Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The art of the heist

Before I delve into what I hope will be a fun list, there are two or three actual nuggets of news out there that deserve mention.

Most importantly by far, winning the Oscar for Best Picture and casting both George Clooney and Brad Pitt in your next movie is apparently enough to garner a wide release for the Coens' next movie, "Burn After Reading," now set for release Sept. 12. And secondly, in a clear case of trading down, Ellen Page (who backed out) has been replaced in Sam Raimi's horror flick "Drag Me to Hell" by Alison Lohman.

And finally, before I go any further, a hearty huzzah to Sarah Polley, whose "Away from Her" beat out David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" to take most of the major awards (including best picture, best director and best screenplay) and seven in all at Canada's Genie awards Monday night. (Why in the world Jason Reitman's "Juno" wasn't considered "Canadian" enough is just mystifying to me, though.)

But here today, in honor of "The Bank Job," it's all about the art of the heist (well, actually, because I set the rules, you'll find it more broadly encompasses scams along with actual heists.) Coming from Aussie director Roger Donaldson (who last made "The World's Fastest Indian" and, believe it or not, "Cocktail" way back when) and starring Jason Statham, this just looks like my kind of thoroughly fun flick.

So, here are 10 (or maybe 12) heist or scam flicks that I can (and sometimes do) watch again and again:

Dead Presidents: This one came to mind not only because it's a pretty great true-crime flick, but also because one of the masterminds of the original bank job was arrested a few years ago on the Eastern Shore of Maryland while I had been working there. He had been working for a number of years as the food services coordinator at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, oddly enough. Man, do I miss the Hughes brothers.

Out of Sight: One of the coolest movies around, not only for the presence of Jennifer Lopez flirting with George Clooney, but even more for some of the best comedic work you'll ever see from Don Cheadle and Steve Zahn. On a related note but different note, "Out of Sight" scribe Scott Frank made his directorial debut last year with "The Lookout", an enjoyable heist movie of sorts most notable for the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels and Isla Fisher (playing a character named, appropriately enough, Luvlee.)

The Usual Suspects: I just about hated this movie the first time I saw it because I was just sure there was no way that Verbal Kint's story added up. I've since realized that a big part of the fun is that that doesn't really matter, and have been able to just sit back and enjoy a great ensemble crime flick.

Fargo: OK, not a heist movie per se, but as far as inept scams go, there are very few in the world more entertaining than Jerry Lundegaard's (William H. Macy) plan to have his own wife kidnapped to collect the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Besides, it's a Coens kind of day here, so just deal with it.

Bandits: I sure do miss the days when Billy Bob Thornton (who will make two appearance on this list) realized that he didn't have to be mean and surly to be funny. He's perfect here riffing off Cate Blanchett and Bruce Willis in this rather underrated little flick.

Ronin: Notable as probably John Frankenheimer's last good flick (before he died in 2002), this espionage/gun play thriller starring Robert De Niro, Natasha McElhone and Jean Reno delivers the same kind of old-fashioned fun I'm hoping to discover in "The Bank Job." And to digress just a bit, why in the world isn't Jean Reno a bigger star?

Bad Santa: OK, so Billy Bob Thornton can be both mean and funny from time to time, especially in this Christmas flick from Terry Zwigoff. And, as long as you appreciate the fine art of extreme vulgarity (which I certainly do, especially from the very foul mouth of Tony Cox), this is indeed a sweeter holiday movie than a lot of people make it out to be. Mind you, I'm not saying it's for the whole family ...

The General: As far as biopics about badasses go, there are very few better than John Boorman's portrait of the Irish robber Martin Cahill, played with relish by Brendan Gleason. Cahill, along with being a talented criminal and target of the IRA, was just a rather twisted dude, making for a fascinating flick.

Trainspotting: Just about the best book-to-movie transition you can find (although I'd put the Roddy Doyle flicks "The Snapper" and "The Commitments" way up there too), this is just one that I've probably seen 10 times now, and it never gets old. Kelly MacDonald, who should have at least been nominated for an Oscar for her work in "No Country for Old Men," makes an appearance as young Diane, and, just for the record, this movie didn't for even a second make me want to try heroin.

Croupier: This list has gotten longer than I had intended, but it has to include the first movie I can remember seeing Clive Owen in. This flick about a plan to rob a casino (it's a lot more complicated than that) is also the last time I can remember seeing the great Alex Kingston, who played Dr. Elizabeth Corday for so many years on "E.R." What in the world ever happened to her? And, finally ...

Office Space: What list of scam/heist movie would be complete without possibly the most therapeutic flick of all time? I'm still not exactly sure what "no-talent ass clown" means, but if that description of Michael Bolton doesn't make you laugh just move on.

