Jeff Bridges has already been nominated and/or won several awards for his performance as "Bad Blake" in Crazy Heart (93 screens), including a SAG award, a Golden Globe and a Los Angeles Film Critics Award. And, of course, many people have pointed out the film's similarity to Tender Mercies (1983), the feature that finally won Robert Duvall an Oscar (after being passed over for things like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now) -- not to mention that Duvall is actually in the new film, too. These awards, and potentially an Oscar nomination, are just our way of suddenly waking up and saying, "you know who's really good? Jeff Bridges." Frankly, Crazy Heart is a "just okay" film, but he's great in it. I guess there's just something about sad country singers that captures the voters' attention (with the added bonus that Bridges' character is an alcoholic).
I won't begrudge Bridges his hard-earned Oscar, but it's a case worth looking at. The reason Bridges generally goes unnoticed (with four Oscar nominations scattered over three decades) is because he's so good, and because he works so often. He has worked in many leading roles, but he's not exactly what you'd call a big movie star, and he has worked in many supporting roles, but he's not exactly what you'd call a character actor. He disappears into each role, but he does it without calling attention to the disappearing act, as Brando did. Some actors choose to work less often, and thereby turning each movie into an event. Chaplin was a famous case, and Daniel Day-Lewis is a good example today; he has appeared in just fifteen major movies over a 30-year career. But Bridges works a couple of times each year, and it's easy to take that quantity for granted.