Directed by Dirty Harry: Clint Eastwood's Best Movies
by Chuck Walton
Buy your tickets to Clint Eastwood's Changeling (already a big winner on the festival circuit), and then load up your Netflix queue. Here's a top 10 list reminder that Clint Eastwood the director is just as capable as any of his onscreen characters of "making your day."
Number 10: Sudden Impact (1983)
The fourth film in the Dirty Harry series was the first directed by Clint Eastwood. It ushered the iconic character into the '80s in all his brutal glory, and set up the template for future Arnold/Sylvester/Bruce heroics. It also introduced the phrase, "Go ahead, make my day" into the American lexicon (currently ranked by the American Film Institue as the sixth most memorable line in movie history).
Number 9: Play Misty for Me (1971)
Somewhat overlooked in Eastwood's directorial oeuvre is this psychological thriller pitting
Eastwood as a radio DJ against an obsessed female fan who wreaks havoc on his professional and
personal life. A precursor to Fatal Attraction, the film remains a first-rate exercise
in sustained and creepy suspense.
Number 8: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Part two in Eastwood's epic World War II films (the first being Flags of Our Fathers)
is unique in mainstream American filmmaking by telling the story from the perspective of the
Japanese. Through the eyes of various soldiers and officers (including a great Ken Watanabe),
we're compelled to feel that, no matter what side you fight for, war is indeed hell.
Number 7: A Perfect World (1993)
Another overlooked gem from the director is A Perfect World, a con-on-the-run tale
starring Kevin Costner as a criminal being pursued by Eastwood's Texas ranger
in the early 1960s. The twist is that Costner is accompanied by an innocent eight-year-old boy.
See it for the film's understated pacing and especially Costner's career-best performance.
Number 6: High Plains Drifter (1973)
Eastwood's revisionist western has the action hero playing a stranger who drifts into a corrupt
town and turns it on its head. He's hired to take down three criminals, but seems more
intent on creating hell on earth. A combo spaghetti western and supernatural thriller,
it's a fascinating homage to Eastwood's previous collaborators, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.
Number 5: Bird (1988)
Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for The Last King of Scotland, but he's just as
award-worthy for playing jazz saxophonist Charlie
Parker in Eastwood's labor of love. The real-life musician led a brilliant and dangerous life -- he died at 34 from
pneumonia hastened by alcohol and drug abuse -- and the movie, filled with his great music,
doesn't shy away from the highs and the lows.
Number 4: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
This is one of Eastwood's own personal favorites of the films he's made. He stars as Josey
Wales, a Civil War-era farmer who leads a ragtag gang on a mission of vengeance against the
Union soldiers who murdered his family. In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Number 3: Mystic River (2003)
Eastwood the director came back into prominence with 2003's Mystic River. It features all of Eastwood's trademarks: spare, elegant storytelling; intelligent, adult and complex themes; and a cast working at the height of their craft. Nominated for six Oscars, the film ultimately won for lead actor Sean Penn and supporting actor Tim Robbins.
Number 2: Million Dollar Baby (2004)
One year after Mystic River, Eastwood delivered his -- pun intended -- knockout punch with
Million Dollar Baby. Much like the man himself, the film is a lean, mean and perfectly
told story about a female boxer (Hilary Swank) and her profound relationship to her coach (Clint
Eastwood). Swank and Morgan Freeman earned well-deserved Oscars, as did Eastwood for Best Picture and Best Director.
Number 1: Unforgiven (1992)
Ranked by AFI as the fourth best western ever made, Unforgiven both captures the Old West and obliterates any myths of glory about its violence and final toll. Winner of Best Picture and Best Director for Eastwood, and Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman...it's the perfect encapsulation of Eastwood working as director and producer and lead actor at his absolute peak.