Already seen all of this year’s Oscar-nominated performances? Consider some of the actors’ earlier work.

Jeff Bridges, “The Last American Hero” (1973): Even though Bridges’ character is named Junior Jackson, this flick does indeed tell the tale of NASCAR driver Junior Johnson. Based on the story of the same name in Tom Wolfe’s essay collection, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, those who go in expecting a straightforward racing story will be impressed by the way the film explores its characters.

Morgan Freeman, “Death of a Prophet” (1981): Everyone remembers Denzel Washington’s titular performance in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” but the man formerly known as Malcolm Little had already been portrayed by several other actors by that point, including James Earl Jones (“The Greatest”), Dick Anthony Williams (“King”), and Al Freeman, Jr. (“Roots: The Next Generations”). For these purposes, however, we’re exploring the TV movie which bore the subtitle “The Last Days of Malcolm X.” In truth, you’ll get a heck of a lot more insight into Malcolm X’s life and times by way of Lee’s film, but you can’t say this isn’t an interesting trip back in time.

Colin Firth, “A Month in the Country” (1987): Based on the novel by J. L. Carr, Firth – who plays Tom Birkin, an artist who has been employed to carry out restoration work on a Medieval mural discovered in a church in Yorkshire – offers the kind of performance that no doubt left those who saw the film wondering for many years why the man hadn’t yet become a household name. Here’s hoping that the film will finally get a proper DVD release one of these days.

George Clooney, “Red Surf” (1990): It’s kind of hard not to make a “Point Break” comparison when you look at this verrrrrrry early Clooney film, wherein he and Doug Savant (Tom Scavo on “Desperate Housewives”) play a couple of surfers with a penchant for crime, but the big difference between the two motion pictures is that most people tend consider “Point Break” to be a cult classic of sorts, whereas “Red Surf” often ranks even below “The Facts of Life” amongst Clooney aficionados. It does have at least one thing going for it, though, and that’s Gene Simmons. If you loved him in “Runaway” and “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” you’ll love his work here, too.

Jeremy Renner, “Dahmer” (2002): There are a lot of better films in Renner’s back catalog, and there are certainly a lot worse (four words: “National Lampoon’s Senior Trip”), but this is one which, while certainly not for all tastes, is better than you might expect. Renner plays Dahmer, and it’s the kind of performance that, had this been a ’70s TV movie, could’ve done for him what “Helter Skelter” did for Steve Railsback. Actually, come to think of it, maybe it’s better than it wasn’t made in the ’70s. (When was the last time you saw Railsback in anything?)


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