Clint Eastwood: the unlikely Oscar favorite

Posted by · 4:19 am · July 12th, 2008

Clint Eastwood at the Academy Awards in 2005Had anyone said to me in the 1970s that Clint Eastwood would in time become one of the finest and most important American directors in modern cinema, I would have laughed — quite loudly — in their collective faces.

The star of “Dirty Harry” and “Every Which But Loose?”  The guy who shares the screen with apes?  Are you kidding???  Yet here we are, 37 years after he first pulled that 44-Magnum (“The most powerful hand gun in the world”), and things have changed.  He has won four Academy Awards — two as director, two as producer.  He has been nominated for each on two other occasions and has two Best Actor nominations to his credit as well. He has twice been honored by the Directors Guild of America for and won countless critics awards.

Eastwood is indeed among the filmmaking elite.  And with the upcoming releases of “Changeling” and “Gran Torino,” he looks primed to flirt with the film awards season yet again.

While researching my book “Clint Eastwood: Evolution of a Filmmaker,” my respect and admiration for the man has grown considerably. Obviously there was a great deal of admiration to start, otherwise I wouldn’t even begin a bhook on the subject.  But leanring more and more about Eastwood and his work has, understandably, taken things up a level.

Eastwood challenges himself each time he makes a film.  His choices to act in films such as “Any Which Way You Can” were driven by the fact that he knew the studio would then finance a personal project such as “Bronco Billy.”  What really astounds me, though, is his growth as an actor through the years.

It seems inconceivable to me that a mere financial draw from the 1970s is the same actor who explored the depths of hell in “Unforgiven” and again in “Million Dollar Baby,” weeping with despair at true love lost in “The Bridges of Madison County” and attempting to portray no less than John Huston in “White Hunter, Black Heart.”

He is as a fearless performer, yet he is always acutely aware of what works and what doesn’t. This is not an actor prepared to do Shakespeare because he knows he can’t pull it off. But my God, what he can do is magical.

As a director he possess the same sort of lean storytelling skills as John Huston, exploring the raw and visceral side of life, turning pain into art. Right now in American movies, at this moment, is there anyone better at that than Eastwood?

Is there?

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22 responses so far

  • 1 7-12-2008 at 4:41 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Eastwood is the most versatile man in Hollywood right now. Million Dollar Baby is one of my favourite movies of all time. It is just perfect. Clint is absolutely amazing as Frankie, truly heartbreaking. The acting alone makes the film a towering achievement.

    It’s funny because a friend of mine who’s about 50 years old, always said Clint was underrated. Until recently that was. He had always been fond of him and he was very right to be so.

    After Million Dollar Baby Clint does not take a rest and starts one of the most ambitious projects in the history of film. His Iwo Jima films are as a duo another milestone in all of cinema. Clint is my hero.

  • 2 7-12-2008 at 4:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Is there anyone better at that than Eastwood?”

    As far as “pain into art” goes, I would say Paul Thomas Anderson, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, etc, but that’s me. I do like a lot of Eastwood’s work, but a third Best Director Oscar would annoy me – “Million Dollar Baby” was one too many, in my book. (I also thought his performance there was the film’s biggest weakness.)

    Also, I disagree with the way you write off his 70’s output. Surely “Play Misty for Me” (a hell of a debut) and “The Outlaw Josey Wales” made it quite clear the guy was a talented director – and both films came BEFORE “Every Which Way But Loose.”

  • 3 7-12-2008 at 6:28 am

    kin fook said...

    like a bottle of good wine, he get better as he ages

  • 4 7-12-2008 at 9:14 am

    Andre said...

    What I really like about his films is that even though they have a really traditional quality to them, they’re never formulaic or cookie-cutter. Always very classy in their presentation.

    By the way, is your book out already or is it a work in progress? =]

  • 5 7-12-2008 at 11:45 am

    John Foote said...

