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Old people. They might look sweet and harmless, but some of them are up to no good -- and some of them, as evidenced in this weekend's Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, are actually Johnny Knoxville disguised as a senior citizen with a misbehaving nuisance (Jackson Nicoll) for a grandson. Knoxville's latest endeavor got us thinking about actual retirement-aged stars whose cinematic exploits tended toward the unseemly, and before we knew it, we had an entire list of movies. You know what that means: it's time to put down your crossword puzzle, grab your Ensure and your Metamucil, and join us for a very old-fashioned Total Recall!
Poor Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant). Not only does he have to worry about bringing his new bride (Priscilla Lane) into a goofball family that includes one brother who's an ex-con and another who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, he's also just discovered that his seemingly sweet biddy aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) are secretly in the habit of offing local bachelors by poisoning their wine (with arsenic, natch). In spite of its goulish setup, Arsenic and Old Lace is a comedy -- and a fairly funny one at that -- which takes its inspiration from the classic Joseph Kesselring play while adding a few touches of its own courtesy of director Frank Capra, who shot it on the quick in 1941 in order to give his family some funds to live on while he was serving in World War II. It's all, as the New York Times observed, "Good macabre fun."
When's the best time to get up to no good? When you have nothing left to lose. Witness Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a pair of terminal cancer patients who decide there's no sense waiting to make their last few wishes come true and bust out of the hospital, hit the road, and get into some shenanigans. It's pretty mild stuff -- a casino here, some caviar there -- which reflects The Bucket List's generally mild tone and weakness for schmaltz, qualities that tended to annoy most critics but were good for nearly $100 million in box office receipts. Still, even if they were happy to take a few swipes at director Rob Reiner's ever-softening focus, some scribes found it enough to simply take pleasure in the movie's impeccable stars. As Richard Roeper put it, "Any filmgoer's Bucket List should be seeing these two legends playing off one another."
What kind of past drives a man to bushy-bearded solitude and misanthropy? That's the question at the heart of 2010's Get Low, a minor-key drama about a small-town pariah (Robert Duvall) whose curious decision to hold himself a funeral before he's dead and buried stirs up decades of long-buried secrets, assumptions, and lies. While he's far from the most irredeemable coot on our list -- in fact, as it turns out, he's actually pretty sweet -- old Felix Bush spends the movie's opening acts taking delight in the upbraiding, tormenting, and general discomfort of others. Bolstered by a supporting cast that included Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek, Get Low earned the admiration of most critics, including Roger Ebert, who admitted, "After you get to a certain point with an actor, you don't much care what he does, you just want to watch him doing it. So it is with Duvall and Murray."
Golden years, shmolden years -- for Joe (George Burns), Al (Art Carney), and Willie (Lee Strasberg), senior citizenry is one long drudge, and they see so little hope for change on the horizon that they decide they might as well go ahead and rob a bank. In spite of its seemingly wacky setup, 1979's Going in Style is really a bittersweet slice of social commentary, with poignant observations on aging and economic reality in modern America -- and then, of course, there are those remarkable leading men, making the most of a unique opportunity to carry a film in the twilights of their spectacular careers. "There are laughs," admitted the Chicago Reader's Dave Kehr, "but the prevalent tone is one of discreet compassion, without condescension or sanctimony."
Clint Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski, doesn't get into anything particularly untoward in Gran Torino, but he also isn't the kind of guy you'd necessarily want to pal around with -- especially if you happen to be someone other than a grizzled old white Korean war vet who sympathizes with Kowalski's narrow, jaundiced view of the rapidly changing world around him. He's kind of a jerk, in other words -- but as portrayed by Eastwood, he's our jerk, and the viewer becomes as eager to accept his slow redemption as they were to turn away from his racist epithets in the movie's opening moments. Calling the film "a compelling study of anger and violence and the guilt and shame that shadow them," Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune argued that Eastwood "has sat high in the saddle for decades, but rarely has he ridden so tall as in the driver's seat of Gran Torino."
They both appeared in Oliver Stone's JFK, but by the early 1990s, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau's prolific screen partnership seemed to be on permanent hiatus -- they hadn't really shared a movie since Buddy Buddy in 1981. They finally reunited for the descriptively titled comedy Grumpy Old Men in 1993, and the movie's $70 million gross -- as well as its largely positive reviews -- proved their potent comedic chemistry hadn't grown stale. While the movie's plot is little more than an excuse for the old sparring partners to antagonize each other and vie for the affections of Ann-Margaret (with quips from crusty old Burgess Meredith for accompaniment), it more than enough for TIME's Richard Schickel, who chuckled, "Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon are awfully good at this sort of thing."