In Contention‘s Kris Tapley saw Crazy Heart earlier today, and is now proclaiming that Jeff Bridges has bounded or barrel-assed into the Best Actor field, or words to that effect. I’m about to watch The Last Station and I can’t embed links with an iPhone, but now I’m ever more envious of the L.A. crowd.

“It’s not just Jeff Bridges who leaps onto the Oscar landscape with Scott Cooper‘s Crazy Heart,” Tapley writes. “It’s [also] possible in a few months that we’ll be talking pretty seriously about Maggie Gyllenhaal in the supporting actress race and, most certainly, T-Bone Burnett‘s contributions as the film’s music supervisor.

“[It’s] a slow burn that settles warmly in the tradition of Tender Mercies or Nobody’s Fool. While it might be unfair to reduce it to a ‘country-music Wrestler‘ (as the Hollywood Reporter‘s Steven Zeitchik did yesterday without having seen the film), that is nonetheless a pretty streamlined way of describing the narrative.

“More importantly, however, that ‘performance of a lifetime’ from Bridges that Fox Searchlight was on about when the studio bought the film nearly four months ago? I think it could be this year’s Oscar-winning lead actor turn walking away.

“Bridges fully embodies the broken but spirited Bad Blake, an alcoholic country singer touring the Southwest in his 1970-something Suburban, playing any dive that’ll have him. He brings every inch of charisma and charm he has to a role that certainly doesn’t seem made for him on the surface, but somehow ends up entirely owned by the actor come film’s end.

Bridges haunts the stage behind a dark pair of aviator sunglasses, under a silvery, unshampooed mane, unmistakably conjuring the image of Hank Williams Jr. as he belts out a number of tunes from gig to gig. He shares the screen with Gyllenhaal, who plays Jean, a journalist and single-mother love interest. Gyllenhaal holds her own and provides a complex, emotional core to the story that could also nail down a few kudos here and there.

Colin Farrell has something of a glorified cameo as Tommy Sweet, a famous modern country star who owes his career to Blake, while Robert Duvall (who also serves as one of the film’s producers, along with Burnett, in fact) offers a small but meaningful supporting turn as Blake’s confidante.

“From where I sit, I’m having a hard time arguing with Bridges’ potential as this year’s Best Actor Oscar winner — especially when you look at the competition. George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Morgan Freeman — they all have their Oscar. The potential for a big awards comeback from Robert De Niro was considerably muted when Everybody’s Fine landed with a thud at AFI Fest last night, while other contenders just won’t have the strength of ‘the story’ that a Bridges campaign will have.

“The man is one of the great unrecognized American actors. Crazy Heart will give voters a chance to both remember his consistency, recognize that he remains Oscarless and, best of all, feel good about checking the box next to his name. Because this really is one of his finest moments.

“I imagine we’ll be talking about Crazy Heart more and more in the coming weeks and months, but those hoping for a last-minute shake-up certainly look to get their wish. These are the moments I live for in an Oscar season.”