This weekend, Going in Style will be released to theaters. With a great cast assembled to play “grumpy old bank robbers,” it gives another movie in the genre made famous by the Grumpy Old Men movies. Those two Grumpy films have been enormously popular but have not aged very well. After them, however, have come many attempts at varying this theme. Peter Segal’s My Fellow Americans was “grumpy old presidents.” Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys was “grumpy old astronauts.” There was even “grumpy old Torah scholars,” the 2011 Israeli movie Footnote that received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Of course Grumpy Old Men did not really originate anything but has just become so popular that it’s the definitive title for the genre. My list of “grumpy old movies” will include movies from before and after the Walter Matthau/Jack Lemon pairing that coined the phrase all of which are far better and much funnier than the two movies that give the genre its name.
7. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
The rare female inclusion into the genre, Jessica Tandy gives one of the greatest and funniest acting performances of all time, taking out all of her frustrations about the results of her aging on her family and especially on her chauffeur Hoke (Morgan Freeman).
6. Gran Torino (2008)
Brandishing a gun against his next-door neighbors, grumpy old Vietnam vet Walt (Clint Eastwood) slowly sheds some of his rough, violent, and racist exterior to befriend the Hmong teens that live next door to him. The odd relationships are very moving and inspiring, and Clint constantly brings delightful humor to every second of his character’s development.
5. Kitchen Stories (2003)
Bent Hamer’s little gem from Norway follows a man with a government job of taking surveys of kitchens and the strange relationship he has with one of his subjects. They start off with disdain for each other and eventually grow to be friends in a way that flows much better and stays consistently funnier than either of the actual Grumpy Old Men movies.
4. The Shootist (1976)
“Grumpy old gunfighters” stars John Wayne as a man dying of cancer, trying to relive his glory days to hilarious and often surprisingly touching results. James Stewart plays his doctor who constantly and unsuccessfully tries to talk him out of his plans.
3. Up (2009)
Carl (Ed Asner) became a grumpy old adventurer because of the grief he suffered. He sees little Russell (Jordan Nagai) as nothing more than an annoyance because of that grief. Slowly he learns to see the memory of his late wife and their adventures in the newfound adventures he can have with Russell. Just like Walt in Gran Torino, he continues to love his wife after her death through his friendship with the kid.
2. Nebraska (2013)
An a road trip with his son, Woody (Bruce Dern) complains about Mt. Rushmore since George Washington’s the only one with any clothes on. He complains about his son for not being willing to drink with him. He complains about his wife for being a nag. The only time he doesn’t complain is when he thinks he’s close to getting his prize money from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska brings together quirky characters that exhibit much truth about life, family, and aging. But above all, Nebraska is so sharply written and perfectly and acted that it is one of the funniest movies ever made.
1. On Golden Pond (1981)
Like The Shootist and Up, Mark Rydell’s On Golden Pond transcends the “grumpy old” genre even though it was made before the genre had its name. Henry Fonda’s character (like John Wayne’s and Ed Asner’s) is not just grumpy for a plot device. He’s a three-dimensional character very much like people we know. The grumpiness he portrays is hilarious because it reflects the truth of life lived.