Brad Pitt hits the slots in Ocean's Thirteen.
With the star-studded Ocean’s 13 opening this week, Hollywood and Vegas are once again making Sin City the place for summer fun. Not that Vegas hasn’t been the “it” town for quite some time. In fact, numerous 2007 films have featured that desert oasis (including Lucky You, Redline, Next and even Knocked Up) within their cinematic storylines. But Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s pictures are another level of Vegas glitz, a distinction that made the first film (set in Vegas) superior to the second (set in Europe).
The third Ocean’s movie welcomingly returns the franchise to its rightful town. With George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and, this time around, Al Pacino leading the proceedings, expect glamour, cool and excitement aplenty. With that, we’re looking at classic Las Vegas pictures, offering a mixed bag of comedy, tragedy and a little bit of both (and then there’s Showgirls), listing ten that we think are the best. That’s right, the best. And we’re willing to bet on that.
10. Ocean’s 11 (2001)
“Ten oughta do it, don't you think? You think we need one more? You think we need one more. All right, we'll get one more.”
The Deal: It was a tall order remaking the landmark 1960 Rat Pack ensemble piece Ocean’s 11, but not because the original movie was so spectacular. It was director Steven Soderbergh’s modern-day attempt to replace Frank, Dino, Sammy and Company—not so easy. And yet Soderbergh pulled it off with his first of three Ocean’s films, which not only solidified George Clooney as the world’s biggest movie star, but Vegas as America’s flashiest, sexiest port of vice, polishing Sin City’s luster by placing Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia at the tables.
9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
“You drive. You drive. I think there's something wrong with me.”
The Deal: How to explain? Let’s see…journalist Hunter S. Thompson (aka Raoul Duke) takes copious amounts of drugs and drives to Las Vegas with his attorney friend Dr. Gonzo and…yeah. Let’s just say they have some crazy adventures both in and outside of their minds. Wild-eyed genius Terry Gilliam directed Johnny Depp as Duke and an inspired Benicio Del Toro as his impaired pal in this crazily inventive big screen adaptation of Thompson’s famed book (based on his real-life antics). Driving a red convertible across the Mojave Desert from L.A. to Vegas with the intent to cover a motorcycle race, journalist Duke spends more time trashing his hotel room, upsetting onlookers and generally freaking himself out in a town he eventually claims “is not a good town for psychedelic drugs.” Ya think?
8. Bugsy (1991)
“We’re going to build an oasis in the middle of the desert.”
The Deal: If not for one dapper, violent and some might say, crazy gangster’s American Dream, we would not have Las Vegas. We can all tip our hat then to Bugsy Siegel, the good-looking, nattily-dressed guy and his bright idea of turning a patch of Nevada into a mobbed-up city of casinos. Barry Levinson chronicles the dream in Bugsy with a perfectly cast Warren Beatty in the lead role and Beatty’s future wife Annette Bening as Bugsy’s lady love Virginia Hill (whom he called “Flamingo,” naming the famed Casino after her), crafting a movie that hits on every level. Acting, direction, historical significance, cultural significance, Bugsy nails all the beauty and horror of Siegel’s dream.
7. The Only Game in Town (1970)
“Dice was his vice. Men, hers.”
The Deal: Something of a commercial disaster in its day, The Only Game in Town is now regarded as movie that deserves consideration not only for its interesting performances by Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty (what is it with Beatty & Vegas?), but for its effectiveness in showing how lonely and depressing the city can be for some. The movie went over budget in catering to Elizabeth Taylor’s location demands: instead of shooting in Vegas, as you would expect, they shot it in Paris (as in Paris, France, not the Vegas hotel), so that the star could be closer to hubby Richard Burton while he was making another movie overseas!. Directed by master filmmaker George Stevens, the film moves slowly, but it’s peppered by some terrific dialogue and memorable interplay between Taylor and Beatty.
6. Showgirls (1995)
“You wanna dance? Right now? It's now or never, that's what Elvis said.”
