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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Top Ten Paul Newman Films

A loving look back at the late star's finest screen moments.

By Emily Rems

Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke
Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke
Courtesy of Warner Home Video

When Paul Newman lost his battle with cancer on September 26th, 2008, at the age of 83, Hollywood lost one of its most enduring legends, and the world lost a true humanitarian. In an acting career that spanned over 50 years, he delivered countless great performances that kept audiences riveted to the big screen — and those intense blue eyes. But from his impressive list of 65 film credits, ten rise to the top as the true measure of his Method acting mettle. Here are our favorites.

10. The Color of Money (1986)
Newman won his first and only Academy Award for this reprisal of his Hustler character Fast Eddie Felson in this tough-talking, pool hall sequel directed by Martin Scorsese. Taking a talented upstart played by Tom Cruise under his wing, Eddie goes on a journey of personal redemption that picks up 25 years after the original film left off. But ultimately, his character sees the cheating and trickery that have ruled his life for so long in a new light once his protege adopts these values as his own.

9. The Verdict (1982)
Always adept at playing sympathetic lowlifes, Newman sinks to the occasion here as a hard-drinking lawyer who's seen better days, until a seemingly simple medical malpractice suit offers him an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of his colleagues and clients. The role won Newman a Best Actor nomination, and marked his later-in-life shift from heartthrob to character actor.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

8. Absence of Malice (1981)
Following a tip from an unscrupulous FBI agent, an ambitious reporter played by Sally Field writes a story that threatens to ruin the life of its subject (played by Newman) in this unlikely dramatic romance. A modern day morality tale, Newman wields his trademark defiance in this portrayal of a reclusive businessman who must clear his name after being unfairly thrust into the criminal limelight.

7. The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
This film marked the first cinematic collaboration between Newman and Joanne Woodward, a young actress who won Newman's heart off-screen as well as on, and who remained by his side throughout the last 50 years. The electricity between the two leads in this first of 10 films they would make together, featuring Newman as a smoldering drifter and Woodward as a Mississippi schoolteacher unsure of his advances, was undeniable, and still crackles onscreen to this day.

6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Newman paired up with Robert Redford in this amiable heist movie that became the ultimate buddy flick of the '60s. As the idea man behind the thieving "Hole in the Wall Gang" in turn-of-the-century Wyoming, Newman's rendering of Butch Cassidy was iconic, and his trek towards Bolivia with the law on his trail was the stuff western legends are made of.

5. Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
Based on the autobiography of boxer Rocky Graziano, this sports biopic was slated to star James Dean, but when Dean was killed in a car accident before the screenplay was finished, Newman was brought in, and the role made him a star. Playing an ex con who turned his life around in the ring, it was a gritty role for Newman, who had just made his screen debut two years before in The Silver Chalice, proving he could take on any challenge Hollywood sent his way.

4. The Hustler (1961)
As pool shark Fast Eddie Felson, Newman was the definition of early '60s cool, arrogantly taking lesser men for their dough in shady halls until his pride led him to bite off more than he could chew. Another in Newman's pantheon of damaged tough guys done in by hubris, Fast Eddie's re-emergence in 1986's The Color Of Money cemented him as one of the most memorable characters in Hollywood history.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Courtesy of Warner Home Video

3. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Arguably the best movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' greatest play, Cat featured Newman in a brave and unflinching performance as Brick, an alcoholic ex-football star immune to the charms of his sexpot wife, played by a scantily clad Elizabeth Taylor. This role would earn Newman his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and establish him as a nationwide sex symbol.

2. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Taking up the mantle of bad boy actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean who charmed audiences with their irreverent portrayals of rogues and outsiders, Newman took his role as a rebellious convict in Cool Hand Luke and made it an eternal symbol of masculine defiance. Jailed for cutting the tops off parking meters, Luke's constant bucking of the prison system incites a battle of wills that tests the limits of his indomitable spirit.

1. Hud (1963)
Publicized with the tagline "The man with the barbed wire soul!" Hud proved that Newman was irresistible even when he was playing a selfish bastard. A ruthless cad known primarily for drinking, fighting, joyriding, and womanizing when not working on his elderly father's ranch, Newman's title character was rotten to the core. Whether trying to unload diseased cattle onto unsuspecting buyers or sexually harassing the housekeeper, he was always up to no good, and audiences loved every minute of it.

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