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The Joy of Watching the Greats Continue to Be Great Well Into Their 80s and 90s | MZS

The Joy of Watching the Greats Continue to Be Great Well Into Their 80s and 90s | MZS

I didn’t care for the recent reboot of “The Exorcist” and didn’t like what they did with the legacy character of Chris McNeil, poor little Regan McNeil’s mother from the original 1973 film, but I loved seeing Burstyn, now 91, seizing the movie by the throat for the brief time she was onscreen. Ian McShane, beloved from TV’s “Lovejoy” and “Deadwood” as well as “Sexy Beast” and the John Wick movies and other crime films, just did a star turn in “American Star” that was completely unlike the avuncular yet menacing characters he has often played in the past quarter century, holding the screen with a quiet stillness you’d expect from somebody like Clint Eastwood, who, as it turns out, is 93 and working on his latest and supposedly final film, the legal thriller “Juror No. 2.” (Do you believe he’ll stop directing after this? I don’t, and why should he? He’s also said several times over the last couple decades that he was done acting, only to act again.) 

More off-the-beaten-path, one of my favorite character actors is Bill Cobbs, who became one of those “Oh, I know that guy!” actors forty years ago and is still in the game. You might remember him from “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “Demolition Man,” “The Sopranos,” “ER” or any of the more than 100 screen credits he’s racked up. He’s 89 and has been averaging two major credits a year during his eighth decade, including “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Block Party.” I was hoping I could include M. Emmett Walsh in this piece, but, unfortunately, he died this month at the tender age of 88, after amassing more than 200 film and TV credits dating back to the late 1960s, and his final performance can be seen in a 2024 film, the Mario van Peebles western “Outlaw Posse.”

Denzel Washington is not yet in that age range, but he’s getting there (he turns 70 in December of this year), and it’s been a joy to see him continue to knock assignments out of the park and into the next time zone, in role after role, even as he’s aged out of matinee idol parts. He had his first successful ongoing franchise in his sixties, “The Equalizer,” overseen by Antoine Fuqua, the filmmaker of “Training Day,” which got him his first Oscar as a lead actor, and while I won’t vouch for any of the films as great art, they’re very satisfying as red meat for the reptile brain, and they work so well because Washington is a great screen actor who can suggest multiple contradictory and overlapping thoughts and feelings without saying a word. He’s going to have a brilliant autumnal career, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did some of the best work of his life when he’s pushing 80 or even 90. He was one of the all-time great screen Macbeths in Joel Coen’s recent “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” opposite Frances McDormand, with three Oscars for lead actress, and who is 66 herself and will also, I am sure, absolutely crush it when she enters her grand old lady phase, as Helen Mirren (78) and Judi Dench (89) have done. 

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