There are two men this year who have been nominated for Best Actor who happen to be two of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth. Jeff won my heart back in the 80's when he starred in Starman. I so wanted an extraterrestrial for my own after seeing him in that. Colin is probably best known for his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Pride & Prejudice but for me I fell in love with him in Bridget Jones' Diary, where strangely enough he was again a Darcy. Both men have the feel of being real men. While they are both handsome and charming, they also seem like people you'd like to know, or maybe have known, in almost all of their roles.
This past year both men gave virtuoso performances in two very different types of films. Let's start with Colin Firth and his performance in A Single Man. This film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, written for the screen by the author, Christopher Isherwood, and the clothing designer, Tom Ford, who also directed. It is a period film set in the 1960's and tells the story of George, a man who suddenly loses his longtime companion, Tom (played by Matthew Goode), and how he deals with the aftermath of his very lonely new life. The film is beautifully shot in ever changing colors depending on George's mood and thoughts. At times it's in black and white, then a kind of sepia tone to full color, or sometimes it's black and white with only one significant thing in color. The influence of Tom Ford's design esthetic comes through during the whole film and it plays a large part in the telling of the story and the feel of the film. Colin Firth takes this role and finds a whole new dimension in his acting. He is subtle, using just his face in many scenes to tell us viewers what George is feeling. He moves from a kind of euphoria and rapture as he's thinking about his lost lover to a quiet despair when he realizes it wasn't a dream, Tom really is gone. And he tells us all this using just his expressions. His dealings with his students and his dearest friend and past lover, Charley (played by Julianna Moore) bring some light-hearted moments, especially with Kenny (played by Nicholas Hoult) who almost seems to be in love with George. His relationship with Charley is a very disturbing and ultimately destructive one especially for Charley. She doesn't really know who she is and she is so lonely that she tries to reign George in to wallow in sorrow with her. The ending is one of the most affecting endings I've seen in a film in years. Colin Firth gives the performance of a lifetime and was perfectly cast as a very complex man lost and then almost found.
Now on to Jeff Bridges and his role in the film Crazy Heart. This film is also an adaptation of a novel, this time written for the screen by the author, Thomas Cobb, and Scott Cooper, who also directed. Crazy Heart is the story of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a down and almost out country singer. It starts with Bad Blake singing at one of the small town lounges that he has been reduced to playing and we gradually learn just how big Bad Blake once was by the reactions of the few patrons who come to hear him. He drinks too much, smokes too much, and is very low on cash but he keeps playing and singing hoping that his time isn't up quite yet. He meets Jean (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), a small town reporter, when she requests an interview. A connection is immediate, despite their age difference, and they develop a very loving relationship that includes her son, until a disastrous event precipitated by Bad's drinking ends Jane's trust in him. This scene is absolutely heart-breaking and very scary for anyone with kids and Jeff Bridges plays it brilliantly and with the absolute right tone of an alcoholic who knows he's done wrong but still needs that drink. Bad eventually straightens himself out and gives up the habit, but what he loses along the way will haunt you.
These are obviously two very different films with a very different feeling but they both convey the same basic thing - the heart of a man. And while I love both of these actors and it's very hard for me to choose between them, I'm going to have to give Colin Firth my vote for Best Actor this year. His turn as George was inspired, delicate, and affecting. Jeff will always be my Starman, and I think he will win, but Colin did something so remarkable as George. I'll never forget it.
As always, I'd love to hear your views!