The official, properly considered, Robert Redford Top Five List

the natural

I hadn’t intended to do this. There’s something inherently uncool in doing such an obvious, vanilla, whitebread Top Five List. Barry would never stop giving me grief about it, if Barry actually existed. Actually, I suspect Jack Black would never let up, if he found out about it. So don’t tell him.

Actually, a cool list would be, say, a Jack Black list.

But no, this is about the ultimate whiteguy A-lister from a generation ago, or more. I mean, next we’ll be doing, I dunno, a Clark Gable list or something. Or so Barry would say.

But I have to do this to set things right. In a recent comment on this blog, reacting to a side conversation about a clip from “Three Days of the Condor” — really a Max Von Sydow conversation, not about Redford at all — Bryan Caskey snuck up while I wasn’t looking and posted this:

Top Five Robert Redford Movies
1. Jeremiah Johnson
2. The Sting
3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
4. Sneakers
5. Spy Game

Ahhhhh! No way! Totally apart from the very worst thing about it — more on that in a moment — he put “The Sting” (a relatively desperate attempt by Hollywood to recapture the Newman/Redford magic of the previous) above “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!” That should have cancelled the whole list outright, but there it is, still on this blog, and I feel responsible and must set the record straight.

So, here is the official Top Five List for Robert Redford.

But wait. I didn’t mention the worst thing: He left “The Natural” off his list altogether! We’re talking about a film that not only makes my Top Five list for all sports films, but is at the TOP of my Baseball Movies list! And he’s a sports guy and I’m not!

So anyway, here is the official Top Five List for Robert Redford:

  1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — I probably wouldn’t start the list with this — the second and third films are better — but this is a Robert Redford list, and without this film, we wouldn’t know who Robert Redford is. Also… it’s a unique Redford movie. It’s the only film he appeared in in which his character was cool. After that, he competed with himself to see how uncool he could make his characters. Including Roy Hobbs. Definitely including Jeremiah Johnson, the dullest Mountain Man in the Rockies. The Sundance Kid is one of the coolest characters ever in a Western. Watch, and see what Redford did with him — and then tell me one other character he did that with. You can’t. Newman’s characters were almost always cool. Redford’s never were.
  2. All the President’s Men — Every time I see this film, I’m blown away at how good it was. I don’t remember being that impressed with it when it was new, but it’s amazing. And it’s because of the little things. It has the most realistic depiction of the interview process that I’ve ever seen. The naturalistic awkwardness that Redford as Woodward and Hoffman as Bernstein experience as they try to get people to talk to them and put their story together is probably painful for laypeople to watch — but if you made your living doing that kind of thing, you’d recognize it, and be impressed. And you’ll also see why I preferred being an editor to going through the daily grind of being a reporter. It’s very, very real.
  3. The Natural — To Bryan’s credit, I was reminded of this film’s awesomeness when Bryan put this video on Twitter, with its invitation, “If you’re missing baseball, watch this.” You should definitely watch that compilation, and think about how much poorer it would be without the clips from “The Natural.” That film corrected a huge literary mistake, committed by Bernard Malamud. Malamud’s novel stripped all nobility from Roy Hobbs, and condemned him not only to lose in the end, but to deserve it. Totally depressing. It totally missed why Americans, back when they were real Americans, loved baseball. The film understood all of that, was unembarrassed about it, and crammed it all in with no apology.
  4. The Great Gatsby — If you try to look this up on IMDB now, they’ll show you the Leonardo DiCaprio version, which is just sad. There’s a certain amount of personal involvement here: This was the movie that inspired me to wear a white linen suit when I got married that same year. (Try even finding one of those.) But it’s great. No one can sound as plain and uncool as Redford calling people “old sport.” It’s pure mastery. And it has Sam Waterston — and Edward Herrmann in a cameo, playing the piano! Oh, and see if you can find the guy who played Hershel Greene in “The Walking Dead” — he’s in it! In a key role! (Talk about a guy with a cool Top Five list!)
  5. The Candidate — I was going to put Jeremiah Johnson here, but I didn’t, just to be cantankerous. Jeremiah’s good, but it’s maybe too popular among my more libertarian friends, who think that being a mountain man is a sensible way to live. So I thought I’d go with something that in its own way was kind of groundbreaking — the story of a political candidate who only ran because he was promised he would lose — and has Peter Boyle as a political operative.


9 thoughts on “The official, properly considered, Robert Redford Top Five List

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I guess I didn’t think of The Sting as trying to recreate the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid magic. That’s never occurred to me until I read this post. Perhaps that’s because I saw The Sting before I saw Butch and Sundance.

    Yeah, my list is definitely a product of the fact that I’m younger, so the movies I’m listing lean towards the more recent. Sneakers is such a great movie, and Spy Game is a really recent one that has a great chemistry between Redford and Pitt.

