Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Favorite Films: Heist Films

Perhaps it's my past as a professional bank robber, but heist films are some of my favorite films. As so often happens, there are many more excellent films than can fit on this list, but here are my favorite Eleven... Andrew's Eleven.

1. The Usual Suspects (1995): This is one of my favorite films, and it also happens to be a heist film. With a truly brave screenplay that could have completely turned audiences off as you know almost nothing when the film ends, massive doses of ambiguity throughout, great actors giving great portrayals and a talented director at his best, this one is not to be missed. Here's an interesting thought too, what if Keyser Soze is Satan and the film is actually supernatural?

2. Ronin (1998): This is easily the best spy film ever made. It's also a fantastic heist film. Written by David Mamet and staring an awesome cast with amazing chemistry, this film twists and turns its way through the backstreets of France in a tight story that is just packed with fantastic moments. If you haven't seen this, you need to.

3. Reservoir Dogs (1992): Coming right before Pulp Fiction, this film kind of gets lost by general audiences, but it shouldn't. This is a gripping, gritty film about a simple robbery gone wrong which introduces many of the hallmarks that will become Tarantino's style, and it does so without the excesses he develops later. I highly recommend this one. It's possibly his best film.

4. The Sting (1973): This one is a classic. In fact, this is the granddaddy of all modern heist films and their good and bad traits can be drawn back to this film. And while this film unfortunately loses a lot once you know the story, this film is absolutely worth seeing, even if only to see Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw at their best.

5. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007): I’m sure this is a sin, but I like this best of the three newer films and the original. This one is the most stylized and that is what works best for the setup: Danny Ocean and his crew of all-knowing hip expert criminals conspire to rob a casino owned by the venomous-yet-charismatic Al Pacino. This is great fun as an experience film if you just take it at face value and don't let reality intrude.

6. Ocean’s 11 (1960): This is a fantastic film and, as a fan of old films, this is one of the best the 1960s had to offer. Starring the Rat Pack at their peak as they conspire to take down a group of casinos all at once, this film is fun, hip and makes you wish you could have been there. That said, the film does lack the kinds of twists and turns we have come to expect from modern twist films.

7. Ocean’s Eleven (2002)/Ocean’s Twelve (2004): Between Eleven and Twelve, it's hard to say which I like better. Both have pros and both have cons. Both are equally self-indulgent and both are equally unbelievable. Still, both are very entertaining as fantasy and for the relationships between the characters. Essentially, these are buddy films in ultra-rich environments as the good guys take down arrogant villains who absolutely deserve it... kind of a feel good film.

8. Out of Sight (1998): Written by Elmore Leonard, who also wrote Justified, this film is about a US Marshal who chases a bank robber she's falling for hard. Starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez back when they were both top sex symbols, this is a good one.

9. A Fish Called Wanda (1988): This is the first pure comedy on the list, and it's a good one. Great characters, great dialog and a great sense of humor add this one to the list: "I looked at the clock... because I was saying to myself... It's five to seven, where could he be going with that sawed off shotgun?"

10. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): Robert Shaw is back and this time he's holding hostages in the New York subway system. This is one of those films that just works in every way and it definitely rises above the rest.

11. Kelly’s Heroes (1970): What a great idea! A group of disgruntled soldiers learns of a bank vault full of gold behind enemy lines and they decide to go get it. Before you know it, they've got half the army working with them right under the general's nose and even the Germans end up getting into the game. This is a truly fun film.



Floyd R. Turbo said...

Great list...

I'll add Heat (though it's a combo of genres)

Kelly's Heroes' child -- Three Kings

3. The Thomas Crown Affair -- both versions actually -- the 1999 versions' "Sinnerman" sequence at the end is genius.

4. Michael Mann's first film "Thief" in 1981 with James Caan is great also -- all the things that make Mann's films great are there.

5. Mission Impossible has elements of a heist film -- breaking into CIA for the NOC list... well done.

6. The Spanish Prisoner -- long con movie... great film.

7. The Ladykillers (1955)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Floyd! Excellent additions! I'm particularly fond of The Spanish Prisoner, Mission Impossible 1 and Three Kings.

Backthrow said...

Good list, although I remember *really* hating Ocean's Twelve when I saw it years ago, after enjoying the Soderberg's Ocean's Eleven... and that Ocean's Thirteen was a huge step up from Twelve.

My heist list would include most of Andrew's list, but would also heartily add:

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Rififi (1955)
Five Against the House (1955)
The Killing (1956)
The Badlanders (1958, The Asphalt Jungle... remade as a western)
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
The League of Gentlemen (1960)
Topkapi (1964)
Gambit (1966)
Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966)
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Grand Slam (1967)
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
The Italian Job (1969)
The Sicilian Clan (1969)
The Five Man Army (1969)
Dollars (1971)
The Anderson Tapes (1971)
The Hot Rock (1972)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
The Great Train Robbery (1979)
Malcolm (1986)
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
The Bank Job (2008)

Backthrow said...

