Jeff Bridges shows his 'Crazy Heart'

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Normally, indie movie crowds would only be drawn to tears from well-developed, cult dramas and Nicolas Cage's startlingly prolific career. Unfortunately, this year has yielded one more atrocity from the Hollywood slumlords who honestly thought "Alvin and the Chipmunks" needed a "Squeakquel."

But the buried gem that is "Crazy Heart" somehow couldn't warrant a major motion picture release. Originally destined for premium billing inside Walmart's dollar bin, this story of southern-fried redemption not only clawed its way into theaters, but also into the icy consciousness of the American dream.

Jeff Bridges resurrects his inner dude once more to play Bad Blake, a washed-up country singer unable to keep his pants buttoned or his lips moist. Chasing dive bars and bowling alleys in a '78 Suburban, Blake is dying for a comeback, another shot at love and a chance to be a father. Although his singing might be a main attraction, it's the squinty, sloppy charm oozing from Bridges' mouth, stuck somewhere in his poorly groomed goatee, that steals the show.

With enough booze-breath to break the theatrical fourth wall, Bridges' honky-tonks his way through some gorgeous ballads (courtesy of the underappreciated T Bone Burnett) and gives an alcoholic's shakiest salute to the likes of Cash, Kristofferson, Jennings and the rest of the bad boys who crawled from Hank Williams' rotting carcass. And speaking of rotting carcasses, Robert Duvall makes a humble appearance, singing a song without losing his dentures in the process.

The plot itself is much like a traditional country song: depressing, narrow-minded and full of liquor-fueled sniffles. Almost identical to last year's "The Wrestler," a questionable profession is examined and dissected, put back together again, soaked in gasoline and lit aflame. Life is a struggle for the middle-aged, constantly fighting to maintain their youth while slowly growing smaller and resisting the robotic evils of new-fangled technology.

Luckily for "Crazy Heart," the performances make up for every clichéd nugget you've dipped in honey mustard a million times before. Bridges, Duvall and Colin Farrell all do their own singing and add believable flair to dangerously stereotypical roles. Even Maggie Gyllenhaal, her microwaved face still soupy from defrost, acts with power and elegance, moving around enough to persuade us she isn't melting. She and Bridges enter Oscar night as front-runners for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Actor in a Leading Role, both lucky to be out of competition with the craze-tornado that is Sandra Bullock.

This, much like "Capote," is a movie completely controlled by acting. Bridges and Gyllenhaal provide a compelling yet disgusting romance, if you can stomach a jiggly 60-year-old man stuffing his hand down Droopy Dog's panties. And even while looking like Keith Urban and Fabio's lovechild, Colin Farrell has stepped up his skills since "Phone Booth," a performance so ugly the phone booth actually got top billing.

It's one of only a handful of must-see movies this year, and perhaps the most important to actually see because of what it represents. This is the little indie that could, managing to overwhelmingly succeed on word-of-mouth as opposed to Jerry Bruckheimer's uncontrollable penis envy. And the best part of all? Not an ounce of CGI, (or at least we hope not, for Maggie's sake).

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