Spoiler Warning


Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Top Ten Heist Movies

The heist movie has a long tradition going all the way back to the silent movies.  "The Perfect Crime" is a fascinating idea. Sometimes the plan is presented as so brilliant it has to work. Other times the lure is that there's so much money to make it justifies the risk for "one big score." Of course, one key aspect of a standard heist movie is that in the third act it all goes to hell, leaving the "perfect crime" looking a bit suspect. Most of the time the problem is the group element of the heist. A heist typically requires a crew, which presents a host of problem such as greed, double crosses, a higher chance of getting caught by the cops if somebody talks, and of course, the chance that someone can't pull their own weight. Even if the crew is perfect, there are always other things that can go wrong, the cops show up too early, car trouble, a heroic security guard, amongst a thousand other possible reasons.

You can usually expect that the criminals in a heist film won't get a happy ending, but it's still an underdog story that's exciting to watch. Once in awhile, against all odds, they pull it off. and I like to think we're cheering for a victory of intelligence and work more than a victory of crime. I don't want to see criminals with a barely thought out plan get away with it, but I love to see a brilliant plan, perfectly executed, succeed. But most of the time, these are cautionary tales, which get us caught up in the planning and the process enough to cheer, until we remember that there are many people involved, and our hopes turn to wondering how long it will be until someone messes it up and the grand heist goes from car chase to car wreck in no time.

I've tried to pick my top ten, but there are many I would love to have included but I'm trying for some variety. Off the top of my head, I could have easily picked Le Cercle Rouge, which is a wonderful film but has some similarities to others on the list, or Heat, but I already picked Thief, another of Michael Mann's films which I thought was more centered on the heist aspect, while Heat was more about firepower. Reservoir Dogs could have made it, as a heist was central to the plot, but it mostly skipped the "heist itself" act of the heist film, and so on. There are also many con man movies which could be seen as heists of sorts. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

10)TheThomas Crown Affair


A bored super rich playboy, Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) takes to stealing art because it's hard for him to find a thrill otherwise. A super capable detective, Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) aims to catch him an we soon realize why theft can be so exciting. While many compare the remake to the original, I think they're very different movies, despite having so much similarity. The remake really plays up the playboy angle, art theft as opposed to a bunch of money piled into a car. I'm a huge fan of Steve Mcqueen, but I think his coolness is tough to translate to a super wealthy character. McQueen's best roles are guys that have to fight, whereas Thomas Crown really doesn't have to do anything.  And the other thing is I already have the Getaway on the list, so I'd rather mix it up. While not a huge Brosnan fan, this role is perfect for him and he does a great job with it. Rene Russo, is without question at her absolute best here and they work well with each other. John McTiernan's version is exciting, slick and enjoyable, proving a fun heist movie isn't a bad thing once in awhile.

9)The Lookout


Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) justifiably had plans to be a big hockey star until a car accident changed everything for him physically and mentally. He now has little short term memory, a fact he compensates for with a notebook. He ends up working as a janitor at a bank. Once a town celebrity he now sticks to hanging out with his room mate Lewis (Jeff Daniels) who is blind. A seemingly random encounter with an ex school associate, Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) who seems to take a real interest in him, leads to a sense that things are turning around. Gary builds the idea that he can be "popular" again, even enlisting a girl named Luvlee (Isla Fisher) to help persuade him.  He enjoys the feeling, but soon realizes they're using him for a heist they have planned. They know that his job as a janitor will let them get in the bank without setting the alarm off. He attempts to stop the heist, and all but two of the crew are shot when a deputy shows up. The deputy is also killed and Gary is wounded, but Chris gets away with the money and buries it, near where his accident happened. Gary knows that Lewis is important to Chris, so he and the other robber, kidnap him to force a trade. They underestimate Chris due to his condition, however and the trade doesn't go how they would have liked.  Scott Frank, both wrote and directed the Lookout, and he should be proud. It serves as both an interesting character study and an exciting thriller. The Heist itself isn't complex, as most of the robber's prep work was taking advantage of Chris' disability and background which are presented by Gordon-Levitt well enough that the story and his actions makes perfect sense.

