Annette Brown/Lifetime Television/Courtesy Everett Collection; Adam James/Bleecker Street Media/Courtesy Everett Collection
“Growing old was the furthest thing from my mind,” Blythe Danner’s character says in the 2015 dramatic comedy I’ll See You in My Dreams. While the movie business traditionally made it easy to forget actors as they aged, now things are changing. Check out these 10 recent films in which older actors have saved their best, if not for last, then for their 70s, 80s and 90s!
The actor: Blythe Danner, 78
The film: I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015)
Danner doesn’t go for easy laughs or pat emotions as Carol in this dramedy that features Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman and June Squibb as her friends. The former singer and widow hasn’t dated in the 20 years since her husband’s death. At the nudging of her friends, she reluctantly gives the speed version a try. She also finds a friend in her new pool guy. Sam Elliott (see The Hero, below) arrives as the man who tempers her grief. In a wonderful karaoke scene, Danner hits the right notes for a movie about heartache and connection, singing “Cry Me a River.”
Watch it: I’ll See You in My Dreams, on Amazon Prime
The actor: Bruce Dern, 85
The film: Nebraska (2013)
Dern was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Woody Grant, a prickly codger who takes to the road — on foot — to collect sweepstakes winnings he’s learned of from a scam letter. His youngest son (Will Forte) heads him off and then decides to accompany Woody to his hometown in Nebraska. The money’s not there, of course, but there’s a wealth of humor and glints of hurt in Dern’s portrayal of this boozy plainsman.
The actor: Sam Elliott, 77
The film: The Hero (2017)
Elliott’s Lee Hayden is a bourbon-voiced, silver-haired actor who gets a terminal diagnosis on the heels of learning he’s receiving a lifetime achievement award, essentially for the Western he made years earlier. Hardly the way he wants to cement his legacy. Elliott is measured in a performance that has understated wisdom, palpable wryness but also hints of existential fear.
The actor: Frankie Faison, 72
The film: The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain (2019)
Faison rivets and rends as a war vet with bipolar disorder who accidentally sets off his medical alert early one morning in 2011. The medical alert company calls the White Plains, New York, police, and a tragedy (and outrage) is set in motion. Based on a true incident and set in real-time, the bold indie (produced by Morgan Freeman) is powerful, timely and haunting thanks to Faison’s all-in performance of anger and anguish, acute clarity and fear.
The actor: Sally Field, 74
The film: Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)
Sally Field gets her quirk on in this dramatic comedy about an eccentric woman dissatisfied with what life seems to expect of her and for her. Doris has romantic fantasies about her new, younger coworker John (Max Greenfield, The Neighborhood). Although he doesn’t realize Doris has a crush, there’s something special about her that he’s genuinely drawn to. Others are, too: They like her, they really like her.
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The actor: Anthony Hopkins, 83
The film: The Father (2021)
Last spring, Anthony Hopkins won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a man with dementia. Olivia Colman plays the daughter trying to calibrate his care. Told from the Hopkins character’s point of view, the movie is powerful, sad and at times aptly disorienting. Hopkins is masterful traversing the terrain between cogent and confused, paranoid and angry, loving and rebuffing.
Watch it: The Father, on Amazon Prime
The actor: Cloris Leachman (now deceased, but she was 93 when she made the film)
The film: Jump, Darling (2020)
Leachman shares lead duties with Canadian newcomer Thomas Duplessie in this story about a drag performer who flees to his grandmother’s home when his relationship and his career veer off the road. Leachman was 93 when the movie was made, and her performance of vulnerability is full of grace, wit and remarkable craft.
Watch it: Jump, Darling is streaming in Canada and has been traveling the LGBTQ film fest circuit. Keep it on your watchlist!
The actor: Mary Kay Place, 74
The film: Diane (2018)
As the title character, Place drives rural roads under glum skies visiting friends and family, often with the number one comfort food — a casserole — at the ready. In this keenly observed study of community set in rural Massachusetts, Diane serves. But Place makes clear, our heroine isn’t a saint so much as a woman committed to acts of decency because of past failings.
The actor: Tom Skerritt, 88
The film: East of the Mountains (2021)
Skerritt gives a star’s turn as a cardiologist who’s lost his wife and is facing a terminal cancer diagnosis. Instead of “heal thyself” it’s “kill thyself” in this modest and engaging film based on the novel by David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars). The doc’s plan to stage a hunting accident is thwarted by a real incident that sets him on a course to a different kind of reckoning.
Watch it: East of the Mountains, on Amazon Prime
The actor: Cicely Tyson (now deceased, 90 when she made the film)
The film: The Trip to Bountiful (2014)
The late, great Cicely Tyson reprises her Tony-winning role as Carrie Watts, an elderly woman who leaves her son and daughter-in-law’s home. Her destination: the Texas town of her childhood. Before Tyson, playwright Horton Foote’s indelible character had been played by Lillian Gish on Broadway and Geraldine Page on film. Tyson brings her own grounded and soaring flair to the role.
Lisa Kennedy, a regular AARP film critic, is a former Village Voice editor (1986-96) and Denver Post film critic (2003-15) who writes on popular culture, race and gender for Variety, The New York Times, Essence, American Theatre, the Denver Post, and others.