The best films of Clint Eastwood

He knows where to aim the camera, I’ll admit. The filmography shows signs of imagination betrayed by failures of nerve or a reach incommensurate with the grasp (Changeling, Bird, Hereafter, Jersey Boys). For a while women confused him. His directorial debut Play Misty for Me remains a crude, shrill but effective study of male victimhood, an extension of his put-upon soldier in The Beguiled, recently given a second go by Sofia Coppola. This was fascinating, for as early as Two Mules for Sister Sara he had a terse, crinkly rapport with co-stars as weird as Shirley MacLaine and Geraldine Page and the chimp from Any Which Way But Loose; he’d loosen up in the nineties, submitting to Rene Russo and Meryl Streep’s ministrations and the inevitable box office gold.

Ah, Clint and box office. Last fall, Sully grossed over a $100 million in the United States alone. 2015’s American Sniper was the year’s highest grossing drama. Eastwood is eighty-seven. How long can he keep this up? There is no precedent in Hollywood for a career this remunerative. American doggedness at its purest and most terrifying. Consider Woody Allen, for whom writing and directing pictures and breathing come from the same lungs. It would be better for us if they stopped, but they can’t.

The pictures below mix films he directed and films in which he starred, not one of them great, several excellent, most marred by the flaws above; twelve films is enough. Watched months after the chatter and Oscar news, American Sniper remains an intermittently gripping look at the armed forces’ grip on rural Americans. Unforgiven boasts a strong script to which Eastwood is too wedded, even for the absurdities — would Bill Munny really become the Terminator after all those years of dormancy, and why the hell isn’t Morgan Freeman’s race mentioned once yet he’s lynched just the same?

Well. His next film’s in production. So we beat on.

1. For a Few Dollars More
2. Unforgiven
3. White Hunter, Black Heart
4. The Outlaw Josey Wales
5. Tightrope
6. Letters from Iwo Jima
7. Play Misty for Me
8. Two Mules for Sister Sara
9. The Beguiled
10. American Sniper
11. In the Line of Fire
12. Dirty Harry

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