best film:  Cool Hand Luke. Newman has only actually been in two masterpieces, this and Butch Cassidy. It’s a weakness if you’re looking at his resume and comparing him with the other all-time greats. However, his 21-film archiveable resume is loaded with other top 10 films (too many to just list here—it would be easier to list the ones that aren’t in their respective years’ top 10). Back to Cool Hand Luke though and Newman- those are two non-auteur driven masterpieces. I could see arguing that this both boosts Newman’s credentials/resume (there’s no way either film is a masterpiece without him) and hurt him (he isn’t in one of the top 100 movies of all-time and after all we’re talking about film as art).

best performance: Cool Hand Luke. Newman’s Christ-allegory figure of a convict and anti-hero has it all. He’s incredibly charming, a likable rascal, anti-authoritarian, yet has his own set of principles and internal compass. Newman had done the southern accent before with mixed results (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Long Hot Summer) but improved on it since those two films in 1958 and he’s clearly in control here. His scenes George Kennedy show clear rapport and chemistry —but he also battles so well with Strother Martin and shows his tender side with the mother character Jo Van Fleet in their one absolutely devastating scene together. As much as I like Newman in Butch Cassidy, The Verdict and the Hustler– this is the easy choice- a justifiably iconic performance and character.

stylistic innovations/traits: He’s a more affable  and approachable version of Marlon Brando, James Dean and Montgomery Clift. He could be funny and those other three monsters of method largely couldn’t—it’s a gift. Newman has 21 films in the archives and at least 10 are worthy of being in their years’ ten best. His style looks so effortless and unrehearsed. He won the Oscar for reprising his role of Eddie Felson in The Color of Money with Scorsese in 1986 but had eight other nominations to choose from that you could’ve given him the award for. He could show a dark side (Hud, the Hustler) but was probably at his best in Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy where there’s just nobody you’d rather spend two hours of your time with. He made a slew of movies with “H” in the title for some reason (mostly marketing), was incredibly good lookin,g (especially in color with those eyes) but after he came to power in the 60’s avoided the beefcake roles and movies in lieu of more challenging material. His one downfall may be in the following category here.

directors worked with:   Martin Ritt (3) and George Roy Hill (2)—I’m no George Roy Hill apologist and I’m a big  believer in the auteur theory- but these two films are fantastic… then one film with Preminger, Penn, Altman, Pollack, Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Sam Mendes, and Sidney Lumet. It’s somewhat regrettable that of the three best auteurs he worked with Scorsese (5th all-time), Coen (25th) and Altman (29th)—the only film that makes their respective auteurs own top 10 is Buffalo Bill and the Indians (10th on Altman’s list).

Top 10 Performances:

  1. Cool Hand Luke
  2. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
  3. The Hustler
  4. The Verdict
  5. Hud
  6. Hombre
  7. The Color of Money
  8. The Road to Perdition
  9. Absence of Malice
  10. The Sting


Archiveable films

1956- Somebody Up There Likes Me
1958- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
1958- Long Hot Summer
1958- The Left Handed Gun
1960- Exodus
1961- The Hustler
1963- Hud
1966- Harper
1967- Cool Hand Luke
1967- Hombre
1969- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
1973- The Sting
1974- The Towering Inferno
1976- Buffalo Bill and the Indians
1981- Absence of Malice
1982- The Verdict
1986- The Color of Money
1990- Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
1994- Nobody’s Fool
1994- The Hudsucker Proxy
2002- The Road to Perdition