By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 4, 2009 at 10:14AM
Back in July, Fox Searchlight paid low seven figures for worldwide rights to Crazy Heart, a movie the distrib felt needed a little work in the editing room. (Here's my announcement story.) It was one of the first buys by new co-presidents Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula after Peter Rice left to run Fox TV.
They were excited about what they could do with actor-writer-turned-director Scott Cooper's drama about an over-the-hill, hard-drinking country singer who falls for a young reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell are also crucially well-cast in supporting roles. Yes, I've seen the movie (in unfinished digital form). Searchlight has been mulling whether or not to take this one into the Oscar race. I was told on October 21 that they were opening it in the spring.
Now suddenly Searchlight is planning a limited release for Crazy Heart by year's end (one week later than December 11, on December 16). Why? Well, they could use a winner right now.
Last year Searchlight picked up The Wrestler and Slumdog Millionaire at the last minute and took them to a slew of Oscar noms and wins, including best picture for Slumdog. They followed with the juicy Sundance $32-million hit 500 Days of Summer. But after that they've had a string of disappointments, from Whip It and Gentlemen Broncos to Amelia, which won't be requiring any of their Oscar magic.
So Utley and Gilula are changing their minds about holding Crazy Heart off til spring. Why not? They've got a strong movie that is as vital, authentic and American as Brit Kirk Jones' Everybody's Fine feels pumped-up and fake. (Robert DeNiro will not be a factor in the Oscar race.)
Looking at best actor, Bridges could have a shot. At this stage, his main competition is George Clooney for Up in the Air (a performance that almost looks too easy) and Colin Firth in tearjerker A Single Man (also overdue, Firth boasts the Brit advantage). We haven't yet seen Daniel Day Lewis in the musical Nine or Morgan Freeman as Mandela in Clint Eastwood's Invictus. Viggo Mortensen remains a possibility for The Road, but could be knocked out by a strong contender.
Bridges has never won the Oscar.
Like Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas (which won him the best actor Oscar), Bridges lets it all hang out as a raging alcoholic who you care about. After a long career of great roles, from The Last Picture Show in 1971 (his first of three supporting Oscar noms) and his one best actor nom in 1984 for Starman through the Dude in the Coens' cult hit The Big Lebowski to his hilarious supporting role in The Men Who Stare at Goats, Bridges, 59, is due. (He'll be 60 on December 4.)
Bridges makes the most of playing musician Bad Blake: the role takes advantage of Bridges' guitar-playing and singing (he's performed songs in six of his movies). With engaging stars and an accessible country soundtrack (with five original songs) supervised by T. Bone Burnett, the movie has commercial potential between the coasts, with or without the Oscar.
Here's my NYT interview with Bridges for The Door in the Floor, yet another under-appreciated performance--among many.