Fresh from his spirited/baffling two-act with an empty chair at last month’s Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood is back in theaters this week with Trouble with the Curve, in which he apparently plays an old school baseball scout who’s had it up to here with you damn kids and your money-ballin’ and whatnot. “A computer can’t tell if a kid’s got instincts,” he growls in the trailer, in the general direction of poor Matthew Lillard, playing the obligatory role of the smug young hotshot who must be shown what’s-what by the old pro.
Yep, Clint’s in full-on old coot mode in Trouble with the Curve, the last example of what’s best defined as a “grumpy old man” movie — in which a gent of advanced age grunts and snarls and yells at the whippersnappers, and usually ends up demonstrating how it’s done (whatever each movie’s “it” may be). After the jump, ten more movies that want you to get the hell of their lawn.
The definitive “get off my lawn” movie is Eastwood’s 2008 film Gran Torino — as in, he explicitly sneers “get off my lawn” from behind a raised shotgun. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a racist, xenophobic tough guy widower and former auto worker whose neighborhood has, well, gone through some changes. And while a modern audience demands that a character like that wises up and softens up, Eastwood also makes sure to have Walt Kowalski take care of those Hmong gangbangers for his new young friend Thao.
Eastwood’s made a specialty of playing grumpy old men over the past few years, spending much of the ’90s making the changeover from aging tough guy to wily coot. But he brought in reinforcements for his 2000 vehicle Space Cowboys: it’s got an all-star team of wisecracking retired wiseguys, with juicy supporting roles for Donald Sutherland, James Garner, and perhaps our grouchiest screen presence, Tommy Lee Jones.
Jones was never grouchier than in this underrated 1994 biopic, in which he dramatizes baseball legend Ty Cobb’s later years — as a vile, nasty, bitter old racist in a perpetually foul mood. He spends most of the movie terrorizing and abusing his biographer Al Sump (though, in all fairness, he’s played by Arli$$ star Robert Wuhl, so it’s tough to blame him), and generally being an unpleasant crank; it’s a blisteringly great portrayal of a thoroughly unpleasant man.
Robot and Frank
The perpetually undervalued Frank Langella stars in this late summer release (check around — it may still be playing in your town) as a reformed jewel thief who may not be so reformed after all. When his son gets him a robot butler to help around the house, Frank programs it to help him rip off the town’s newest smug little rich prick — and proves himself not only still capable of pulling a job, but maybe even of getting away with it.
The story of the retired criminal who’s still got the taste for a good heist certainly didn’t originate with Robot and Frank, and our favorite example of this sub-subgenre is probably Tough Guys, an enjoyable 1986 comedy starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. They play a pair of thieves released from prison after 30 years, only to find that the world’s changed a bit more than they care for; particularly irksome is the lack of respect accorded to them by the younger generation, here represented by Lancaster’s retirement home orderly and Douglas’ smug manager. They’ll show ’em, they decide, and end up pulling one last job — mostly to see if they can get away with it.
As Good as It Gets
Jack Nicholson’s turn as Melvin Udall won him an Oscar in 1997, and it’s a performance that pretty much takes over the movie: entertainingly prickly and impossible to get along with, his obsessive-compulsive misanthrope novelist pretty much hates everyone and everything, particularly if they interfere with his ultra-rigid daily routine. Of course, this being a movie, he learns to bend a little for the right woman (played here by Helen Hunt), though we’ve always been less than certain that its “happy ending” was all that happy, or permanent.
Scent of a Woman
Lt. Col. Frank Slade’s got reason enough to spent most of his time drunk or angry: the blind former Army ranger spends his days confined to a tiny guest house behind the home of his son’s family (none of whom he seems to like very much). So when he’s left in the care of an uptight prep school student (Chris O’Donnell), he decides to dip into his savings and treat himself — and the kid — to a weekend of New York city style. Al Pacino won an Oscar for his performance as Slade, a character who expectedly softens to his young charge, but still gets a chance to deliver one of the great piss-and-vinegar monologues in recent moviedom. I’d take a FLAMETHROWER to this place, indeed.
By 1994, Paul Newman had gracefully established himself as one of America’s favorite men of a certain age, and did so without getting much in the way of permission from anybody — which is why he was so ideally cast in Robert Benton’s adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel. As aimless, freewheeling Donald “Sully” Sullivan, Newman basically spends the picture doing as he damn well pleases — working when he wants to, flirting with the wife of his nemesis, punching cops. And he pretty much gets away with it, which is one of the advantages of looking like Paul Newman, we suppose.
Grumpy Old Men/Grumpier Old Men
No explanation necessary, we assume.
Those are our picks for the grumpiest movies of all time — what are yours?