By the way, the CIA break-in sequence in Mission Impossible 1 was basically lifted from Topkapi's climactic heist sequence... the same sort of thing as when De Palma does his spin on famous Hitchcock set-pieces in many of his movies.

It's also interesting because Topkapi was creator/producer Bruce Geller's inspiration for the original MI television series; he wanted that movie's thrills and editing style brought to a weekly TV series, except with government spies rather than underworld thieves, since he also wanted the idea of a James Bond broken down instead into a team of specialists.

Dave Olson said...

Part of the fun of having all the cable movie channels is finding gems of movies that somehow never caught on in theatrical release. Sometimes these sleepers become well known, such as Somewhere in Time, The Princess Bride, and even The Shawshank Redemption. But sometimes they stay hidden, like the 2001 heist movie called, strangely enough, Heist.

It stars Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Sam Rockwell, and Delroy Lindo, who may be the most criminally undercast actor in movie history. Hackman and Lindo are part of a gang of thieves that works for DeVito, who forces them to take his nephew (Rockwell) on their next job. It's the "One Last Job" trope, but you'll forgive them. Written and directed by David Mamet, it involves twists, double-crosses, and plenty of Mamet-speak. ("Is he cool?" "My mother****er is so cool when he goes to bed, sheep count him!") And there I was, channel-surfing in my underwear one day when I found this halfway through the big heist which involved driving a security van on an active runway. I was hooked.

So why did it flop? Well, the plan was to release it at some film festivals and then it would go into wide release a few months later. And it opened fine, playing at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival. September 10, 2001 to be exact. A major part of the plot involves breaching airport security and robbing a planeload of gold bullion. Bad timing all around.

As for other heist films, I do like 1999's Thomas Crown Affair more than the original, because no one really gets harmed by the theft. Just a bored billionaire who steals overpriced art from other billionaires (twice!) and puts them back just to prove he can. He also gets to shag Renee Russo, which is always a plus.

And as usual, I have to plug Die Hard which is a heist film, but one of the rare ones where you're not rooting for the thieves. (Except, as I've noted before, when the vault opens and "Ode to Joy" blares through on the soundtrack.)

shawn said...

Great lists everyone. I would add

The Score
The Italian Job

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Everyone I know hates Ocean's 12 and when I finally saw it (it was the only one I missed in theaters), I could see why. 20 minutes before the end of the movie, it's like, "Oh, there isn't going to be a big heist, is there?" And then we find out everything that happened in one convenient flashback which negates everything that happens at the end of the movie. Ugh!

Ocean's 11 is a blast and Ocean's 13 was okay, but felt rather small in comparison.

The CIA break-in in Mission: Impossible is, dare I say it, one of the most iconic movie scenes of the last 20 years. The break-in sequence in the second MI film pales in comparison (as does the movie).

Backthrow mentioned Rififi which is a great film with a completely silent break-in scene (if I recall correctly). It was later spoofed in a movie called Big Deal on Madonna Street, which itself was referenced by Woody Allen in Small Time Crooks.

I'll also go ahead and mentioned Sneakers where Robert Redford has to walk exteeeeemly slow lest he set off the sensors.

tryanmax said...

Both versions of The Italian Job are easily in my top five. The new one has all the techy slickness audiences love, plus a stellar cast. The original is Michael Caine in all his cheesy 60's glory.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I've seen Topkapi twice and I find it interesting. I'm not sure I enjoyed it, but it was interesting. It was certainly interesting to see a film take place in a part of the world rarely filmed and I do like Ustinov a good deal.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Heist was an interesting film. I enjoyed it, but not as much as Mamet's other films. I'm not sure why.

Die Hard is a great film. I suppose it is a heist film, isn't it? Only this time the hero trying to stop the heist.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I remember enjoying The Score and I definitely like The Italian Job -- both versions. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That is truly an annoyance about Ocean's Twelve -- the whole movie is gets negated by a 30 second flashback. Yeah, that sucks. But again, you aren't really seeing these films for the plots because the plots are ridiculous. You are seeing them for the personalities, the scenery and the "what if" factor.

As an aside, the two things that bother me in Ocean's Eleven are Julia Roberts, who I really don't like, and the fact they spent more on their scheme than they got out of it.

The Mission Impossible break-in scene truly is iconic. It still gets parodied routinely.