And there you have it. I hope someone enjoys reading this as much as I did writing it, and please feel free to add any heist movies you love that I may have overlooked. Peace out.


Carrie Lofty said...

Alex Kingston's going to guest star in the new season of "Doctor Who" later this spring--a one-off appearance, I think, with the delicious Colin Salmon.

jeremy said...

Its been a while, but from what I recall, I liked Set It Off. Nice gender reversal of the standard heist flick.
Oh, and The Great Muppet Caper. Love me some Frank Oz! Hai-ya!!!

Chalupa said...

I don't know if this necessarily counts as a heist, but you did list Fargo.

In The Big Lebowski, the rich Jeffrey Lebowski takes advantage of the fact his trophy wife has unexpectedly gone on a trip and concocts a kidnap story in order to take a million bucks out of a foundation (The Little Lebowski Urban Achievers) to pay the kidnappers.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the head's up, Carrie ... I watch every season of "Doctor Who" as soon as I can, so that's definitely good news (and I have fond memories of Mr. Salmon from "Prime Suspect" too)

It's a definite crime on my part to overlook the Muppets, Jeremy, and since you correctly pointed out that my rules for "heist" are extremely flimsy, I'll take The Big Lebowski too, Chalupa

Chalupa said...

What about Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels?

Reel Fanatic said...

That's one that just missed my cut, Chalup, only because I had to go to work at some point and didn't have time to stretch it to 15 or so

Fletch said...

I love heist flicks, and I love this list. A few comments, in order:

Out of Sight:
One of my favorite movies. Great score by David Holmes, great star, great supporting turns (don't forget Keener, Farina and Guzman), and even a great cameo at the end. Oh, and the script and direction is fantastic. Love love love it.

Usual Suspects:
"I was just sure there was no way that Verbal Kint's story added up. I've since realized that a big part of the fun is that that doesn't really matter"

Not only does is not matter, it's not supposed to add up! It was all in his head and used elements from a bulletin board, for pete's sake!

This movie is constantly underrated. It has such an amazing cast, a tight, action-packed story, great settings, and not one but two of the best car chases ever (and I'm not all that big on them to begin with). Very rewatchable, too.

Calling this a scam/hesit flick seems a cheat. It hardly has anything to do with the movie, and only takes up a few minutes of screen time, really.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Fletch ... and I think you're right that I cheated on Trainspotting, but I just love that movie so much that I had to break the rules for it

Bob said...

"Why in the world isn't Jean Reno a bigger star?" you asked. I wonder that very thing myself all the time. If I were to make a list of the best movie hit men I think his Leon would have to be number 1.
I wrote reviews of "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "Semi-Pro" if you're interested. In short they're both stinkers. The movies, not the reviews. :)
And cheat or no, you never have to explain yourself when you're singing the praises of "Trainspotting." And anyone who watches that movie and decides that heroin still looks like fun is an effing idiot.

Divinity said...

The Big Hit is the only one that pops to mind but it's more about the comedy than the heist...
Have you seen the BBC's program Hustle? That's the con game is its purest form. Lots of familiar faces from Doctor Who (and Robert Vaughn!) as well.

Reel Fanatic said...

Hustle is indeed a great pleasure, Divinity, and I've caught mahy (though not all) of the episodes so far .. and "The Big Hit" is indeed big fun

I'll stop by later to check out the reviews, later, Bob .. Though I didn't bother with either of those, I did see "Penelope" but was too busy (or lazy, maybe?) to review it .. In short, it has some charms, but not enough to sustain the interest of anyone who's not extremely young at heart

Anonymous said...

Making a list of the greatest heist films and not including Rififi is like making a list of the greatest films called Citizen Kane and not including Citizen Kane. Rififi isn't just a heist film, it's THE heist film. If you haven't seen it, rent it immediately. If you have, and still don't think it warrants an inclusion on this list, let me know now so that I can leave here and never come back. ;)

Reel Fanatic said...

I indeed haven't seen that one, anonymous one, but thanks to your suggestion I will as soon as possible!

Fletch said...

Guess what? I'd not heard of it, either, but a remake is scheduled for 2009. I'm sure Anon will just love that...

Nick said...

Interesting list... but what about Ocean's Eleven (ensemble heist movie)? Or Inside Man (one of my favorite heist movies). Or Reservoir Dogs (an after-the-fact heist movie)? Or Dog Day Afternoon (classic heist movie)?

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll take three out of four of those, Nick, with Reservoir Dogs being one that just barely missed making my self-imposed limit of 11 flicks .. the odd-man-out, though, would be "Inside Man," which I can count as just about the only Spike Lee movie that I just didn't enjoy much at all

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