Happy 90th Birthday Clint Eastwood! Here Are His Ten Best Films as a Director
Happy Birthday to one of We Are Movie Geeks favorite stars. Clint Eastwood was born on this day in 1930, making him 90 years old today. Last year’s RICHARD JEWELL proved that he actor and two-time Oscar winning director hasn’t let his age slow him down a bit.
We posted a list of his ten best films as an actor on his last birthday, but this list is what the Geeks at We Are Movie Geeks think are his best out of 38 feature films as a director.
10. MYSTIC RIVER
MYSTIC RIVER (2003) told the story of three childhood friends, Jimmy, Dan & Sean, who drifted apart after a terrible tragedy & grew up in the same city. Destiny pitted them again & it’s brutal tragedy again. Jimmy’s 19 year old daughter murdered & Dave is the strong suspect. Sean is a cop trying to solve the crime before something unusual done by uncontrollable with situational fix. Its superb script & screen play & I must praise Dennis Lehane for it. But the real laudable act is done by old macho cowboy named Clint Eastwood. This is Clint Eastwood’s finest achievement as a director along with his other Oscar winning nuggets like Unforgiven & Million Dollar Baby. With awesome cast & finest performances of Sean Penn, Tim Robbins &Kevin Bacon he shapes a master crime thriller. Robbins and Penn both recieved Oscars for their roles. Marcia Gay Harden has done amazing justice to her role as psychologically confused wife of Tim Robbins. A must-see modern Greek tragedy.
9. A PERFECT WORLD
A PERFECT WORLD (1993)was Eastwood’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning UNFORGIVEN and was a complex, fascinating essay on the irreconcilable tension between being drawn to someone with charisma and being repulsed by someone, sometimes the same person, who is evil. Clint took a back seat to star Kevin Costner who played smart and charming as an escaped con/kidnapper. The little boy who he snatches grows to like his abductor, but the guy is a violent criminal. The ending was tough, because the movie is showing us the nastiness the guy is capable of and it’s hard to take. But it’s true to the lesson here: we admire people for their charms not their morals.
8. RICHARD JEWELL
Hard to believe Clint Eastwood at age 88, brought the kind of drama and emotion to the big screen so well with last year’s RICHARD JEWELL (2019). It was based on the real events of the 1996 Olympic games bombing in Atlanta, GA which involved Jewell (likably played by Paul Walter Hauser) who first was a lifesaving hero only to later be looked at upon by the media and government as a possible suspect. Overall RICHARD JEWELL is heartfelt with emotion and drama showing how courage came to a common man and how will and determination put his name in the clear as the doubters didn’t destroy him. One of Clint’s best works in years.
7. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) is probably Clint Eastwood’s darkest western and that’s saying a lot. The hero is a mysterious, ghost-like figure and he fights against the evil and corruption that infests a small town in the middle of nowhere. Eastwood is fighting a lone battle , and his only sidekick is the midget Mordecai, while almost all other inhabitants of the town of Lago are corrupted or/and cowardly. This is Clint Eastwood’s first Western film that he directed, and it’s clear and evident that the guy not only loves the genre that made his name, but he also knows what makes it work. When working for Sergio Leone, Eastwood was obviously taking notes because HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER oozes the mythical aura of many of Leone’s finest genre offerings.
6. THE MULE
Written by Nick Schenk and directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, THE MULE (2018) was inspired by a New York Times article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” The Mule uses true events to frame a much more compelling story. THE MULE is a rich tapestry of triumph and tragedy, humor and sadness, and guilt and forgiveness. It’s difficult not to compare THE MULE with GRAN TORINO. We don’t see many elderly protagonists on screen anymore, and Eastwood seems to have carved a new niche for himself late in his career. Like the character of Walt Kowalski, Leo Sharp is an emotionally reserved and politically-incorrect elderly white man having a difficult time adjusting to the modern world. Both are Korean War veterans, and both experience the loss of a spouse. With what might be his last film, 88-year-old Clint Eastwood cements his place as one of the greatest actors and directors of our time.
5. MILLION DOLLAR BABY
One of the great qualities of Clint Eastwood’s directing career is his way of surprising moviegoers. A case in point can be found in MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004). The screenplay by Paul Haggis based on the short stories of F.X. Toole seems to be the standard rags to riches sports flix this time set in the world of woman’s boxing. Clint gets some terrific performances out of Hilary Swank as the plucky, determined boxer Maggie Fitzgerald and Morgan Freeman as wise, world-weary ex- boxer Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris. Both actors were awarded Oscars for their work. Even with his great work behind the camera, Clint gives one of the best acting performances as Maggie’s tough, grizzled coach Frankie Dunn. Maggie works hard to finally convince Frankie that’s she worthy of his mentoring. After Frankie finally agrees there’s the expected grueling training sequences inter-cut with scenes of the two getting to know and respect each other. It’s shown that Frankie is estranged from his own children while Maggie’s family is un-supportive and highly dysfunctional. Soon Frankie and Maggie’s relationship grows into a father-daughter bond. As the film builds to the boxing movie cliche finale of the win at the big championship bout it takes a completely unexpected tragic turn and the bond between Frankie and Maggie is put to the ultimate test. MILLION DOLLAR BABY takes the sports movie and turns it into a tender, family drama and is one of Clint Eastwood all-time great cinema triumphs. BABY joined THE UNFORGIVEN as an Oscar winning Best Picture and another well deserved Best Director award winner for Eastwood.
4. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES
“Well, you gonna pull those pistols or stand there whistling Dixie?” Eastwood starred in and directed, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1978) and his direction shows him at a sort of tipping point between Sergio Leone and Eastwood’s own later films. Gigantic close ups of wet faces and glistening teeth alternate with grandiose high shots of galloping horses. Eastwood’s Josey Wales is his familiar Western figure, taciturn, slightly mean, given to spitting tobacco juice on dogs, full of provocative lines; Bounty Hunter: “A man’s got to make a livin” Josey: “Dying ain’t much of a living, boy”. When he tries to speak in ritualized and poetic English to the Comanches, while making a peace proposal, he fails. Perfumed speech is not his forte. And when he rides off into the sunset, it’s without any suggestion of remorse for the hundred or so dead bodies he’s left in his wake.
3. GRAN TORINO
“Get me another beer, dragon lady. This one’s empty!” is my favorite of many great lines from GRAN TORINO and the one that I growl at my wife daily. GRAN TORINO manages to list seemingly every slang word for every ethnic group that there is (it avoids the N-word, choosing “Spooks” instead). It has themes similar to Clint’s THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES in that both movies deal with an angry, lonely man gradually allowing people back into his life after bottling up his emotions for a long time following a trauma (both characters also spit beef jerky constantly and have to deal with a cantankerous old woman who doesn’t like them very much). It’s also a kind of urban Western update of THE SHOOTIST (directed by Clint’s old friend and mentor Don Siegel and John Wayne’s last movie) in that Clint’s dying character Walt Kowalski picks a fight with the evil local gang in the hope he’ll catch a bullet and go out in a blaze of glory rather than succumb to the slow agony of cancer (just like John Wayne did). If it’s his last acting role, like he’s said, Clint will have gone out with a blaze of glory himself.
2. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
When Clint Eastwood announced that while he would be making the film version of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS by James Bradley and Ron Powers he then stated that he would also be working on a film which would tell the story of the battle from the Japanese side called LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006). this news caught many film-goers by surprise. This major World War II battle would be brought to the screens twice and the great All-American director Clint Eastwood would devote one version showing the view of our Pacific enemy. Not many thought he could pull this off, but FLAGS and LETTERS opened within months of each other in 2006 and while both enjoyed terrific notices, some critics and academy members thought that LETTERS was the superior film. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA focuses on the weeks leading up to and the days after the allied forces invading the island occupied by the Japanese forces. The conflict is seen primarily through the eyes of lonely soldier named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) who just wants to return to his life at home as a baker and commanding officer General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) who spent time in the United States. The General has been given the hopeless task of defending the island after his superiors inform him that no food, or troops will be sent to help. He and his men are expected to die for the honor of Japan. The film shows the great importance of honor to these people. The soldiers are taught that being captured alive would bring shame to their family. In a horrific scene several soldiers discharge grenades they are holding rather than be taken. While sending letters back to his family, the General tries to stop some of the brutal measures inflicted on the foot soldiers from the other officers. As the end nears, Saigo will do anything to survive while the General reflects on the happy times he spent with the people who are now his enemy. This is a rare film about World War II told from a perspective not often presented and Clint Eastwood showcases his superb filmmaking skills in telling this engrossing story.
In many interviews Clint Eastwood has said that UNFORGIVEN is his Western swan song, and it’s that’s the the case heâ’s left the genre with an all time classic. Clint plays an outlaw named Bill Munny who has given up that life for his late wife and is struggling to make a go out of farming and raising his two children.When a group of prostitutes in the town of Big Whiskey offer a bounty on a cowboy who cut up one of their own, Bill feels he must take up his guns again. Picking up his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) rides into the town, meets a young upstart named The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolett), and incurs the ire of the town sheriff Little Bill Dagget (an Oscar winning performance by Gene Hackman). “Little” Bill has no tolerance for bounty hunters and demonstrates by brutally beating English Bob in the town square. The script by David Webb Peoples is a thoughtful meditation on the consequences of revenge and violence. In one memorable scene Munny and the Kid have gunned down several of the thugs from the brothel incident. Gasping and shaking the Kid says,”They had it comin!” to which Munny soberly replies, “We all got it comin’, kid.” At the end of the movie, Clint dedicates the film to his two cinema mentors, Sergio Leone (FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) and Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY). The Motion Picture Academy thought this film was in the same class as the films of those two great directors and awarded Clint a well deserved directing Oscar along with Best Picture.