    I really struggled with not putting The Natural on my list. I was wanting to put it at 4, but maybe I’ve seen it so much, so recently, that I feel like it’s overplayed, and I didn’t want to be trite. It’s a great movie, though. Perhaps I was being a bit provocative with my list, but to the extent it drew attention and garnered a response, then I’m happy.

    I always like the thrust and parry of a good argument….which leads me to a personal anecdote if you’ll permit me.

    My son (who is eight) is obviously out of school. Accordingly, my wife and I have been the teachers. For his writing assignment recently, the task was to write “an opinion”. He’s written factual things before, but this was his first time he was asked to write an opinion of his and defend it with reasons.

    It could be any opinion – it could be “why I hate pizza” or “why baseball is the best sport” or whatever. He just had to write an opinion and then give several reasons for his opinion. Naturally, I was enthusiastic about it, as this was exactly what I do in my job. As a lawyer, I’m always arguing a side and then giving reasons.

    The problem was our son didn’t want to take an opinion. He wanted to write something factual, and do a series of facts. It took a lot of cajoling and brainstorming to get him to write an opinion piece. I’m going to make him do it again tomorrow until it’s a strong muscle.

    But, I’ll stand by my list.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Good for your boy, who probably thinks what his Dad does is use the FACTS in his clients’ interest. When life is WAY more complicated than that. Which I why I read more opinion than I do “straight news.” I get more out of facts that I learn through argument. They’re flight-tested facts. They’ve been put through some stress, and they’ve held up.

      Remember what I said about how Scott Wilson would make for a cool Top Five List? Well, it certainly makes for an easier one, as I can only find five performances of his that I saw and/or remembered.

      What makes it cool is that every one is a revelation. The reaction is like, THAT guy was in that? And he always plays significant parts. (Redford, of course, could never have done that. And I think he wished he could. He was always pushing back against being a good-looking hero type.)

      Nothing like a good character actor. Here’s the list:

      1. In the Heat of the Night — His first film, and the role was key. He played the first suspect, the one Poitier has to get past in order to find the real killer. Here he is. You remember him now, don’t you?
      2. In Cold Blood — His second film, and he plays an even more important character: One of the two killers. Except, not the one played by Robert Blake. So he’s the one who did NOT go on to be a star.
      3. The Walking Dead — Possibly his most fully realized character, and most impressive. You get to know Herschel, and you think, “Where has this guy always been?” He grabs you. Well, he’s always been there. You’ve just been ignoring him.
      4. The Great Gatsby — He played a HUGE role, but you probably won’t remember him until you see a picture of him in it. See? Remember him? SPOILER ALERT: He’s the guy who kills Gatsby in the end. And he was perfect in the part of the troubled, confused mechanic.
      5. The Right Stuff — As a HUGE fan of this film, and the book of course, I thought I knew everything about it. So I did a Google image search on him and the film. I found ONE image. And I remembered it, but I still didn’t remember who he was playing, for a moment. It was Scott Crossfield — you know, the most famous rocket man after Yeager himself, the guy who was known as “the fastest man alive” (for breaking Mach 2, and getting famous for it, after Yeager breaking Mach 1 had been kept secret) — for about a month, until Yeager reclaimed the title.

      Pretty good top five list, huh? I like a list I can learn something from, and I learned something on every one of those items. Scott Wilson had been hiding from us all these years, while doing a great job playing important characters…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        He’s definitely a guy who’s in a lot of good movies and sort of blends in to the background. I’m trying to think of other actors like that. Gary Senise, maybe, or is he too big of a star?

        Henry ended up writing “Why I hate peanut butter”. His reasons were essentially: (1) He doesn’t like the taste; (2) he doesn’t like the smell; (3) his sister eats it and it gets all over her face and is messy; and (4) he generally doesn’t like sandwiches, and he’s often offered PB&J sandwiches.

        I thought it was a fairly argued point. Maybe the next one will be “Why the designated hitter is an abomination.”

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, I need to own up to something: I never saw “In Cold Blood.” When I was young, I avoided it, and in recent years it just hasn’t been available. AND, I might still avoid it.

        I haven’t read Capote’s book, either. Started to a couple of times.

        I just haven’t wanted to immerse myself in something so horrible…

        1. Norm Ivey

          I was required to read it in high school. I don’t remember it much, but I do remember disliking how casually (Compassionately?) it treated the killers at times.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            A couple of times in my brief reporting career I had occasion to interview killers. I did it because I was a professional and they were part of the story.

            But I didn’t like it a bit. It was pretty creepy.

            I can’t imagine forming the kind of close relationship with killers that it would take to write a book like In Cold Blood.

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