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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

steal these movies: great heist flicks

Mad Money opens tomorrow, and it’s yet another heist flick, which are almost always fun — and this one is unusual in that it’s the girls getting to have all the felonious fun this time around. And so I figured I’d put together a little retrospective of great heist movies. Which I started, as I always do, by Googling around to see what other people have said about great heist movies. And I realized that I haven’t seen a lot of the movies that a lot of people consider great heist films.

So I’ll start with a rundown of those I know and love, and then mention a couple I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never seen (they’re now in my Netflix queue), but that would probably be on my best-of-heists lists if I had.
Die Hard and Die Hard With a Vengeance. Hans Gruber steals millions in bearer bonds from Nakatomi Tower in Los Angeles, and then Simon Gruber steals billions in gold from the Federal Reserve bank in lower Manhattan. Not only do the brother share a taste for crime, they both hate John McClane, too. [Vengeance review] [buy the Die Hard collection at Amazon]

The Great Muppet Caper. Jewel thief Charles Grodin frames Miss Piggy for his thefts, forcing Kermit and the gang to hunt him down and clear her name. It’s critters made of felt, singing and dancing and solving crimes. Movies don’t get any better than this. [buy at Amazon]

Ocean’s Eleven. The 2001, of course. Probably my favorite heist movie, because it’s so clever and so funny. And no one gets hurt. It’s easier to find thieves sexy when they don’t shoot people. [review] [buy at Amazon]

Quick Change. What kind of clown thinks he can rob a bank in broad daylight and just walk away? Bill Murray, that’s what kind of clown. Hilarious. [buy at Amazon]

Ronin. Robert DeNiro leads an uneasy band of professional bad guys as they attempt to steal a mysterious silver briefcase from a mysterious band of even worst bad guys for the mysterious man who hired them, who may be a bad guy. [review] [buy at Amazon]

The Usual Suspects. The robbery of lots of dough from corrupt NYPD officers is only the beginning of the twisty weirdness of this one. We never even know who the big bad villain is until the final moments of the film, which ends up suggesting that maybe that robbery never even happened in the first place. [buy at Amazon]

Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers. A penguin disguised as a chicken plots to steal a rare and beautiful diamond, and only a cheese-eating man and his dog — which is smarter than his owner — can stop him. Awesome. [review] [buy at Amazon]

And the ones I haven’t seen:

Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino holds up a bank in order to raise the money for his boyfriend’s sex-change operation. Aw, that’s so sweet. [buy at Amazon]

Reservoir Dogs. A diamond heist goes bad and the thieves turn on one another. Considering that this is from Tarantino, I expect the turning-on involves massive blood loss. [buy at Amazon]

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Robert Shaw takes hostages on a New York City subway train and demands a ransom of one meeellion dollars! Maybe that doesn’t really qualify as a heist, but it’s pretty damn audacious. [buy at Amazon]

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  • Wow, I’m surprised you haven’t seen Reservoir Dogs. Very good movie, I hope you post about it when you do. And, um, yes, there’s blood loss.

  • Mark

    What about the David Mamet films, Heist and The Spanish Prisoner? (Heist includes Danny DeVito delivering one of the great Mamet lines: “Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it ‘money’.”) Or even The Score?

  • MaryAnn

    Because I don’t think those are great heist films! *Spanish Prisoner* is a great con film, but *The Score* is pretty dull, and I hate that line from *Heist.*

  • Hdj

    I agree on all of Mj’s picks, their all pretty good Heist movies. “Dog day afternoon” is the first movie that pops in my mind when I think of heist movies. Somebody said I talk like Al Pacino from that movie. I kinda felt like that was a insult. I think thats one of Al’s youngest and natural roles. So maybe I do talk like he does in the movie. And Al’s not gay and nether I’m I.
    I just rented “The Lookout”, I haven’t got too it yet but I think it a heist movie.

  • MaryAnn

    Why is it an insult?

  • Hdj

    because the person who said it, he likes to bust my balls. I figured it was one of those insults that carry different meanings like the kind that wouldn’t hit me unless I saw the film.Like Maybe I could have said ” oh cool I don’t mind sounding like Al Pacino”. But then Dog day…,hey wait a min he was gay in that movie. Why not say The godfather or serpico, no it had to be Dog day. im just saying , Im just saying MAYBE…….. he could have picked a different movie, that is all

  • Moe

    I agree with you MJ, i think Ocean’s Eleven with Clooney, Pitt, Damon and Julia Roberts can’t be beat.

    Funny, extremely clever writing and Soderberg at his jazzy best is a great treat for everyone.

  • Chris ‘Paperbag’ Beaubien

    Add ‘Bob le Flambeur’ to the list of great heist movies.

    P.T. Anderson saw this one repeatedly before making ‘Hard Eight’ (Sydney).

  • PaulW

    You should also try the Robert Redford flick “Sneakers,” which is a heist-hidden identity thriller, a bit low key but fun to watch.

    You really *really* need to Dog Day Afternoon, Reservoir Dogs, and Pelham (which heavily influenced R-Dogs).

  • soundacious

    I tend to lump together heist movies and escape movies into “caper” films. They give me the same rush. An elaborate plan, fast pacing, unexpected twists and turns of loyalties … I’m a sucker for ’em.

    I liked the recent Italian Job better than the recent Ocean’s Eleven. YMMV. :)

  • misterb

    How about all the 60’s heist films? The original Pink Panther, Topkapi, Thomas Crown Affair, ‘$’ etc etc It seems that the heist is one of the great cliches of the cinema. In the 60’s the heist film was the way a mainstream Hollywood star could act “rebellious” and “flaunt authority” without upsetting the silent majority. I know this must sound quaint to you youngsters, but dammit, get off my lawn!

  • MaryAnn

    Hdj: perhaps you shouldn’t consider being called gay an insult…

    ‘Bob le Flambeur’

    I haven’t seen that one, but I have seen *The Good Thief,* which was based on that, and that one was great.

  • Hdj

    How about “Killing Zoe” did you see that one?

  • MaryAnn

    Haven’t seen it. Sorry.

  • The Lookout is a great, underrated flick. I agree with MA’s choices, too, especially The Taking of Pelham 123 (which also has one of the best scores ever).

  • No mention of Michael Mann’s “Thief”? For shame…

  • MaryAnn

    Shockingly, I have not seen every movie ever made.

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