Clint Eastwood, Will Munny, Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s (Director) Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies

Clint Eastwood
Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands.  We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today.  We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work.  (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).

Movie stars don’t get more iconic than Clint Eastwood.  He’s an institution.  There’s an entire variety of facial grimaces that he patented.  He’s been a TV star, a political entity and mayor, a movie star spanning genres for fifty years, a musician who scores many of the films he stars and/or directs, and a two-time Academy Award winning director.  Eastwood the actor is an entire column on his own and, like Robert Redford, I think you need to examine him from both facets.  Eastwood, originally pigeon-holed into Westerns (in fact becoming almost synonymous with the genre), expanded his career through becoming a director and moved into crime, sports, and even romance movies as his career progressed.

Clint Eastwood

The Western phase of Eastwood’s career was marked with peaks and valleys, but many of the highest points were helmed by Eastwood including The Outlaw Josey Wales and High Plains Drifter.  Eastwood transitioned in the late 1970’s – 1980’s to the Dirty Harry period and directed a number of cop pictures, none of which I think particularly represent his best work.  He only returned to Westerns once (and hasn’t since wisely) and that was to make the defining movie of his career and arguably the best the genre has ever seen in 1992’s Unforgiven.

Unforgiven is a perfect movie.  Perfect.  Not only does it revel in the strengths of its given drama and setting, it brings together an amazing ensemble (Hackman, Freeman, Harris, etc.) and shows how complex a simple story can be as Will Munny tries to escape his past, takes on the proverbial “final job” and finds you can’t always walk away clean no matter how hard you try.  He never made another Western and he didn’t need to.  Unforgiven won him his first Oscar and has only grown in esteem of moviegoers in the 20+ years since its release.Clint Eastwood, Will Munny, Unforgiven

After Unforgiven, Eastwood seems to have felt freed to do anything that piqued his interest.  He began scoring many of his own movies and his son Kyle has become a composer as well (scoring his father’s Letters to Iwo Jima).  The music can be sometimes intrusive, I’ve found in his films as I can almost tell it’s an Eastwood picture by the strategic deployment of smooth jazz.Morgan Freeman, Nelson Mandela, Matt Damon, Invictus

Of his later films, my favorites are Invictus and Letters to Iwo Jima (one side to an ambitious two-picture look at the World War II battle from both the American and Japanese sides).  I also loved Gran Torino and thought it was the quintessential cranky Clint Eastwood persona performance in a surprisingly powerful film (smooth jazz deployment was not to the movie’s benefit though).  Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby are his most acclaimed films of the last ten he’s done, but I don’t particularly like either.  The former because it’s vague and unrelentingly depressing and the latter because I think the ending is so absurd as to be laughable.  They’re not bad films, really, they’re mostly not to my taste.  Eastwood rarely bombs a picture.  A lot of times they just don’t hit home the way you would have hoped, but in-between homers, he’s hitting solid doubles most of the time (baseball metaphor alert).

So let’s look at Eastwood’s latest ten films behind the lens:
EASTWOOD’S LATEST TEN:
1. J. Edgar (2011)…………………….5.75
2. Hereafter (2010)………………….5.00
3. Invictus (2009)……………………8.00
4. Gran Torino (2008)……………..9.00
5. Changeling (2007)……………….7.50
6. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)..8.75
7. Flags of our Fathers (2006)……5.75
8. Million Dollar Baby (2004)……6.00
9. Mystic River (2003)……………..6.00
10. Blood Work (2002)…………….3.75

CLINT EASTWOOD’S CURRENT WORKING AVERAGE: 6.550
Despite a lot of average films in his last 10, Eastwood’s average is higher than Ridley Scott‘s and nearly equal with Spielberg’s.  The reason is, he almost never tanks a picture.  You may walk away thinking that wasn’t really to my liking, as I did with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, but you rarely walk out with a Prometheus-like rage tattooed across your face.  Gran Torino, Letters from Iwo Jima and Invictus stand head and shoulders above anything else he’s done of late, but let’s look at his directing career as a whole.

Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino

EASTWOOD’S GREATEST TEN:
Unforgiven (1992)…………………………….10.00
Gran Torino (2008)…………………………..  9.00
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)……………..  8.75
Invictus (2009)………………………………..  8.00
High Plains Drifter (1973)………………….. 8.00
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)…………..  8.00
Changeling (2007) ……………………………  7.50
Space Cowboys (2000)………………………  7.00
Pale Rider (1985)………………………………  7.00
Heartbreak Ridge (1986) ……………………  6.75
CLINT EASTWOOD’S CURRENT GREATEST AVERAGE: 8.000
*Eastwood’s “greatest” average is the lowest of the four (Zemeckis, Scott, Spielberg, Eastwood) directors we’ve looked at so far.

Eastwood is 83 and is wrapping production on his next film, an adaptation of the musical Jersey Boys.  He’ll then be taking over American Sniper with Bradley Cooper, a project Spielberg dropped earlier this year.  His Hollywood legacy is unquestioned.  As a director, he’s made a few good films, one great film and a lot of average films.  That’s my opinion, though.  The Academy gave Million Dollar Baby Best Picture and nearly gave it to Mystic River also, so I’m a minority report most likely.  He is, though, an indomitable presence and cinema is far better for him having worked in every capacity he has to improve it.  Deploy smooth jazz…
Clint-Eastwood-275x300

5 thoughts on “Clint Eastwood’s (Director) Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies”

  1. I love how eclectic his directing career is. As you said, he simply makes movies about his interests (the word “obsessions” would be incorrect because his style is so laid-back).
    I’m glad you put Jose Wales on your best list, because it’s my favorite Western of all time. It’s not the best, mind you—the best Western ever made is Unforgiven, which you have rightfully put at the top.
    But I have to say I’m respectfully mystified that you put Gran Torino so close to the top of your list. It had potential, but the way it plays out is only average, because Eastwood’s performance borders self-parody. No—let me amend that statement. It crosses the border and becomes actual self-parody. I would replace it with Mystic River in a heartbeat.
    I agree that Mystic River is depressing—maybe the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen, because of the caliber of the directing and performances—but it was also one of the most astonishing experiences I have ever has in a movie theatre. I have to recognize genius filmmaking, even if a film is bleak.
    When an Eastwood stand-in appears towards the end of Rango, it gives the entire film a mythic heft. Eastwood is the most legendary, larger than life Hollywood figure who still remains with us on Earth.

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