The Craftsman: 1981-1994
21. Fort Apache, the Bronx ESSENTIAL (1981)
When Daniel Petrie's gritty cop film about an embattled precinct in New York's most drug-ridden, poverty-ravaged neighborhood went into production in the Big Apple, community protests forced the addition of a disclaimer acknowledging the happy side of the South Bronx. Today, the movie seems like the template for the more harshly realistic view of urban police work seen in everything from Hill Street Blues to The Wire. Newman's vigorous, moving performance as a veteran Irish cop stands as a striking return to form. And Rachel Ticotin strikes more sparks with Newman than any costar since Hud's Patricia Neal.
22. Absence of Malice (1981)
Sydney Pollack's earnest civics-lesson drama pits Sally Field, as perhaps the most inept and ethically compromised newspaper reporter in Hollywood history, against Newman, as the target of a federal investigation who's seeking to beat the system. His close-cropped hair now white and his eyes glinting with wit one moment and rage the next, he brings a nimbleness to his portrayal that keeps the film from bogging down in self-righteousness. ''I guess I got a couple of moves left in me,'' he says at the end. Audiences agreed; he won his fifth Best Actor nomination.
23. The Verdict ESSENTIAL (1982)
Newman's indelible portait of a worn-out alcoholic Boston lawyer trying a long-shot malpractice case may be the greatest performance of his later career; it's certainly his most fearless. Looking ashen, his voice a gravelly wreck, his neck bent in defeat, Newman's Frank Galvin seems to be the sad punchline to all the outsiders coasting on charm that the actor had played 20 years earlier. ''There are moments when his face sags and his eyes seem terribly weary,'' wrote Roger Ebert in 1982, ''and we can look ahead clearly to the old men he will be playing in 10 years.'' The courtroom tactics now seem familiar, but Newman, working with fierce focus for Sidney Lumet (and aided by a sharp David Mamet script), seems to live and breathe the part his sixth Oscar-nominated role which he called ''foremost among the contenders'' for his own favorite performance.
24. The Color of Money ESSENTIAL (1986)
Fast Eddie Felson returns, 25 years older, and perhaps wiser. Martin Scorsese's polished sequel to The Hustler substitutes mid-'80s arena-rock swagger for the sooty majesty of the original, but Richard Price's biting script gives Newman a chance to do some of his most pared-down work, finding a hundred shades of vanity, weariness, exasperation, and hunger as he tutors a cocky protégé (a young, hyperkinetic Tom Cruise) to become the consummate con artist that he himself never quite was. The upshot: an Oscar at last and one earned on merit, not sentiment.
25. The Glass Menagerie (1987)
Newman returned to Tennessee Williams for his last directorial effort, shaping one more showcase for Woodward. The production's relaxed, don't-worry-too-much-about-the-words approach to the play is a mistake, but Newman conveys the drabness and heartbreak of the Wingfields' lives more affectingly with every scene.
26. Mr. & Mrs. Bridge ESSENTIAL (1990)
Walter Bridge a stoic, dry, conservative Midwestern husband and father in 1930s-40s Kansas City is a decent man who barely knows how to express emotion. He's a character unlike any Newman had ever played (though Woodward later told him, ''That's the real you''). Working for director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, he burrows into the role without a moment of condescension, caricature, or overstatement. His work is underrated because of its modesty, especially beside Woodward's star turn as his naive, devoted lost soul of a wife.
27. Nobody's Fool ESSENTIAL (1994)
In an adaptation of Richard Russo's gently funny character study, Newman plays a perpetually luckless reprobate approaching late middle age in upstate New York. He distills his naturalistic style so effectively that not a gesture is wasted. (He's especially touching with the small boy who plays his grandson). As he approached 70, critics were floored by his craftsmanlike simplicity; he won his eighth Best Actor Oscar nomination.