Oliver Davis counts down the best ever casino films…
It’s got more stars than a sky-gazing evening with Brian Cox, Ocean’s Eleven was a dream team-up movie with as-yet-unmatched ‘name’ power.
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts…even Bernie Mac, the 2001 remake even surpassed Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.’s original. Flashy, Soderbergh-slick and with a twisting Las Vegas casino heist climax, Ocean’s Eleven was successful enough to spawn two sequels…which makes the current Ocean’s count around 36.
4. Casino Royale
At the Casino Royale, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is up against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a high-stakes game of poker. It’s so tense, the bad guy cries blood. Which is how all villains should weep.
The casino setting is a Bond movie staple, so it’s a smart convention to embrace for Craig’s first outing as the character. It seems Bond’s most natural habitat; a place of suaveness and perpetual night, full of daring, risk and beautiful women. It sounds exhausting. Thanks to the Internet, most of us can now leave the tuxedo on its hanger and simply play online casino games in Singapore.
Some argue this is the greatest Bond movie of all time. So fourth place seems deserving. It’s tough at the top here.
Although The Sting isn’t strictly a ‘casino’ movie, it does contain arguably the best gambling scene in cinematic history: Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) conning Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) in a high-stakes (aren’t they all?) poker game aboard an express train.
It’s a masterpiece of suspense, with cons, tells and bluffs told almost entirely though peeking over cards. The film doesn’t simply straddle the line between humour and seriousness. It confidently swaggers on it, doing the occasional backflip and slyly twitching its moustache. Perfection.
Casino boasts the names Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci; it was the second collaboration between Scorsese and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi (after Goodfellas); and it marked the eighth, and to-date the final, partnering of Scorsese and DeNiro.
But, most importantly, it’s the fifth highest ‘F’ word spurting film of all time, with an astonishing 2.37 uses per minute.
Just like Goodfellas, there is a focus on both the characters’ rise to and fall from power. Chronicling the lives of Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (DeNiro), Nicky Santoro (Pesci) and Ginger McKenna (an Oscar-nominated Sharon Stone) in a corrupt Las Vegas casino, Scorsese paints an incredible character study. All over a trim 178 minute running time. Epic.
Revolver is a criminally underrated movie, and Guy Ritchie’s most complicated work. Granted, it doesn’t take much to beat the cartoon characters of Snatch and Sherlock Holmes in terms of complexity, but the director here finds a gear far beyond his usual output. Unfortunately, some critics thought the gear was ‘reverse.’
Made when Ritchie was at his most pretentious – knee-deep in both Kabbalah and his then-wife, Madonna – the film is about two rival casinos and the bitter gang war that erupts between them. It’s about politics. It’s about chess. It’s about violence, fear, spirituality and Ray Liotta’s tan.
It’s a controversial choice for number one, but these lists are arbitrary at best. Hopefully it’ll prompt some of you to revisit this bold and ambitious piece.