The Drifter: 1969-1980
14. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
It's a measure of the impact of George Roy Hill's hangin'-loose Western blockbuster that Newman and Robert Redford, who made just two films together, are still remembered as one of the screen's great guy-guy teams. That said, this weightless, picturesque smirk of an outlaw movie is little more than montages, large doses of Burt Bacharach, and a quippy script by William Goldman, who reprocessed Jules and Jim and Bonnie and Clyde into a new genre the buddy picture that bred 40 years of imitators. (Of course, there is that great final freeze-frame...) Enjoy it for the generosity of Newman's rapport with Redford, and the lightness and ease of his body language throughout.
15. Winning (1969)
One of Newman's great offscreen passions race-car driving was sparked by a movie that's just an excuse to put him behind the wheel in the Indy 500. But perhaps because his own son was 18 at the time, he brings credible warmth and, for the first time, unyouthful weariness to scenes with Richard Thomas as his teenage stepson.
16. Sometimes A Great Notion (1971)
Newman's direction of this adaptation of a Ken Kesey novel about independent-minded Oregon loggers, filmed with a terrific sense for the physical details of men at work, is strong and original enough to make you wish he'd taken the reins more often. Despite a clueless climax, he gets good moments out of Henry Fonda and Richard Jaeckel (Oscar-nominated for a well-staged death scene) and his own rock-steady performance anchors the film beautifully.
17. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)
Spotting a vehicle for his wife, Newman bought the rights to Paul Zindel's 1970 stage hit about an abrasive, bitter middle-aged woman caring for her two troubled daughters and an ancient boarder. The resulting film is a family affair, with Newman (who doesn't appear) directing Woodward and eliciting a gentle performance from their daughter Nell. Woodward's unsparing take on the arch, angry harridan is, as they say on Broadway, a tough sit, but it's affecting work from both actress and director.
18. The Sting ESSENTIAL (1973)
Newman's only Best Picture winner is George Roy Hill's intricately plotted Depression-era comedy about Chicago con men banding together to take down a thuggish big cheese (Robert Shaw). The movie belongs to Redford; Newman wasn't sure he wanted to age himself by playing what he saw as a role for a ''long-in-the-tooth'' actor, ''the king handing the scepter to the prince.'' But he loved the script, and got top billing for a supporting role as a veteran hustler who mentors Redford through an elaborate scheme to avenge a Mob rubout. The film's gleaming backlot look is less impressive than it was in '73, and the ragtime score, which was almost as big a phenomenon as the movie, seems less novel, but it's still masterful fun, and a chance to see Newman give a mature, fully rounded comic performance.
19. Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976)
When Newman met Robert Altman, the result was both new and alt a seriocomic look at the commodification of the Old West (and, by extension, decades of cowboys-and-Indians Hollywood mythmaking) that posits a showdown of sorts between Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull, who meet in a Wild West revue years after becoming legends. It's sometimes lively, sometimes smug and leaden, but Newman meshes well with a typically idiosyncratic Altman cast (Harvey Keitel, Shelley Duvall, Geraldine Chaplin, Burt Lancaster). Playing up Cody's vanity and bluster, he's right in sync with his director's rancidly contemptuous Bicentennial debunking of frontier heroism.
20. Slap Shot (1977)
One of Newman's favorites, George Roy Hill's genially foulmouthed, cynical recession-era comedy about a sinking minor-league hockey team drew criticism at the time for its nonstop cursing and jokey attitude toward violence on the ice. But Nancy Dowd's pointed screenplay has some sharp things to say about uneasy masculinity in the swingin' '70s, and it gives Newman a very good role during a not-great period as the flummoxed coach half macho swaggerer, half den mother who's on a quixotic mission to keep the Charlestown Chiefs alive.