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The Best Clint Eastwood Movies and Performances — IndieWire Critics Survey

With "The 15:17 to Paris" pulling into theaters this weekend, we asked film critics to name their favorite movies by the Man with No Name.

“Gran Torino”

Shutterstock

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: In honor of this week’s “The 15:17 to Paris,” what is Clint Eastwood’s greatest film (either as an actor, or as a director)?

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

“Bird”

Almost impossible to choose, but something especially energized and deep-rooted results when a great filmmaker makes a movie about the practice of filmmaking, and something even more energized about Eastwood’s own incarnation of a John Huston-oidal director, as a vain blowhard and a squanderer, in “White Hunter Black Heart”; it’s the movie of a Hollywood filmmaker thinking equivocally about his industry and his confrontation with its ingrained practices and legends. Yet if there’s one image that comes to mind from an Eastwood film, one image that incarnates the entire career and way of thinking, it’s in “Bird,” a closeup of Forest Whitaker, as Charlie Parker, soloing intensely in blue light. Eastwood, like everyone who is close to music, treats it cinematically as the calling of callings, the art of arts; Eastwood’s pain-filled ideals of tragic achievement make him a crucial counterpart to Martin Scorsese (even if his range of experience, and the conclusions that he draws from them, are drastically different).

Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Freelance for Hello Beautiful, Harper’s Bazaar

“Mystic River”

“Mystic River.” It’s moody Eastwood at his finest. He incited some of the most crushing performances I’ve ever seen from Sean Penn, Marcia Gay Harden, and Tim Robbins–actors who were already at the top of their game before this. And with the exception of perhaps “Million Dollar Baby,” Eastwood’s signature dark, monotone hues are most effective in this film and help create elevate its bleakness. It’s relentless, despairing, yet you can’t look away.

Stephen Whitty (@StephenWhitty), Freelance

“Tightrope”

I can’t make a claim for it as his truly greatest film, but even at the time — and now, certainly in retrospect — I’d say 1984’s “Tightrope” is worthy of more serious consideration. Although it could have been just another “Dirty Harry” clone, it showed Eastwood really pushing at the edges of his own tough-guy persona, suggesting his sexuality had more than a few dark shadows. And while it didn’t completely revise his image — the way his own, later movies would, as he began to explicitly question the cost of vengeance — it was the beginning of a broadening.

Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman), Freelance for The Guardian, Vanity Fair

“Pale Rider”

Best Western: “Pale Rider”

Best non-Western: “Bird”

Best Performance: “The Bridges of Madison County”

Clint Eastwood has made nine zillion movies, many of which are quite terrible. Like, true pieces of crap. Even when they co-star orangutans. But when you get up to bat that many times and have the same studio (in his case, Warner Bros). dedicated to you, you are bound to get your Hail Marys caught from time to time (I just mixed my sports metaphors, sorry about that).

Anyway, in addition to the two I just mentioned, some other really remarkable films: “High Plains Drifter,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Unforgiven” (naturally), “White Hunter, Black Heart,” “A Perfect World,” “Million Dollar Baby” (some people hate this movie, I don’t), “Letters From Iwo Jima,” even “Sully”…these are all spectacular. Then there’s the Leone trilogy, where he’s more of a prop than anything else, but are still iconic for a reason.

But I’m going to pull myself up by my bootstraps and be a MAN and stop pussyfooting around (spits tobacco) and choose just ONE cause by God that’s what you asked me to do so I’ll do it (spits tobacco again.) The best Clint Eastwood movie is “Pale Rider.” Now buzz off.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today

“A Perfect World”

For years, my answer to this question would have been Eastwood’s first Oscar-winning film, “Unforgiven” (1992), which I found a profound examination of how the myth of righteous violence so often informs our judgment of the past. present and future. Unfortunately, too many viewings have exposed the weaknesses of some of the supporting players (though Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and Richard Harris all remain solid), and so while I still admire it, it is no longer my top pick.

Instead, that honor goes to the very next film Eastwood directed, “A Perfect World” (1993), which tells the story of how an escaped convict’s plans to evade capture by kidnapping a young boy go awry when he befriends that boy, becoming a surrogate father to him. Kevin Costner, of all people – the heroic leading man of the era – plays the convict, delivering his best performance of the ’90s (though the risible “Water World” and “The Postman” would do much to erase the memory of this). Young T.J. Lowther, as the boy, is an able match for Costner, and Laura Dern is her usual terrific self, with Eastwood adding gravitas as the Texas Ranger in hot pursuit. I like a lot of other Eastwood, too, but this is my current favorite.

Manuela Lazic (@manilazic), freelance for Little White Lies

Unforgiven

“Unforgiven”

Warner Bros.

Clint Eastwood is very old now and has been around for a long time, starring in and directing a lot of movies. And he’s pretty good at both of these things! My favourites of his directorial efforts are wildly different from one another – as much a son of the Western genre as he may be, Clint has been known to diversify his craft to an impressive degree.

“Unforgiven,” his 1991 western, has the bizarrely discreet power that is common to most masterpieces; slowly but surely, it creeps up on you and leaves you stunned.

“The Bridges of Madison County” sees him fall madly in love with Francesca, an unhappily married Italian immigrant he meets by chance and played exquisitely by Meryl Streep. It’s the film that everyone’s mom loves, but also a perfect melodrama that loses none of its power on repeat viewings — on the contrary.

A more recent Eastwood joint is the fascinatingly flawed Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons biopic “Jersey Boys”. This one, my mom loved as well, but I did before her. The stage performances plant the already unforgettable songs in your brain despite the classic narrative of the American Dream being lazily executed. For months after seeing this film, I could only listen to Frankie Valli. The same happened to my mom.

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

Nothing that Eastwood ever directed has stuck with me quite like the wandering gunslinger he played in Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” If only I could remember what that character was called…

Question: What is the best film currently playing in theaters?

Answer: “Phantom Thread”

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