I'm not a fan of Sneakers.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I enjoy both, though obviously I don't rank either in my top 11. :)

Tennessee Jed said...

love the genre. been on the road... recently enjoyed "inside man"

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Huh... I haven't seen that one. I'll have to go look for it.

Tennessee Jed said...

inside man is Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen. I also like House of Games, amd Entrapment.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, I looked it up. The cast looks really good.

Tennessee Jed said...

Inside Man starred Denzel, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster. I also liked House of Games, and Entrapment. I liked Heist, but rate Spanish Prisoner higher.

Tennessee Jed said...

I also remembered liking one call "Confidence" with Edward Burns" several years ago.

Jason said...

“Sneakers” is a somewhat unfortunate title for me because every time I think of it, an image of tennis shoes pops into my head. I know it’s also a term for computer hackers, but my brain won’t drop the shoe connection!

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Your opinion of Sneakers has been duly noted... again. :-)

I'm... okay with Julia Roberts, though I did get a kick out of her character "playing" Julia Roberts in Ocean's 12.

Return of the Pink Panther had a pretty good heist scene at the beginning in which the titular diamond is stolen again.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, "Confidence" was good.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, When I think of Sneakers, I think of Redford blaming George Bush Sr. for homelessness. Assh*le.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Roberts just rubs me wrong. The cute act wore out long ago, but she keeps doing it. Uh.

PikeBishop said...

"A Fish Called Wanda" sucked on all levels. I couldn't believe how many intelligent people told me this was one of the funniest, wittiest movie comedies ever, and I turned it off half way through, having cracked a smile exactly once.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: I'm with you on "Sneakers." The political sucker punches just date film way to badly! It was enjoyable without having to make it current.

Unknown said...

So many great movies... The Sting, The Italian Job (the original please!), The Usual Suspects, Out of Sight, Ocean's N, The Thomas Crown Affair (Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo sizzle), Confidence, Die Hard...

A Fish Called Wanda is overrated, in my view, although it didn't suck as badly as Clockwise. I add my recommendation to Inside Man - a great cast and a very clever movie that works on many levels.

Why do Heist movies work so well? They are usually intelligent and interesting to watch, but also, although they can be dark and gritty, most of them are fun!

Speaking of which, has no one mentioned Bandits ?

Dave Olson said...

In defense of Sneakers, because this is America, and even the guilty deserve their day in court.

Sure there are plenty of liberal sucker punches. Redford's shot at Bush 41 was just a throwaway, but the "news" clip at the very end was just gratuitous. The defense stipulates all this, your honor, but consider:

The subtext of the movie is about growing the hell up. Martin Bryce was one of the original computer hackers in "The Sixties, man!", but he shaved, got a haircut, and got a real job in which he (at least occasionally) wore a suit and tie. One could say that his new life as "Martin Bishop", a computer security specialist, was his way of atoning for his radical past. These were values he was trying to instill in young Carl (River Phoenix), putting him on the straight and narrow path when he could have easily slid to the Dark Side. Contrast this with the villain, "Cosmo" (Ben Kingsley). He may dress more stylishly but he still has his "radical" ponytail, and he still wants to use computers to screw things up for other people, to say nothing of the influence he has on his henchmen.

And his scheme? Why, it's straight-up communism! Destroy all bank records and property records; no more rich people, no more poor people, everyone will be equal! Any movie that makes Robert Redford do battle with the sinister forces of Marxism/Leninism has to be a decent one to watch. We've come a long way from Three Days of the Condor, baby.

I shouldn't even have to mention the issues Sneakers brings up about the NSA and data privacy, and this is a movie that is over 20 years old.

Anonymous said...

^What Dave Olson says. :-)

P.S. Gordon Willis passed away. He was the cinematographer of The Godfather films, Manhattan, and countless other classics. He shot The Parallax View and managed to make mundane things like tile ceilings and escalators look ominous.

AndrewPrice said...

Pike, Different tastes.

AndrewPrice said...

John, I think heist movies work because you come to like the relationships between the characters and there is the "what if" factor of doing something to get you a ton of money all at once.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, That's an interesting way to look at it. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Escalators are ominous.

Anonymous said...

Bandits? How about _Time_ Bandits! ;)

Despicable Me has its charms...

Hunt for Red October
Pirates of the Caribbean
National Treasure

(Just trying to throw out things not mentioned so far. Maybe it'll jog someone's memory for a better film.)

Question: Do kidnappings count as heists (for the purposes of this article)?

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Commentarama rules are that there are never any rules, so you can count whatever you like! :D

Anonymous said...

Backthrow, great mention of the movie Malcolm, I hadn't seen that movie since I was a kid but I loved it. It is a great movie and it is also good that was filmed in my hometown.


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