8) Point Break


Probably a surfing film as much as a heist film, but you can't deny the heists are there and action packed. Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is an ex football player, turned FBI out to catch the "Ex presidents" a gang who robs banks wearing masks of, of course, ex presidents. Following up a clue, some "sex wax" for surf boards at robbery scenes, Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the surfer community, meeting Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) the leader of the bank robbers and the rest of the gang. He's accepted into their group and soon realizes who they are. His partner Pappas (Gary Busey) keeps an eye on developments as Utah's bonds to the group become problematic causing him to miss a shot at Bodhi in a president mask, and blowing his cover. Bodhi soon forces Utah to accompany them on a heist, with his new surfer girlfriend Tyler (Lori Petty) held hostage as incentive. The heist gets ugly and they leave Utah to be picked up by his fellow FBI officers. Utah tracks down Bodhi, and he and Pappas have a shoot out with the gang. which results in Pappas getting shot and Johnny Utah jumping out of a plane after Bodhi without a parachute in a test of fearlessness, which ends in Bodhi escaping again. Later he finds Bodhi preparing to surf the "1,000 year storm" in Australia. He cuffs Bodhi to show he caught him but lets him go, knowing the waves will kill him. Kathryn Bigelow does a remarkable job with an over the top premise, mixing surfing with bank robbing. Swayze and Reeves both turn out solid performances and the movie contains enough action that it works perfectly, as long as you don't think too hard about it.

7) Thief
(click here for full review)

Frank (James Caan) is an expert jewel thief, who approaches life with a system including concrete goals. He establishes legitimate businesses to cover his criminal activities and decides that his next step is to start a family, which includes his girlfriend Jessie (Tuesday Weld) and a baby at some point. His routine is disrupted when he finds his fence murdered. His reasoning approach leads him to find the man responsible, Mr. Attaglia (Tom Signorelli) who he demands pay him the money that his fence would have paid him, as the money was "his." Attaglia refers him to Leo (Robert Prosky) his boss, who wants Frank to work for him. Although skeptical, he agrees as this will move up his plans, his new association even allows Frank to buy a baby on the black market to help fill out his family idea. After a big score, Leo doesn't pay. Frank won't tolerate this and gives Leo twenty four hours.  Rather than pay the money, Leo kills Franks partner, Barry (James Belushi,) and threatens the lives of Jessie and the baby. Rather than give in to this, Frank kicks Jessie out of the house, then blows up his own house and businesses. He then tracks down Leo and shoots him to death, ending up in a gunfight with his Attaglia and his other men which ends with Frank shot, walking away with nothing. Michael Mann is an expert at the heist film and this one of his best, featuring James Caan in what I consider his best role. Thief is smart, exciting and hard edged all the way to the end. Frank's business model approach to crime is one you don't see every day.

6) The Usual Suspects
(click here for full review)


A different kind of heist film in that it uses every element that we love from heist films and uses them to misdirect us. We have the top notch crew and the perfect job as well as the "last job." Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) spends the film directing his own heist story to his eager audience, Agent Kuljan (Chazz Palminteri) This story is only believable due to the characters he includes, Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne,) Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin,) Freddy Fenster(Benicio Del Toro,) Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak,) criminals all suddenly in debt to the mythical "Keyser Soze" With such entertaining characters working against such high stakes it's easy to forget that the real question is "Who is Keyser Soze?" An exciting and unusual twist on the genre fron Bryan Singer.



5) Inside Man

Dalton Russell (Clive Owen)is a brilliant bank robber. Dressing his crew as painters, he enters and takes control of a bank. With 50 hostages held inside the police begin negotiations. Police negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) attempts to handle the situation although police efforts are ineffective, as the robbers seem to anticipate their every action. One of the bank's executives, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) hears of the situation and hires Madeline White (Jodie Foster) to head to the scene and make sure that the contents of a certain safe deposit box stay secret. White is allowed into the bank and discovers via Russell that the Case received money from the Nazis to fund his bank. White offers to make Russell rich if he'll destroy the evidence. She also offers Detective Frazier a promotion. and to take care of some money he allegedly stole if he plays along with her. Eventually, the cops storm the bank but are unable to tell who the robbers are as they have all intentionally played hostages themselves, mingling in shifts as hostages were moved to different rooms. No money is missing from the bank, but Frazier finds that one safe deposit box has never shown up in bank records and resolves to investigate despite White's attempts to dissuade him. A week after the robbery. Russell emerges from a hiding spot in the bank with the contents of the mysterious safe deposit box (incriminating documents and diamonds.) He bumps into Frazier on the way out, who can't recognize him. Frazier gets the missing box opened and finds a clue from Russell. which ensures that Case is investigated. "Inside Man" is a smart thriller from Spike Lee, and a true heist movie except that the job isn't what anyone thinks it is, and the "bad guys" aren't who we think they are either.


4)The Getaway


While an elaborately planned bank job is central to the movie, the heist itself isn't nearly as interesting as the progression of shifting loyalties before and after. Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) can handle just about anything except knowing his wife Carol (Ali McGraw) slept with slimy Jack Beynon (Ben Johnson) to get him released, but still on the hook to plan a heist under Beynon's own conditions (using his men.) Beynon himself doesn't end up being too difficult to handle, except that he has friends, including Rudy (Al Lettieri) who "helped" with the heist but isn't as dead as McCoy thinks when he shoots him,  and wants the money for himself. Rudy's depravity makes Doc (and most people) look classy. The Getaway, is the kind of mean degenerate world that Sam Peckinpah excels at, loud, bright and dirty. Doc and Carol are a great team when they can manage to trust each other.



