Build Your Own Paul Newman Film Festival

It's all over now, baby blues.

Our downtown theater had a brilliant idea for getting through winter: a Paul Newman film festival. It’s looking like 2010 is going to be a long winter in many parts of the country so head down to the video store—support ‘em while you’ve got ‘em—or load up your Netflix (boo!) cue, and hold you own Paul Newman retrospective. Here’s a list of our favorite films from Old Blue Eyes himself. We miss him already.

1. The Hustler (1961). This isn’t just a good Newman film; it’s one that deserves to be on lists of the best American films ever. Filmed in gritty black and white, Newman plays Fast Eddie Felson, a man with a million-dollar pool game and a ten-cent values system. The film is about Eddie’s rise, fall, and wizening. Watch also for a magnificent supporting performance from Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats. You can skip the 1986 Martin Scorsese sequel The Color of Money in which Newman reprises the Felsen role. Let’s just say that Tom Cruise is a lesser actor than anyone in the original.

2. Cool Hand Luke (1967) is deservedly an American classic. Neman plays the title role, a prisoner in a backwater Southern penitentiary whose antics and escapes delights his peers and drives his captors to fury. Newman’s egg-eating sequence remains a riot. Part black comedy, part drama, part tragedy… If you’ve never seen it, learn why “What we have here is a failure to communicate” became part of the lingua franca.

3. Hud (1963) is an underappreciated masterpiece in which Newman is Hud Bannon, a Texan rancher who is the id to his father’s (Melyvn Douglas) superego. This cad-versus-saint struggle is reminiscent of James Dean in East of Eden. Newman’s scenes with Patricia Neal absolutely sizzle.

4. There are loads of early Newman films where he plays a young man caught up in the injustices of Southern patriarchy. Many of them were originally penned by Tennessee Williams and frankly, though some would call this sacrilege, they’re all basically the same damn story. Most people like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), where Newman is cast alongside a sultry Elizabeth Taylor. This is certainly worth watching, but we prefer Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), in which Newman is drifter Chance Wayne and butts heads with local boss man Tom Finley (Ed Begley).

5. Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990): After all those films in which Newman was portrayed as victims of tyrannical Southern patriarchs, Newman got to reverse the role when he turned sixty-five. Walter Bridge keeps a tight lid of his three children, his emotions, his tolerance for modern life, and his wife, India (Joanne Woodward) in this Merchant-Ivory production. Is Walter a man out of time, or a quiet monster? The answer’s not as easy as you think and Newman’s nuanced performance makes it harder to discern.

6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1968) was one of the first films in which Newman wasn’t the handsomest guy on the set. So he made up for it by turning on the charm. As Butch, he’s the brains of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century outlaw gang. Sharp dialogue, amazing synergy with co-star Robert Redford, and George Roy Hill’s quirky direction guaranteed that paths would cross again.

7. The Sting (1973): Newman, Redford, and Hill again. In truth, the film is really a Butch Cassidy redux with the outlaws recast as 1930s gangsters. As Harry Gondorff, Newman is once again a criminal mastermind, this time in a scheme that’s equal parts revenge and con. (Yes, Ocean’s Eleven is a glitzy steal of The Sting updated and moved to Vegas.) A terrific soundtrack of Scott Joplin rags makes this satisfying feast even tastier.

8. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972): Another rogue role, this time as a late 19th-century Texas judge who’s also arresting officer, prosecutor, and executioner. Bean obliterates the distinction between criminal and justice, and heaven help the man who besmirches the name of dance hall queen Lillie Langtry. This underappreciated offbeat comedy is great campy fun.

9. Newman was always great playing morally compromised characters, but as he aged he got even better. Many people applauded Newman’s role as the alcoholic ambulance-chasing Boston lawyer Frank Galvin in The Verdict (1982). It’s a fine performance, but we like his turn in The Hudsucker Proxy (1993) even better. Think Carl Icahn with a cigar and the personality of a cobra and you’re on track for Newman’s Sidney Mussberger, the chair of a corporate board looking for a fall guy to blame for a manufactured crisis so Mussberger and his cronies can scoop up deflated company stock. This Coen Brothers black comedy skewers Big Business and turns conventional morality plays inside out. They film it in a surreal fashion that’s part Metropolis and part Brazil.

10. And why not Newman as a lovable crank? He positively inhabits the role of Donald Sullivan in Nobody’s Fool (1994). Sully is a working class guy who’s never been anywhere, never escaped his old man’s shadow, and is getting too old for the hard labor, hard drinking, hand-to-mouth existence he’s living. He’s got a crazy ex-wife, a resentful son with problems of his own, a slow-witted sidekick, a sometimes girlfriend who is getting tired of waiting, and external demons in the form of an immoral employer, an abusive and stupid town cop, and an even dumber banker. Only his landlady (the marvelous Jessica Tandy) understands Sully. But will Sully achieve self-realization before the sands run out? Tender, funny, and poignant, author Richard Russo must have had Newman in mind when he wrote the novel on which this film is based.
Let us know your favorite Newman films and we'll beat a path to the loal vid store.

No comments: