Yes that’s right, Clint Eastwood is 80 today. With over fifty years experience as an actor and nearly forty as a director there is no word more suitable to describe Eastwood than legend. Although he hung up his acting hat after Gran Torino he still appears to be going strong as a director with supernatural thriller Hereafter is in post production and is set for release in the autumn (it stars Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard) and a J. Edgar Hoover biography in pre-production, Leonardo DiCaprio is rumoured for the title role. Below is a list of essential Eastwood directed movies that I first published last year, it also featured in the LAMB directors chair series. Picking just ten was difficult as all his films are worth seeing for one reason or another. I have tried to pick a combination of the best, the most interesting, the most memorable and the most groundbreaking:
Play Misty For Me:
“Careful! I might put your eye out”
Eastwood’s directorial début is the story of a one night stand with an obsessed fan that turns into a taught suspense thriller as she begins to stalk him. Think fatal attraction but better! Eastwood plays it safe with the Carmel setting and Jazz score but puts his heroic mescaline image on the line by casting himself as a self centred character who becomes a victim. The slow deliberate direction and the great use of the beautiful location show great maturity from the fledgling director and points the way of things to come.
The Outlaw Josey Wales:
Bounty hunter – “A man’s got to do something for a living these days”Josey Wales – “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy”
This film stands up as one of Eastwood’s best westerns along side the “Dollars trilogy” and Unforgiven. It has all the classic western themes such as revenge and redemption and is full of great characters. Most notably Lone Watie played by Chief Dan George to great comic effect.
“With all due respect, sir, you’re beginning to bore the hell out of me.”
This may at first glance be a strange choice along side classics like Unforgiving and Million Dollar Baby but watching Heartbreak Ridge again for the first time in years you suddenly realise that it stands up well and is a really good film. Eastwood demonstrated his comic timing as both an actor and a director. The story is compelling and its themes are as relevant as ever. Even back then people wanted to work with him Mario Van Peebles learnt to play guitar just to get a role in the film.
“The bird has just a little time to flutter”
Eastwood’s love of jazz made him the perfect director for this Charlie Parker biopic. The film is beautifully photographed and gives a real sense of 40/50’s America. But it is the acting that makes the film great. Eastwood gave Forest Whitaker the role of a lifetime and he repays by giving the performance of a lifetime (I include his Oscar winning Last King of Scotland performance in that). Whitaker shows all the pain of Parker’s troubled life in a completely compelling performance.
White Hunter Black Heart:
“You, my dear, are the ugliest goddamn bitch I have ever dined with”
A fictional account of a movie director who becomes obsesses with hunting and killing an elephant that has a striking (intended) similarity to John Huston whilst filming The African Queen. Eastwood’s performance (and the use of an accent other than his own) is different to his usual but completely believable. The film is worth seeing just for the scene where Eastwood’s character confronts an anti-Semitic dinner guest (the quote above comes from that scene). It is at this moment you realise the character is not beyond redemption.
“That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned”
Unforgiven tears away all the mythology of the western genre (that Eastwood helped to build up) and gives us a gritty, dirty and violent vision of the old west. Like all his other great films the thing that makes this film stand out is the first rate acting. Eastwood’s William Munny is a fantastic character but the film shines because of the first rate support from Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris.
Million Dollar Baby:
“Frankie likes to say that boxing is an unnatural act, that everything in boxing is backwards: sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back… But step back too far and you ain’t fighting at all”
A truly hard hitting (bad pun completely intended) movie. I went in to the film expecting it to simply be a sports movie and that would have been good. Whilst other sports have suffered on film boxing often comes out well, there have been lots of great boxing movies, Raging Bull being the best. What we got was so different to what I was expecting. The film is moving along nicely when it takes a huge U-turn. The characters played by Eastwood himself, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman are all excelant in their own right but there is more to it than that. The relationship and interaction between the characters is what makes the film. If you haven’t seen the film it is both devastating and uplifting and a must see film.
“We bury our sins here, Dave. We wash them clean”
What starts out as a simple murder mystery becomes so much more. A tragic haunting film that will stay with you long after you have seen it. Sean Penn proves that he is the best actor of his generation with a towering performance. The lighting and photography (Provided by Eastwood’s usual cinematographer Tom Stern) is truly stunning giving a moody atmospheric backdrop for the film.
Flags of Our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima:
“I know it’s a good thing, raising the money and that, ’cause we need it. But, I can’t take them calling me a hero. All I did was try not to get shot. Some of the things I saw done, things I did, they weren’t things to be proud of, you know?”
I have included these films as one as they are two sides of the same story shot back to back. Letters from Iwo Jima is probably the better of the two and is about the Japanese defeat on the island, it is based on letters discovered on the island. It goes deep into the mentality and philosophy of the Japanese people and their army. Flags of Our Fathers concentrates on the stories of the six men who raised the flag and the iconic photograph of them doing it (or not as the case may be!) It follows them back home and how they were used for propaganda. The young cast do a great job in a thought provoking film.
“Get me another beer, Dragon Lady! This one’s running on empty”
I have controversially chosen Gran Torino over the more critically acclaimed Changeling simply because Angelia Jolie’s great performance aside I actually think Gran Torino is a better film. Eastwood’s character Walt Kowalski is a cantankerous old man who seems to be the sum of all the characters he has played throughout his career. What I wasn’t expecting is just how funny the film would be. I have heard suggestions by people who have taken quotes from the film out of context that it is a racist film. I actual fact although it does have a few things to say on the subject it is far from racist if anything it is the opposite. It deals with many other topics including: life, death, love, loss, hate, age, race, religion and identity. The first must see movie of 2009.