Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper went wider over the weekend, and while it dominated the box office with a record take, it divided critics and audience members with its political and military messages. The one factor everyone agreed on, though, was the incredible performance by leading man Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, a decorated Navy SEAL who dedicated his life to his brothers in arms. It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who charmed Jennifer Garner in Alias, and entertained audiences in the Hangover trilogy.
American Sniper is Bradley Cooper’s third straight Best Actor nomination, following nods for his two films with director David O. Russell. But where does it rank on a list of the all-time great Bradley Cooper roles? We decided to comb over his resume and single out our choices for the 10 best, ranked from two to one.
10. Leon, The Midnight Meat TrainYes, we’re going with a horror film in our tenth slot. Why? Because Bradley Cooper was still finding his way as a leading man after small scene-stealing parts in Wedding Crashers and a little-seen TV showcase in Kitchen Confidential, and he made a real impact here. Rarely do actors emerge from the horror genre and make a successful stab at mainstream, but Cooper’s natural charisma shines through the stylish gloom of Midnight Meat Train. Similar to Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween, you could tell that you were watching an actor who was logging time but planning on bigger things. And most of those bigger things happened in the following roles.
9. Eddie Morra, LimitlessLimitless was a surprise hit in early 2011, primarily because people didn’t yet know what to make of the handsome jerk from The Hangover. But Cooper showed that he had the chops to carry an intelligent sci-fi premise, and was convincing as both a struggling, economically deprived writer AND the intelligently stimulated success story that Cooper’s character, Eddie, eventually becomes. Again, it was the actor’s charisma that shined through a sloppy screenplay, with director Neil Burger finding ways to enhance his star’s bright personality with visual flourishes. Limitless seemed like it could have been a franchise for Cooper. There’s no real surprise it is finding new life as a TV series, because the potential for future stories was (sorry) limitless.
8. Face, The A-TeamRemaking a classic television show is a mixed bag. For every memorable Mission: Impossible, there a misfire like The A-Team, Joe Carnahan’s attempt to update the team of mercenaries who now help those in need. The failure of the A-Team movie doesn’t fall on Bradley Cooper, though, who was perfectly cast as the vainglorious Templeton Peck… aka, Face – because, like Cooper, is face is damn near perfect. One issue with the A-Team movie is that reboot cast members Sharlto Copley, "Rampage" Jackson and even Liam Neeson couldn’t make us forget the original TV stars. But Cooper made Face a wild card, injecting him with maniacal energy and stealing multiple scenes with his wit and charm. He was better than this film, and we went on to prove it.
7. Rocket, Guardians of the GalaxyShould this be higher on the list? Maybe. We debated in the CinemaBlend offices how much stock should be given to a vocal performance, and whether the acerbic personality Bradley Cooper brought to James Gunn’s space epic would (or should) trump the actor’s roles in … well, in the next six choices! (No spoilers.) But there’s no denying the fact that Rocket wouldn’t work quite as well in Guardians of the Galaxy without the attitude that Cooper brought to the sound booth. He played extremely well off of Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista and, yes, Vin Diesel. And I think that Cooper will actually be able to bring new depths to Rocket when he returns to the Marvel universe for Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
6. Will Tippin, AliasBefore Bella had Edward or Jacob, and before Katniss has Peeta or Gale, CIA operative Sydney Bristow often had to choose between fellow agent Vaughn (Michael Vartan) and unassuming best-friend reporter Will Tippin (Cooper). Will’s role in Alias was viewed as a necessary bit of grounding to Sydney’s globetrotting adventures – the regular guy who Sydney, the college student, likely should have settled down for, even though that meant ditching her spy lifestyle. Eventually, the show ran out of ways to cleverly use Tippin, and he … well, I won’t say, in case you haven’t seen Alias yet. (What are you waiting for?!) But Cooper was a terrific soft spot one which hardened Jennifer Garner would land, a dependable rock in the tumultuous storm of her spy life, and the two actors had a wonderful chemistry that could have carried the show for a few more seasons. Can we get those two together in a movie sometime soon?
5. Richie DiMaso, American HustleWe’re finally getting into Bradley Cooper’s Oscar-nominated roles, and a lot of this has to be attributed to the contributions of writer-director David O. Russell. Cooper’s now a player in Russell’s "company," though he earned his slot by disappearing into broadly drawn neighborhood caricatures – usually with Italian roots. Richie is torn between two worlds – the law-enforcement agency that employs him, and the con artists he lures to help him in a sting. In different hands, the characters populating Russell’s films could be grotesque cartoons. But Cooper, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence know how to slice through most of the bull to make these roles human. It helps when you are hustling.
4. Sack Lodge, Wedding CrashersEasily the best character name on this list (Sack Lodge!), Sack is the guy you’d ASSUME Bradley Cooper could and would play for the duration of his career… if he was interested in simply being typecast because of his terrific looks. Sack is the "evil boyfriend" role, the tool who Rachel McAdams is dating – but only because he wants access to her family’s political power. He’s a textbook jerk, and Cooper plugs into the role with such ease that we could have easily assumed this was Cooper’s personality – and he’d be stuck in that part forever. It also shows how Cooper was willing to bulk up for a role. Watch the football scene in Wedding Crashers, and you won’t be amazed at how drastically Cooper changed, physically, for this next role.
3. Chris Kyle, American SniperIt’s amazing how deeply Bradley Cooper disappears into the role of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, swallowing his natural charisma to play a bear of a man who swears to protect his fellow soldiers. When Cooper plays with David O. Russell or Todd Phillips, he is the center of attention. As Kyle, he’s a silent assassin perched atop a building, watching over all – but unable to acclimate to home life and be the husband and father his family needs. It’s a calculatedly subdued performance that is all the more powerful for what it doesn’t show… and Cooper’s decisions as a performer get to the heart of this patriot.
2. Pat Solitano, Silver Linings PlaybookThe better of the two David O. Russell collaborations, and a painfully wounded performance by Bradley Cooper that shows him at his most vulnerable. Behind every Cooper character is the supreme confidence that comes with looks like Bradley Cooper. But Pat has been hurt. He’s broken. And even though he’ll rapidly explain to anyone around him that he’s better… he’s lying. And he can’t truly heal until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the equally damaged yin to his demented yang. Russell’s words require a specific cadence, and Cooper plugs right into the director’s manic vibe. But it’s the soulful hurt resting behind Pat’s darting eyes that pull us into his quest to follow a silver-linings playbook, and one day live a better life.
1. Phil, The HangoverA controversial choice? Perhaps. Bradley Cooper wasn’t nominated for the Oscar for his turn in Todd Phillips’ shockingly crude Hangover comedies. But here’s why I believe the trilogy boasts Cooper’s finest performances. We should be chemically trained to despise Phil. He’s an egotistical ass who abuses his closest friends and essentially ruins the lives of everyone around him. And yet, we end up rooting for this guy, time after time. That’s due to Cooper, who shows in the Hangover movies how versatile he is at comedy – board and slapsticky, but also capable of playing an integral part of an ensemble. The Hangover movies might be the undergraduate program that trained Cooper for Russell’s films (and beyond). But his "maturity" as Phil increased from film to film, giving us Cooper’s most complete, unpredictable and rewarding performance to date.