Wisdom, pathos, resilience, absurdity — old age has given cinema a lot to work with. Especially these days, as more in the audience are members of AARP. Among the films now playing or soon to be released that feature characters collecting Social Security are “Bad Grandpa,” “Last Vegas” “Nebraska” (Nov. 22), and “Grudge Match” (Dec. 27) — but, oddly, not “Oldboy” (Nov. 29). Here are the five senior roles that have aged the best.
Walter Huston, in ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948)
Look up the phrase “old coot” in any reference book and you’ll find a picture of Walter Huston as the hooting, sagacious codger who serves as the voice of reason in this tale of greed and stupidity. Huston’s son, John, directed, and he would play a darker kind of senescence years later in “Chinatown” (1974).
Chishû Ryû, in ‘Tokyo Story’ (1953)
In Yasujirô Ozu’s masterpiece, Ryû’s performance as the long-suffering retiree disappointed by his kids scores high on the pathos scale. That scene in which a tugboat chugs away, underscoring life’s regrets and loss? It chugs for you.
Ruth Gordon, in ‘Harold and Maude’ (1971)
Bud Cort’s death-obsessed Harold hits it off with Ruth Gordon’s car-stealing Maude. This film about the joys of longevity itself enjoyed long runs at art-house theaters. Reader Donna Sullivan explains the appeal. “When I saw it at 27, I thought when I grew older, I wanted to be like Maude,” she writes. “Now 40 years later at 67, I know that’s who I want to be!”
‘Harry and Tonto’ (1974)
Art Carney’s septuagenarian Harry has to hit the road with his feline companion Tonto when his New York apartment meets the wrecking ball. Paul Mazursky’s variation on De Sica’s “Umberto D” is a favorite of cat lovers and old-age fans alike.
Julie Christie, in ‘Away From Her’ (2006)
Christie portrays with heartbreaking authenticity the irrevocable decline of a woman institutionalized with dementia. The film marked Sarah Polley as a young director to watch.
“Thor: The Dark World” (Nov. 15) is not the first film featuring a comic book superhero, and with billions in box office ever beckoning, will not be the last. What is the best, to date? And, looking ahead to next Sunday, on Guy Fawkes Day (Tuesday) the British burned in effigy the man who plotted to blow up Parliament. Revolutionaries like Fawkes have inspired some great movies. Which are the most explosive? Send me an e-mail or cast your votes at www.boston.com/cinemania.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.