In Praise of Paul Newman
Update 9/26/2008: Paul Newman has died at his home in Connecticut.
(original article, posted 8/13/2008)
IN PRAISE OF PAUL NEWMAN
I'm certainly not alone in being troubled by news that Paul Newman is gravely ill. Paul Newman is a great actor and more importantly, a great human being, who's given almost a quarter of a billion dollars to charity and has touched many lives with his kindness. To celebrate his life, I've been watching a lot of Paul Newman movies recently. Without further ado, here are my picks for the Top 10 Best Paul Newman Movies of all time. I've linked title text to Amazon in case you want to check out any of these works yourself and add them to your DVD library.
1. The Hustler (1962) This classic, atmospheric film has much more than electrifying performances from Newman, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, and George C. Scott. It's a no holds-barred look at what it takes to succeed in America, and the supreme costs one must pay for doing so. If you only watch one Paul Newman film, this is the one to see.
2. Hud (1963) Newman's Hud is the unforgettable Texan anti-hero, an unprincipled man of absolute self-centered nastiness. This beautifully filmed (by James Wong Howe) tragic drama features unforgettable performances by Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, and Brandon De Wilde.
3. The Verdict (1982) Paul Newman's breathtaking performance as a 50-ish, washed-up alcoholic lawyer who realizes that his one path left open for redemption is through a trial by fire. Screenplay by David Mamet, direction by Sydney Lumet, with a stellar supporting performance by Jack Warden. This film is flawless and if The Hustler and Hud weren't such brilliant works, The Verdict would be #1 on this list.
4. Slap Shot (1977) Quite possibly the best, most hilariously endearing movie about sports ever made, with Newman, as coach Reggie Dunlop, attempting to coax one more championship from a doomed New York state hockey team filled with miscreants and misfits. A true classic that was way ahead of its time and still packs belly-laughs today.
5. Harper (1966) A New Age noir sleeper based on Ross Macdonald's "The Moving Target," Harper has it all: dysfunctional LA families, a shady mystic guru, fast fists, fillies, gunplay, and treachery. This film's score by Johnny Mandel is one of the best of the 1960s. An excellent cast is rounded out by Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, and Strother Martin.
6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) The quintessential Western buddy film that was a monster hit when it was released and still charms.
7. Cool Hand Luke (1967) I suppose that Cool Hand Luke will be the film that Paul Newman will ultimately be remembered for, because the character of Luke so completely expresses the alienation and rebellion of the 1960s. Even though Luke isn't exactly a brainiac, Newman's intelligence shines through the part of the doomed work camp convict.
8. The Color of Money (1986) A sequel to The Hustler directed by Martin Scorcese, this film captures Fast Eddie Felton twenty years into his career, a sadder, wiser, but no less formidable man. I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan but Tom is great as a young pool hustler that Fast Eddie takes under his wing. If you've got the middle-age blues The Color of Money will cure ya!
9. Absence of Malice (1981) A terrific "message picture" that probes big questions about the responsibility of the media, and yet doesn't fail to thoroughly entertain. Another Sydney Pollack classic with a stellar cast, including Sally Field as an overzealous newspaper reporter.
10. The Drowning Pool (1975) A stylish, dark sequel to Harper, The Drowning Pool takes Lew Harper to Los Angeles, where he meets a qualitatively different sort of degradation and despair. Few sequels match the originals in quality: the Drowning Pool manages to be just as good as Harper. Joanne Woodward is excellent as Harper's doomed paramour.
Yeah, I know: I had to leave a bunch of great Paul Newman movies off this list, including Winning (the film that got Paul into car racing), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (a romp directed by John Huston), The Long Hot Summer (plenty of fireworks between Newman and Woodward), The Sting (a classic scam twister), Road to Perdition (Paul's last film), and lots of others that I haven't seen yet or seen recently enough to evaluate. Maybe a "top 10" list for Paul Newman doesn't do his work justice at all!
While I dearly hope that all the rumors about Paul's health are false, we're all mortals, and Paul has left us so much in his films and in his life that he'll be with us for a long long time: as long, anyway, as there are intelligent people willing to create, as well as watch, intelligent movies.