3)The Friends of Eddie Coyle


Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is looking at a prison sentence from the very start of the film. A heist he pulled for his friend Dillon (Peter Boyle) has earned him a heavy sentence. With no way out except making a deal with ATF agent, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan)Eddie tries to make it all work out. Eddie's messed up plenty in the past and doesn't want to cross the wrong person this time. Eddie is supplying guns to his associates Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco) and Artie Van (Joe Santos) who are planning their latest robbery, and is hesitant to give them up. Eddie offers to turn in Jackie Brown, the guy getting the guns for him, but it isn't enough for Dillon. Dillon gets Jackie Brown,thanks to Eddie, as well as Scalise and Van, without Eddie's information. Dillon is also an informant for Foley and had already offered up Scalise and Van. Eddie's "friends" aren't happy, figuring him as the informant, and they ask Dillon to give his old friend a proper goodbye. "The Friends of Eddie Coyle"  is a bleakly brilliant mood and character piece from the great director, Peter Yates. Mitchum sells the aging Eddie who's finally trapped and out of luck, flawlessly. His desperation is almost it's own character.




2) Rififi

Tony is an experienced thief fresh out of prison and not in a rush to go back. He initially turns down his friend Jo's offer to assist he and another old friend Mario, breaking into and robbing a jewelry store. He changes his mind when he discovers his old girlfriend Mado has taken up with local gangster, Grutter. Enraged, he beats Mado and proposes a perfect plan to rob the store. Rather than just cutting the window and grabbing jewelry, Tony wants to go for the safe downstairs. They enlist Cesar a master safe cracker, to help and they lay out an intricate plan to deal with the store's state of the art security. The perfect crime goes off without a hitch, except that Cesar pocketed a diamond ring, which he gives to his girlfriend who works for Grutter. Already upset that Tony's beating inspired Mado to leave him, Grutter makes the connection and goes after the crew mercilessly. Tony's hatred for Grutter is just as strong however, leading the two to a showdown, once everyone on the periphery is out of the way.  "Rififi" is a miraculous film in that Jules Dassin directed it while blacklisted by Hollywood, for a budget of under $200,000.00 and it still looks brilliant today. The heist scene itself is a marvel, being a quarter of the movie and feeling very much in "real time." I didn't realize, until it was pointed out, that there was no speech or music during the entire sequence. It's just that riveting.
 


1)The Asphalt Jungle

This film is as close as it gets to the textbook example of "heist movie" as well as a film noir classic. And, aside from that it's just a truly great film. The "brain" Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just finished serving some time in prison. He used the time served to come up with the perfect crime. He needs money to finance a team to perform the crime, and for this turns to Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) who agrees, as long as he himself can fece the take. As a crew, Doc picks out Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) as his "muscle," Gus Minissi (James Whitmore,) as the "driver," and  Louie Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso,) the safe cracker. Dix tells his girlfriend "Doll" (Jean Hagen) that he's always dreamed of buying back a horse farm his family lost years ago. The plan of course, goes off with a few hitches. Emmerich decides he needs all the money for himself and hires some muscle to ensure it. Dix and Doc face off with Emmerich. Dix kills Emmerich's muscle but ends up badly wounded. Everyone is caught by the cops including Emmerich, who kills himself rather than go to prison. Doc is caught off guard by the police, his attention caught by his need to leer at a young girl. Dix makes a run for it with Doll in the car, leading to one of the greatest and most tragic endings ever done.  This is a masterpiece from the legendary John Huston, with a great ensemble cast, Sterling Hayden shines as the heart of the film until the brutal end.

31 comments:

M. Hufstader said...

I've somehow managed to see just about none of these, whether out of ignorance or just plain I'll-get-to-that-one-of-these-days-ness. Great idea for a post, there is truly little I love more than a good heist movie. Now I've definitely got a bunch to throw on my to-see list.

Brent said...

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! Heist films definitely give me a thrill I don't find in any other type of movie. Feel free to share your thoughts as you cross them off your list!

SugaryCynic said...

Awesome choices, I've seen a few, and now have several more to add to the list. Heist movies rock, but no love for The Score? Ed Norton killed that one! Ah well, next time :p

Brent said...

Oh yes, plenty of love for "The Score" but you know choosing 10, variety, that sort of thing. There are so many that could go on here I'm tempted to do "Another top 10 heist movies" soon! And for the record, yes, the Score did indeed rock.