The Deal: Maligned upon release as one of the worst movies ever made, but swiftly earning a cult following not seen since Valley of the Dolls, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls is either a brilliant satire of stripper culture/Vegas glitz or simply an outrageous example of big-budget sex-ploitation trash—it all depends on who’s watching it. Elizabeth Berkley plays Nomi, the stripper who moves from the pole to the line (a showgirl at Stardust!) Gina Gershon plays her rival Cristal, in one of cinema’s most unforgettable, sleaziest, ridiculous, hilarious and then, oddly realistic rises to the top. Seriously, it’s like All About Eve after dark.
5. Swingers (1996)
The Deal: Swingers is really a movie about aspiring actors in Los Angeles, but its long Vegas sequence is legendary. In teaming the sensitive, unlucky-in-love Jon Favreau with the obnoxious lothario Vince Vaughn, the picture shows what really happens to two guys in Vegas—nothing that spectacular. Their spur-of-the-moment drive that begins with the battle cry of “Vegas, baby!” loses its luster once they realize just how long the trip is - and then, once there, gambling, womanizing, the whole Vegas experience isn’t so exciting either. But all this is great, funny and disarmingly touching stuff making Swingers much more than a retro buddy comedy. No matter how disheartening, it still makes you want to drive to Vegas.
4. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
“Good morning, gentlemen. ACME pollution inspection. We're cleaning up the world, we thought this was a suitable starting point.”
The Deal: A nice return to the Bond enterprise for Sean Connery (after George Lazenby played Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Diamonds Are Forever isn’t the greatest 007 picture, but it’s a good deal of fun with all the Bond trimmings. It was also Connery’s last gasp as Bond (until 1983’s Never Say Never Again which has a decidedly different vibe going on) making the Vegas setting kind of perfect. Where better to play with money, guns and girls?
3. Melvin and Howard (1980)
“Poor Melvin. All he wanted was to be Milkman of the Month. Instead he lost his job, his truck and his wife. Then Howard Hughes left him $156,000,000.”
The Deal: Though Melvin and Howard isn’t a gambling picture, its Vegas setting and fantastical story has all the elements of a gamble—complete with a rolling of the dice and a major score. The gamble isn’t planned and appears pretty safe at first, when Melvin (Paul LeMat) picks up what appears to be an old homeless man (a terrific, mysterious Jason Robards) who turns out to be (jackpot!) the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. But that’s figured out later. Enduring marriage problems with his game-show-obsessed wife (played by Mary Steenburgen) and money difficulties, Melvin is shocked to learn that the shaggy bum he gave a quarter to has given him $150 million— and his life will change forever. Or will it? Directed by Jonathan Demme, the film is a quirky, touching bit of dreamy Americana.
2. Viva Las Vegas (1964)
“A thousand pretty women waiting out there. And they’re all living devil may care. And I’m just the devil with love to spare. Viva Las Vegas!”
The Deal: Perhaps one of the sexiest screen duos in history, Viva Las Vegas boasts a hip-swiveling Elvis Presley with a-go-go-a-licious Ann-Margret and the result is absolutely combustible celluloid. Story? Who cares? OK briefly, Elvis is a race car driver named Lucky who hopes to win the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Along the way, he also hopes to win the heart of swimming teacher Ann-Margret (yeah, some swimming teacher) who bumps, grinds, ooh’s, and ahh’s to memorable abandon. The film’s title song is legendary, but the dance in the gym with cinema’s favorite leotard-clad redhead is, even today, jaw-droppingly hot.
1. Casino (1995)
“Running a casino is like robbing a bank with no cops around. For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It's like a morality car wash.”
The Deal: The ultimate Las Vegas picture and one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest movies, Casino is an epic look at the world of gangsters, gambling, love, hate and serious, serious dysfunction. Robert De Niro (in one of his finest, most poignant performances) plays a former bookmaker running a Vegas Casino for the mob. Everything appears to be going OK until: 1. His anger-prone pal Joe Pesci (did we say anger-prone? We meant psychotic-rage-prone) moves into town; and 2. De Niro falls in love and marries beautiful hustler Sharon Stone, a woman who’s still hung up on her pimp (played by an unforgettable James Woods). Revealing Vegas’ last gasp of glamour and decadence, Casino travels into a darkness that spirals so out of control, you can well understand why the city eventually became more family-friendly.
Send feedback on this column to