Jeff Bridges: Living The Legend, By Kurt Loder

Fox Searchlight Pictures threw a little holiday party at a fashionable SoHo hotel the other night, and no wonder. The company has had a very good year. Three of its movies are getting serious critical love as the year-end polls come in. The animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and its director, Wes Anderson, have just won awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review (NBR); “(500) Days of Summer” won a best-film nod from the St. Louis Film Critics Association, and best-debut awards for director Marc Webb from the NBR and New York Film Critics Online; and “Crazy Heart” — a movie that won’t even be released till this Wednesday –- won the best-actor award from the L.A. critics for its star, Jeff Bridges. Will Oscar action for these three pictures soon follow?

Descending to the downstairs party rooms of the Crosby Street Hotel, the Blog headed straight for the bar, figuring that’s where we’d find at least one of the bold-face names on hand. Not so, though. Anderson, we were told, had been present at the beginning of the night, but then, alarmed by all the flesh-pressing, had fled, apparently in terror. Across the room we saw Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bridges’ “Crazy Heart” costar, deep in mid-natter with a clutch of admirers and thus, one assumed, unapproachable at the moment. Then we spotted Bridges himself, holding court in a big comfy chair in a corner. We made straight for the empty seat next to him.

Bridges is 60 years old now, white-haired and white-bearded and enormously jovial. Starting with “The Last Picture Show,” in 1972, he’s been nominated for an Academy Award four times. He’s never won, but with “Crazy Heart” that could finally change. He was in the middle of an interview with a woman from the Website of a major national newspaper. The Blog ignored this, and immediately jumped in to switch the subject to Lefty Frizzell, the late honky-tonk country star, whose name is checked in the movie. (Bridges’ character in the film, Bad Blake, is a faded country star himself.) “Crazy Heart” is also getting a lot of awards talk for its soundtrack, by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton, and Bridges recalled the time, back in 2000, when he released an album of his own, a rootsy affair called “Be Here Soon,” on his own label, Ramp Records. At the time he assumed that, what with his celebrity and all, he might be able to make the rounds of TV chat shows and talk the record onto the charts. That didn’t happen, though. He seemed to find it kind of amusing.

He also expanded a bit on the Coen brothers’ upcoming remake of “True Grit,” which he’ll start shooting in March, playing Marshall Reuben J. Cogburn -– the role that won an Oscar for John Wayne in the original 1969 film. This’ll be Bridges’ first film with the Coens since “The Big Lebowski,” in 1998 –- the picture in which he became something of a cultural icon as “The Dude.” He’s very stoked about this new movie.

The best part of the Blog’s encounter with Bridges -– the best part of the night, actually -– occurred when a waiter appeared at the actor’s side and set down a refill of whatever it was he was drinking. It was a very large glass of what could have been water, but… well, let’s be serious. The reporter lady looked at it and asked, “Is that a gimlet?” Whoa — a mixed drink? Bridges looked at her as if she had “Lightweight” tattooed on her forehead and said no, it wasn’t: “It’s vodka.”

All right! In an era when so many water-quaffing celebrities seem to be lifestyle lightweights, it’s good to see that one man is still living his legend. Shouldn’t there be an Oscar for that?