While there are many actors I admire and try to emulate, Paul Newman is my number one favorite actor. The philanthropy of the late star also carries a lot of weight in my favorable view of him.
Over the course of his career, Newman appeared in over 60 feature films – many of them classics. What better way to celebrate this acting legend than with a ranking of his Top Ten films?
10) Absence of Malice is a 1981 drama directed by Sydney Pollack that co-starred Sally Field, Wilfred Brimley, and Bob Balaban. In the film, Newman plays the son of a deceased criminal. Field plays a less than respectable journalist who publishes stories of inuendo, confidential information, and outright lies that could destroy Newman’s character and livelihood. Newman was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance.
9) Slap Shot, released in 1977, is one of the all-time best sports comedies of all time. It depicts a struggling minor league ice hockey team that resorts to violence to gain popularity. Newman played the player-coach responsible for the downward spiral of the team.
8) The Verdict is a 1982 courtroom drama written by David Mamet, based on a novel by Barry Reed. Newman plays an alcoholic attorney struggling to get by. The movie focuses on a medical malpractice suit that Newman’s character takes in hopes of getting a quick settlement. Battling against the big money Catholic hospital, Newman is seemingly outmatched. But his determination and the jury’s ability to see the truth in the case he presents gives hope to the family he represents. Newman was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance.
7) Sweet Bird of Youth is a film from early in Newman’s career. It is based on a Tennessee Williams play of the same name. In it, Newman plays Chance Wayne – a drifter who has taken a role as a male companion to an aging Hollywood starlet. Together they return to Chance’s childhood home where he hopes to rekindle the romance with his high school sweetheart, over the objections of her powerful family. Although tamer than the renowned stage play, I actually prefer the film.
6) The Sting is fun-filled crime film in which Newman and Robert Redford play 1930’s grifters out to pull one big con on the local crime boss. The film was directed by George Roy Hill, who also directed the Newman/Redford pairing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Sting won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.
5) Cars is a 2006 computer animated film produced by Pixar and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. It takes place in a world populated by living cars. A young brash racecar named Lightning McQueen gets stranded in an out of the way town on Route 66. Newman provides the voice of the old, crotchety town judge Doc Hudson, who hides the secret that he was once a racer himself. The movie is especially meaningful because of Newman’s real-life love of racing, and that it was his last film role.
4) The Hustler is the story of a small-time pool hustler by the name of Fast Eddie Felson. Eddie, played by Newman, longs to break into the big time world of professional gambling. With his career under the guidance of a less-than-scrupulous manager (George C. Scott), he sets his sights on dethroning Minnesota Fats (played by Jackie Gleason). It was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award and Newman was nominated for Best Actor.
3) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a 1969 western featuring Newman and Robert Redford as the real-life titled bank robbers. Newman as Cassidy and Redford as Sundance have a magical chemistry and the film provides just the right mix of drama, comedy, and action. It was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. The American Film Institute ranks it as one of the 7th greatest Westerns in film history.
2) Cool Hand Luke is a 1967 film that takes place in prison in the deep south in the early 1950s. The film is based on Don Pearce’s novel of the same name. Newman plays Lucas Jackson, a man who can’t seem to keep out of jail, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to escape. George Kennedy won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Newman was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
1) The Long Hot Summer is one of my favorite films of all time. It has a Tennessee Williams feel to it, however the story was actually based on the works of William Faulkner. Newman plays drifter Ben Quick, who has a talent for talking himself into people’s good graces, only to self-sabotage his relationships. He’s a career loser with grand ambitions. The film costars Orson Wells and Joanne Woodward. Woodward and Newman married in 1958.
If you haven’t seen any of these great films, I invite you to visit your local library. The library is a great resource for immersing yourself into the world of the cinematic arts. If your local library doesn’t have the film you are wanting, they can often borrow it for you from another library.
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