J.D. said...

Great list! Nice to see ASPHALT JUNGLE where it should be... at #1. Love that film. Just watched it a few day ago and was really taken with the textured, B&W cinematography.

Also, THE USUAL SUSPECTS is a fave - such a great film with a killer cast of actors. Amazing.

Brent said...

Thanks J.D.! THere's no question about the Asphalt Jungle in my mind, just devastating! It wrote the book on the modern heist as far as I'm concerned!

Paul S said...

I'm another one whose pleased to see Asphalt Jungle is you're number one Brent.
The Getaway is a favourite of mine too and The Friends Of Eddie Coyle...it's been far too long since I've wached that one!

Brent said...

Thanks Paul! Glad you agree on the Asphalt Jungle, I can't imagine anything else at number one! The Friends of Eddie COyle has only recently been available on DVD. I rewatched it a year ago, and thought it was such a shame that it had been overlooked so long!

Peyton Farquhar said...

I was expecting to see Snatch & the Oceans Eleven movies, but this is a good start. Great job as always, Brent.

Brent said...

Thanks Peyton! I thought about "Snach" love the movie, but it was scattered and I thought more a "con" centered than a heist. Ocean's Eleven probably would have made it if I'd had more spots!

Web Snacker said...

super list as always! Yet to see Friends of Eddie Coyle - cant find it on DVD anywhere. Maybe, I need to hunt it on the web.

Brent said...

Thanks Hyder! "eddie Coyle" is well worth seeking out!

Emm said...

Inside Man was brilliant! It was really, really well done and full of surprises. And The Usual Suspects is one of my favourite films of all time. I never tire of watching it and it always gets me in the end.

Brent said...

Hi Emm! Certainly agree about Inside Man, what a smart film! And the Usual Suspects is pretty amazing in that, even knowing the ending, it still works every time!

Jan said...

The Heist is my all time favorite. Now I have a few more to check out. Thanks.

Brent said...

Thank you Jan! If you like Heist, you'll like these movies!

Matty V. said...

Awesome post! Wish I had conceived of it myself.

I love the fact that you included Rififi so high on your list. It is truly a seminal heist film that really blazed the trail for future incarnations (including most recently, The Town).

Great blog. I'm following! Hopefully, you'll check out my blog as well since us film junkies can never get enough film @ http://www.filmmatty.blogspot.com

Thanks!

Brent said...

Thanks Matty! Absolutely Rififi is such a brilliant film! It could have easily made number one except for how much I love the Asphalt Jungle. I really enjoyed "the Town," another proud and well done heist flick and it's certainly aware of heist film conventions. Thanks for following too, I will be happy to follow you as well. You're certainly right about us film junkies.

mrblue said...

Such a *great* listing. Except for too much spoilers. Here is mine (still in progress though)

http://bestrobberyheistmovies.blogspot.com/

Brent said...

Thanks mrblue! Glad you enjoyed it! I'll check out your list!

Anonymous said...

The original Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen is way better than the new one. Same thing with the Italian Job. The original is so well planned and the ending is unbelievable.

Brent said...

I totally agree about "The Italian Job" but the original Thomas Crown just didn't feel like a Steve Mcqueen role to me, plus as I mentioned I didn't want Steve on the list twice.

Anonymous said...

Heat? Le Circle Rouge? Bottle Rocket? maybe Ocean's Eleven?

Anonymous said...

My 70's juices got flowing..."Thunderbolt and Lightfoot". Can't guess how many times I've ENJOYED that gem.

Albert said...

Nice that Rififi made it so close to the top. Amazing how well the film turned out (and still looks today) considering all it had to go through just to make it on the screen. I would probably choose an Oceans film above Thomas Crowne, but that's just a personal preference. It's always tough to nail down the top crime movies, simply because there are so many excellent ones to choose from, but your list is a good place to start as is http://www.filmcrave.com/list_genre_movie.php?genre=Crime

Brent Allard said...

Thanks Albert! I could easily see an Ocean Film on here too. tough to pick ten!

Cav said...

Wow like M. Hafstader I've managed to miss most of these so I'm glad to have the list.
some of my favorite heist movies are Swordfish with John Travolta, The Sting, and the original Oceans 11 with Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr.

Brent Allard said...

Cool. Glad you enjoyed and thanks for stopping in! Those are all good heist Movies. I liked the new Oceans 11 films but the originals with Frank are classic!

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Diana Smith said...

I like The Thomas Crown Affair movie.. But The Italian Job should be included in this list as well. Also the movie Entrapment starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. Its amazing how those ladies can get in to safety vaults.

Seymour said...

Excellent list. I was wondering if you'd include my personal fave "THE ASPHALT JUNGLE" and there it is at #1