The Contender

Ahead of its time.

Here in 2021 we have a female U.S. Vice President, but back in 2000, when Prez Jeff Bridges nominates Joan Allen to replace his VP, who just died in office, it creates huge tremors.

Washington, D.C. powerbrokers quickly swing into action on both sides, with the mud-throwing and partisan bickering feeling very familiar in any year.

Shady Senator Gary Oldman threatens to derail Allen’s confirmation, dredging up nasty secrets from the past and setting up a tense showdown.

A solid lil’ thriller and actor’s showcase, anchored by an especially-strong cast, this is political theater with some real zing.

The Big Lebowski

“This aggression will not stand, man.”

It’s not my favorite Coen brothers film — nothing tops The Hudsucker Proxy, nothing — but this dark crime comedy is still better than 98.2% of what you were thinking about watching today.

Bopping along with The Dude (a fantastically-funky Jeff Bridges) as he faces off with nihilists, rich pricks, anger-filled best buds, and freaky bowlers, it’s among the most-quotable movies of the modern age.

The cast is truly stellar, the zingers are many, and it’s 117 minutes of bliss.

To which some may say, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Exactly.

 

Starman

“He doesn’t want to hurt anybody.”

John Carpenter has made a pretty decent career from films in which creepy-crawlies of all kinds harass and/or straight-up murder folks, so this was a nice change-of-pace for the director.

The alien invader played by Jeff Bridges comes to Earth in response to a message broadcast by the Voyager 2 space probe, only to be shot down.

Scrambling to reunite with his own kind, the peaceful explorer takes the appearance of Karen Allen’s late husband, setting up a cross-country journey and a tentative love story.

Warm and hopeful, this is E.T. for adults.

 

True Grit (2010)

“I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned!”

Ask a man to step into the role that won John Wayne his Oscar, you better choose right, and once again the Coen brothers score big.

Jeff Bridges, with a few more burrs under his saddle than during his days as The Dude, is note-perfect, and he’s matched by Hailee Steinfeld, who delivers a knockout debut performance.

He’s a thoroughly-soused lawman with a still-deadly gun, she’s a revenge-seeking farm girl.

The result is a film which copped 10 richly-deserved Oscar nominations.

That it lost to the very-pedestrian The King’s Speech? Bullpucky.

 

Arlington Road

Fear thy neighbor.

Arriving two years before 9/11, this crackling suspense thriller tracks Jeff Bridges as he tries to convince everyone suburbia hides a bomber planning to hit America where it hurts.

Suspect #1 is Tim Robbins, a good-time guy, who, along with wife Joan Cusack, projects friendliness, while leaving some troubling questions left unanswered.

At least for Bridges, who is angry over his wife’s death — she was an FBI agent lost in the line of duty — and increasingly comes off as the unhinged one.

Willing to go where a lot of films won’t, this one lands a roundhouse to the gut.