    Wow Guy…you need to read my book when it is published. I do anything but write off his seventies output…if it came across that way I was mistaken. He has always been a fine director, it just took some of us some to realize that.

  • 6 7-12-2008 at 11:51 am

    Chad said...

    If someone tells me today that Clint Eastwood is one of the finest and most important American directors in modern cinema, I still laugh in their face.

  • 7 7-12-2008 at 3:33 pm

    John Foote said...

    Chad, what a shame. How ill informed of current cinema you seem to be.

  • 8 7-12-2008 at 7:53 pm

    Liz said...

    Chad, would you like to offer some reasoning? Otherwise, you look rather foolish.

  • 9 7-13-2008 at 12:13 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I don’t think the fact that Clint Eastwood’s films don’t work for Chad makes him ill-informed or foolish, guys.

    Everyone has certain highly-regarded names that they, as individuals, simply don’t get. I, for example, bristle when people call Tom Hanks a great actor. I don’t think that makes me ignorant. To each his own, etc.

  • 10 7-13-2008 at 1:20 am

    Marvin said...

    Michael Mann comes to mind, the Coen bros. do too. Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Alfonso Cuarón also stand above the Clint as far as directors making movies in America right now goes I think.

  • 11 7-13-2008 at 4:21 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Chad and Marvin even if you don’t like his films. You can’t deny he never takes the easy route and takes on challenging projects that few others would dare to touch. For a man his age to only start doing just that, is worthy enough of recognition.

  • 12 7-13-2008 at 4:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Well, he sometimes takes the easy route, Jonathan – “Blood Work,” “The Rookie,” “Absolute Power,” “True Crime,” etc. The Scorseses and Lynches of the business may have made some failed films, but they’ve never made throwaway ones. That’s why I rate Eastwood below them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Eastwood. Just playing devil’s advocate a little.

  • 13 7-13-2008 at 5:12 am

    John Foote said...

    Lot’s to discuss and that is what is terrific about the site, right? Nothing better than a good ol’ film debate. I am all for having an opinion, but I think it essential one can back it up. Chad makes his statement, with no back up…explain to us why he thinks what he does and he gains some respect. And do I think Eastwood is the single greatest American director right now? No I do not. What I asked was whether or not another director was as fine turning pain into art. Only Guy really answered that, and though I disagree, he got the question. Scorsese, Spielberg (most under appreciated and ever evolving artist over last fifteen years) are perhaps stronger directors with a greater body of work. Woody Allen makes the list as well, and certainly there are others. What I admire about Eastwood is his fearlessness in taking risks as both an actor and director. My God can you imagine the terrror in portraying John Huston, one of the most iconic film directors of all time?

  • 14 7-14-2008 at 11:57 am

    Blake Rutherford said...

    It’s difficult to discount Eastwood’s enormous contribution to American cinema, both as an actor and asa director. But it’s important, in my view, to judge his work in totality, which means that we cannot ignore the films he directed from 1993 – 2002.

    Here’s the list:

    “A Perfect World,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Absolute Power,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” “True Crime,” “Space Cowboys” and “Blood Work.”

    That is one hell of a bad group. I’m not about to suggest that it doesn’t make Eastwood a fine filmmaker. It doesn’t. And the thesis of your piece was that no one is making better movies right now than him.

    I think Scorsese is making very good movies. He, like Eastwood, is hitting is stride after a few missteps (“Bringing Out the Dead” and “Kundun,” notably). If there’s anyone close, it’s him.

    I’m on the lookout for Joe Wright, David Fincher, David Cronenberg, the Coen Bros., Chris Nolan and Paul Greengrass as filmmakers who have the potential to really continue their excellent work.

  • 15 7-14-2008 at 1:43 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Agreed, that is a bad group – though I think “A Perfect World” is actually rather underrated. Kevin Costner’s best performance by a mile, too.

  • 16 7-14-2008 at 3:16 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    To Blake: You are on the money about those 90s films BUT to come back the way he did with a string of amazing films is just stunning.

