town character, Sam the Lion, Clu Gulager and Eileen Brennan. Bleak and moving, this black and white film gave many of its young actors a start in the business – they’re SO young! (and Bogdonovich girlfriend Cybill). Rent on Amazon Prime.
Tucker, A Man and His Dream 1988 Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. A dramatization of the real Preston Tucker’s attempt to produce and market a 1948 Tucker Sedan. His concept vehicle offered disc brakes, seat belts, a pop out windshield, and head lights that swiveled, many of the advance- ments/extras larger auto companies added shortly thereafter. The engineer/inventor was undermined then ousted by his own greedy, short-of-vision board of directors. With Howard Hughes’ advice, he managed to go forward on his own but was then accused of stock fraud.
There’s more than a little implication charges were arranged by the big three auto manufacturers. With a Mr.-Deeds-Goes-to-Washington speech he won in court, but the business collapsed in bankruptcy. So much for supporting our innovators.
In 1973, Coppola planned to star Marlon Brando in his film. Three years later, his intention was a musical. Only when producer George Lucas signed on was this screenplay developed. Bridges does straight arrow as well as he manifests unusual characters. Also with Joan Allen, Martin Landau, Frederic Forrest, Lloyd Bridges, Elias Koteas, Christian Slater. Free with Cinemax Trial.
The Fabulous Baker Boys 1989 Written and directed by Steve Kloves. Jack and Frank Baker (Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges) have been performing a duo piano/vocal act since they were adolescents. Jack, the more talented, is bored with low class venues and corny repertoire. He sits in at a jazz club some nights, but has no social life. His dog and Nina, the visiting child of a single mother in his building, are company. Frank is married with children. He handles the business. Hoping to increase bookings, they hold auditions for a female singer choosing tough, sultry, Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer).
The trio rise in the ranks. Jack and Susie circle one another, finally making it to bed at an upscale hotel where they’re hired to play New Year’s Eve. Frank is furious. Jack backs away from Susie. She quits for another job. Some of the mess is resolved, some left open. Well written, well acted.
Bridges was Kloves’s first choice for the role of Jack. “Jeff, for me, is like the old time actors who you never know are acting; he’s seamless – you just never see him working at it.” His brother Beau didn’t want the public to think he was riding Jeff’s coattails, but was later convinced to sign on. Pfeiffer, who did her own excellent singing, sizzles. Free with Starz Trial.
The Mirror Has Two Faces 1996 Loosely based on a French film of the same name about a homely woman whose transformation causes marital problems. Produced and directed by Barbra Streisand. Cinderella with a twist. Middle-aged literature professor Rose Morgan (Barbra Streisand), still lives at her upscale childhood home with nagging mother Hannah (Lauren Bacall). Both Hannah and Rose’s sister Claire (Mimi Rogers) are beauties in whose shadows she’s lived her life. Claire even married Alex (Pierce Brosnan), the man Rose wanted.
Mathematics professor Gregory Larkin (Jeff Bridges) is so psychologically shaken by desire, inevitably leading to hurt, he places a personals ad reading: “Columbia University professor (male) seeks woman interested in common goals and companionship. Must have Ph.D. and be over thirty-five. Physical appearance not important!” Hannah responds in Rose’s name. The two teachers connect and despite singular peculiarities find much in common. Rose falls in love, Gregory into comfort. They marry.
On their (well written) wedding night, she learns the truth – he doesn’t want to complicate things with sex. Upset/rejected she goes home to mom. Over the summer, Gregory goes to Europe on a fellowship, but continues to try to reach Rose who won’t speak to him. Meanwhile, she completely transforms herself. Her husband returns, finds his beautiful new mate and electrically shorts in the wrong way. It all works out of course. A different look at who wants what in a relationship/marriage. Attractive cast. Bacall is a pleasure. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Big Lebowski 1998 Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Not my cuppa, but I know many think this brilliant. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Arlington Road 2005 Directed by Mark Pellington. College history professor/widower Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) meets his new neighbors Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack). Their sons join a Boy Scouts-style group and the adults become friendly. A succession of exposed lies (all credible provocation) makes Michael suspicious of his neighbors. Research shows “Lang” is an alias. Oliver has logical reasons for everything.
Michael seems to back off – but doesn’t. He gets closer and closer to the terrorists until…In this film, the bad guys not only win but deftly cover their tracks and go on to repeat anti-government vigilantism. Chilling. Heavily inspired by the paranoid culture of the 1990s, this gripping thriller is more relevant and plausible than ever. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Crazy Heart 2009 Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb inspired by the life of country singer Hank Thompson. Directed by Eric Brenner, Scott Cooper. Once a big country music star, alcoholic singer/songwriter Otis “Bad” Blake (Jeff Bridges) keeps life and limb together with third rate, on-the-road gigs, gathering an audience based on past glory. He’s had five unsuccessful marriages and doesn’t speak to a 28 year-old son. In Santa Fe, the musician meets single mother/journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and tentatively starts a relationship. He gets sober and is great with her son.
Pressured to reconnect with young star Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) whom he mentored, Bad assumes they’ll perform together, discovers the kid just wants songs, buys a bottle, and runs his truck off the road. Doctors tell him to stop drinking and smoking and lose 25 pounds. Back in Houston, he misses Jean and convinces her to come visit. A mishap involving alcohol and her son sends her running home. Eventually, Bad gets his life together. The ending is wisely more realistic than rosy.
Bridges passed on the film at first realizing so much depended on the music. When T. Bone Burnett became attached, he changed his mind. The score and Bridge’s singing add immeasurably. Academy Award Best Actor. A really good watch. Rent on Amazon Prime.
True Grit 2010 Adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel. Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. When 14 year-old Mattie Ross’s (Hailee Seinfeld) father is murdered by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the preternaturally precocious girl hires Deputy U.S. Marshall (and unsavory, drunken reprobate) Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track him down. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also in pursuit of Chaney – for murdering a state senator. He suggests they join forces, but Mattie wants her father’s killer hanged for that crime and refuses. The two men leave together without her knowledge. She follows.
The rest of the story is a smarter-than-the-usual-western with the three confronting Chaney and the gang he joined. LaBouf and Mattie almost die of separate causes. Rooster saves as much of the day as possible. We then meet Mattie 25 years later when she travels to pay what she owes.
Steinfeld, then age 13, was selected for the role from a pool of 15,000 applicants. “We were aware if the kid doesn’t work, there’s no movie,” Ethan Coen told The New York Times. The 1969 original, directed by Henry Hathaway, starred John Wayne, Kim Darby, and Glenn Campbell. For die-hard Wayne fans only. Both versions Free with Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Bigstock