10 Best Cinematic Coots, Codgers and Grumpy Old Men

Monday, September 14, 2009 at 11:40 pm
By Shane Rivers

The lead character in Pixar’s Up is a 78-year-old retiree voiced by Ed Asner, and he’s just the latest in a long line of colorful old farts who’ve graced the big screen. Whether they’re shaking their cane at someone or just taking a break from wearing teeth, old men and the movies are usually a pretty successful combination (just like Bengay and a heating pad). Check out this list of the 10 best cinematic coots, codgers and grumpy old men, and you’ll be adequately prepared for how to act when you start drawing social security.

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Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith from the Rocky films) – Nobody played “old and cranky” better than Burgess Meredith, which is why Mickey Goldmill–Cinematic Coot - Mickey GoldmillThe Italian Stallion’s cantankerous trainer in the first three Rocky films–still remains a pop culture icon. Not only did he make our great white hope chase a chicken around, but he also seemed preoccupied with eating lighting and crapping thunder. Even after a heart attack did him in, Mickey was too ornery to stay dead; he would return in flashbacks during Rocky IV, Rocky V, and Rocky Balboa. Now that’s what I call gritty.

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney from Reservoir Dogs) – Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) described him as looking like The Thing from The Fantastic Four, and that description wasn’t far off. One part lovable old con and one part ruthless thug, Joe assembled a crack crew which consisted of both a psychopath and an undercover cop. To top that brilliant piece of leadership, he capped things off by getting himself and his son killed in a shootout with one of his oldest friends. Am I the only one who got the feeling that Joe was slipping in his old age? On an interesting side note, actor Lawrence Tierney was primed for a comfy role as Elaine’s father on Seinfeld, but he wasn’t asked back after pocketing a kitchen knife from the set and later making stabbing motions towards the star of the show.

Best Cinematic Coots - Grumpy Old MenJohn Gustafson/Max Goldman (Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau from Grumpy Old Men) – Probably the two most famous grumpy old men on the list, if for no other reason than they starred in a movie entitled Grumpy Old Men (and its sequel, Grumpier Old Men). It was hard not to love Gustafson and Goldman, despite the fact that they bickered like a couple of little girls. And who wasn’t pulling for them to score some AARP bootie from foxy Ann-Margret or Sophia Loren? The duo also scored bonus points for acting alongside Burgess Meredith, making this a real treat for all the geriatric honeys.

The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid from the Star Wars franchise) – Everyone knew he was a stone cold politician, but very few were in on the secret that Senator Palpatine was also the nefarious Darth Sidious (until it was too late, that is). The ultimate badass old coot, Palpatine was handy with a lightsaber and lightning blasts, but it was his ability to manipulate people which really made him a villain to be reckoned with. I was especially fond of his overacting when facing death at the hands of Mace Windu.

Alvin Straight - Grumpy Old ManAlvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth from The Straight Story) – When he learns that his brother has suffered a stroke, Alvin Straight makes up his mind to pay his estranged sibling a visit. The problem is, the WWII vet can’t get a driver’s license, and his brother lives 240-miles away. Of course, little details like this never stopped any self-respecting codger, so Alvin hooks a trailer to his John Deere lawnmower and sets out on an epic journey. Based on a true story, the film is also notable for being the only movie that director David Lynch didn’t turn into a complete and utter freakshow.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino) – Whether he’s staring down gang members or talking about using dead Koreans as sandbags, this is Clint Eastwood at his gravelly best. And while he starts off calling his neighbors “gooks,” he eventually comes to respect them like any good cinematic racist would. When it comes to playing coots and codgers with an edge, nobody can hold a candle to my man Clint.

Codger Dr. MoreauDr. Moreau (Marlon Brando from The Island of Dr. Moreau) – If you’re looking for old and crazy, then look no further than Marlon Brando’s interpretation of Dr. Moreau. In fairness, Brando was dealing with the recent suicide of his daughter during filming, but check out some of the bizarre stuff he came up with: Moreau wears a muumuu; Moreau wears so much sunscreen that he looks like an albino; Moreau wears something on his head which closely resembles an ice bucket; and, of course, there’s his memorable piano duet with 2-foot-4-inch sidekick Nelson de la Rosa, a scene which inspired the creation of Mini-Me for the Austin Powers franchise. This is one old dude you don’t want to room with at the nursing home.

David Lo Pan (James Hong from Big Trouble in Little China) – At times, Chinese-American businessman David Lo Pan appears as a frail old man in a wheelchair, but don’t let that fool you. His alternate form is the seven-foot-tall sorcerer known as Lo Pan, a being of vast power and malevolence. He’s got a major fetish for chicks with green eyes, and his underground lair is completely pimped out with screaming henchmen and bizarre monstrosities. Luckily, Lo Pan meets his match in the form of Jack Burton, a dimwitted trucker played by the ever-affable Kurt Russell. Don’t miss the heart-to-heart between Burton and Lo Pan, as the two wax philosophic about the perils of romance.

Cinematic Coot Curly WashburnCurly Washburn (Jack Palance from City Slickers) – If anyone could rival Eastwood for sheer over-60 grit, it had to be Jack Palance. He’s especially memorable as tough-as-nails trail boss Curly in City Slickers, a role for which he’s probably best known. Looking like he’s carved out of granite, Curly squints, spits, curses, and teaches the citified Mitch (Billy Crystal) a little something about life. In the process, Palance captured himself an Oscar and drastically improved the quality of his groupies.

Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore from It’s a Wonderful Life) – Referred to as a “warped, frustrated old man,” Henry F. Potter had a near economic stranglehold on Bedford Falls, with the exception of the Building & Loan owned by the noble George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart). When he finally gets his chance to screw George over, Potter does so with relish, calling him, “A miserable little clerk…crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help.” And while George’s story does have a happy ending, many were disappointed that Potter never got his just deserts. Luckily, Saturday Night Live remedied the error in a skit featuring Dana Carvey as George. When they realize it was Potter who stole the money, George and an angry mob burst into his office and beat him to death in comical fashion. Take that, you scurvy little spider!

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