  • 17 7-14-2008 at 3:30 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I don’t quite agree that he’s had a string of amazing films… for me Million Dollar Baby was somewhat overblown, and Flags of Our Fathers was pretty much a failure.

  • 18 7-14-2008 at 4:35 pm

    John Foote said...

    Some good points Blake, however, I was referring perhaps mopre to his recent output from 200 on. ‘Space Cowboys,” “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” and “Changeling”. As for the comments on the films you mention as a weak period, “A Perfectv World” is an under appreciated masterpiece featuring the best performance of Costner’s career. “The Bridges of Madison County” is a superb adult romance with Eastwood going toe to toe with the greatest actress in the Englsih language!! Need I mention the risk he took making this foray into romance? Some of the others I grant you are not neceesarily great films, in fact a couple of them are not very good, but every major director has their share of weak films. I cringe when I think of Scorsese’s ‘Bringing Out the Dead,” and Gog love Spielberg but “The Terminal”…please??? I stand by what I stated about Eastwood. Every director has a down period where they are evolving, finding their voice and perhaps working out their weaknesses. And Eastwood at this point in his caereer would appear to have none.

  • 19 7-14-2008 at 4:37 pm

    John Foote said...

    Sorry hit the button before I could check spelling…and again, in the period 1993-1999, I believe he was evolving and trying what he had not tried before.

  • 20 7-15-2008 at 4:01 pm

    Blake Rutherford said...


    You’re right on. Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead” is a disaster. And “The Terminal?” Certainly. Which is why I qualified my remarks and made clear, I thought, that those films didn’t disqualify Mr. Eastwood from the kind of praise you’re giving him. I agree that you can’t fault someone for taking risks. Clint probably got more chances than anyone. All we can say about that is: good for him.

    There’s no doubt that his run from “Mystic River” through “Letters from Iwo Jima” is damn impressive. “Mystic River” was a far superior film to “Lord of the Rings: Attack of the CGI Elves,” or whatever it was called. And while “Flags of Our Fathers” wasn’t as strong as a stand-alone film, taken as a companion piece to “Letters from Iwo Jima” it’s particularly impressive. I thought the marketers behind those films had it all wrong.

    “Million Dollar Baby” is an achievement, and was the superior film out of the 2005 group of nominated films.

    We’ll see what “Changeling” and “Gran Torino” bring. He’s on a roll, for certain, and as I mentioned, my view is that only Marty Scorsese is keeping pace with him.

    Additionally, both directors have three Oscar nominations and one win in this decade. They went gone head to head in 2005 and 2007, the years in which they were awarded Oscars.

    And while there are a substantial number of directors making noise, I think it’s very fair to say that Eastwood’s upcoming projects and Scorsese’s (“Shutter Island, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt”) are going to draw a lot of awards attention.

  • 21 7-17-2008 at 9:44 pm

    Chad said...

    I will admit that Eastwood is making the most interesting choices in his material during his twilight years, but he’s never been an interesting director. Do you honestly think he magically became a better filmmaker in between Blood Work and Mystic River? Or is it more likely that this new batch of challenging subject matter mixed with his renowned professionalism and classy, old-fashioned approach to storytelling is what people really find to admire.

    And don’t even get me started on Scorsese. Blake mentioning “Bringing Out the Dead” and “Kundun” as his missteps before his stride nearly made me spit out my drink. Those were the last bold films he made before finding his “stride” in overblown messes (“The Aviator” and “Gangs of New York”) and recycled hackjobs of his former self (“The Departed”).

    While we’re at it, let’s throw Sidney Lumet in there too. He hasn’t made a good film since “The Verdict”. Woody Allen? Not since “Sweet and Lowdown”. But it feels like people desperately want there to be an old guard of filmmakers reminding us “how it’s done” with each new release but it’s just not the case.

    That’s the way these jaded eyes see it at least.