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10 crime films to watch after (or before or instead of) ‘The Gentlemen’

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com
"Dog Day Afternoon,“ a very stressful movie indeed. [Contributed by Warner Bros.]

“The Gentlemen” is the latest from ex-Mr. Madonna/British director Guy Ritchie, a fellow who knows more than a little about stylish, darkly funny, quirky crime flicks. Here are ten more such movies, in alphabetical order, some funnier than others, if “The Gentlemen,” starring Austin’s Matthew McConaughey, puts you in the mood for same.

“Dog Day Afternoon” (1975)

Nowadays, director Sidney Lumet’s tonally brilliant, based-on-true-events story of an utterly inept bank robbery reads like a mash note to the dysfunctional-yet-scrappy New York that was just the world outside his window at the time. Al Pacino is incredibly moving as Sonny, a regular guy who just needs some money for a thing, so he and his tightly wound pal Sal (a typically stunning John Cazale) decide to rob a bank. It does not go well. It’s a melancholy picture, but it is also occasionally incredibly funny, mostly because of the interplay between Pacino and Cazale, two of the strongest on-screen acting partners ever.

“First Love” (2019)

Legitimately legendary Japanese auteur Takashi Miike can do (and has done) pretty much anything — horror, drama, comedy, crime, all of it. So for “First Love,” Miike decided to do almost all of it at once, blending a yakuza drug deal noir with way-over-the-top comic violence, a genuinely sweet love story, a boxer with a death sentence, swordplay, a mob button-man who just can’t stop killing people, a junkie sex worker and the greatest use of a wind-up toy puppy ever. An underwatched hunk of pulp fun.

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“King of New York” (1990)

Starring Christopher Walken as Frank White, a drug kingpin looking to regain his power after a stay in the clink, “King of New York” isn’t as much funny as it is massively weird and hypnotic. This is prime territory for Abel Ferrera, one of the most idiosyncratic American directors of his epoch.

How is it weird? Check out the context-free, almost Broadway-ish greeting White gives his subordinates (including an amazing Laurence Fishburne); Walken’s typically bizarre line readings (it might be the ultimate Walken part); and David Caruso as one of the most annoying cops ever captured on film. Also check out a host of character actors swaggering through the oddness, including (deep breath) Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Calderon, Roger Guenveur Smith, Steve Buscemi and, hello, Wesley Snipes, on the cusp of being one of the most successful actors of the early 1990s.

And any movie after which the brilliant hip-hop artist Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, took one of his nicknames (Frank White) has to be some kind of classic.

“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998)

Folks forget (or, more than 20 years on, are perhaps too young to remember) that, post ”Pulp Fiction,” cinemas were awash in hyperviolent, irony-soaked crime flicks, some funnier than others, some more dramatic than others. Guy Ritchie’s debut still dazzles with its scam-upon-scam plotting, its gleeful vulgarity and its violence, which includes a gnarly beating with an obscene rubber object. (Also check out Ritchie’s almost-as-good follow-up, “Snatch.”)

“Ocean’s Eleven” (2001)

Yeah, it’s the ultimate fluffy heist, but it’s A) the greatest better-than-the-original remake of all time, and B) so compulsively watchable I bet you can’t check out less than 10 minutes of the thing when you happen across it while flipping channels. Steven Soderbergh asserts himself as a maker of blockbusters with George Clooney at his smoothest, Brad Pitt at his hungriest (the Brad-constantly-eating gag never gets old), Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould as comedy elder statesmen, Matt Damon as the kid, Julia Roberts as the love interest and Don Cheadle sporting a truly dire cockney accent. And the “Uh, are they supposed to be exes?“ looks between Clooney and Pitt remain fantastic. What a blast.

“Out of Sight” (1998)

For a while there, in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Clooney went on an astonishing run of roles, a few of them with Soderbergh.

Based on a book by Elmore Leonard (arguably the greatest crime writer of his generation), “Out of Sight” casts Clooney as professional thief Jack Foley, who escapes from prison whilst stuck in a car trunk with U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), hooks up with his pal Buddy (Ving Rhames) and decides to go after some diamonds in a mansion owned by former prison buddy Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks).

Lopez is beyond radiant, the chemistry between her and Clooney appropriately hot, and the whole thing drips with Leonard’s choice chatter. (If you fall in love with that sort of dialogue, this movie, “Jackie Brown” and the TV series “Justified” are the all-time best Leonard adaptations, “Get Shorty” is a distant fourth.)

“Rick and Morty,” season 4 episode 3: “One Crew Over the Crewcoo's Morty" (2020)

The highlight thus far of a decidedly mixed “Rick and Morty” season, “One Crew” lobs grenades at the entire genre of heist flicks (along with fan culture in general), mostly through a bonkers-complicated heist which takes places at the intergalactic Heist-Con. There are something like 20 twists in this thing and it is (again, so far) the only episode this season to both inspire a meme (“You son of a bitch, I’m in”) and be funny all the way through.

“Seven Psychopaths” (2012)

Director Martin McDonagh (also responsible for the excellent “In Bruges”) follows a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) whose pal Billy (Sam Rockwell) kidnaps dogs for ransom. Billy’s partner in crime is the weirdly religious Hans (Christopher Walken). They accidentally steal a crime lord’s dog (Woody Harrelson, as the crime lord, not the dog) and we’re off.

“Sexy Beast” (2000)

This debut from English director Jonathan Glazer (who would go on to direct the sci-fi masterpiece “Under the Skin”) follows retired gangster Gary "Gal" Dove (Ray Wintstone), who is out of the life and chilling in gorgeous Spain when he is pulled back in for one last bank job. The puller is the terrifying Don Logan, played with gob-spitting ferocity by a genuinely intimidating Ben Kingsley. Come for the strong character work and loads of swearing, stay for Kingsley, whom you will never look at the same way again.

“Three Kings” (1999)

Directed (with no small amount of controversy) by David O. Russell, “Three Kings” is both heist flick and anti-war movie; it’s also one of the best of both produced in the 1990s.

Though it takes place after the Persian Gulf War, it became more resonant in the early 21st century, as our position in thata region became more and more semi-permanent. George Clooney is a disillusioned U.S. Special Forces major while Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze are reservists. The four decide to “liberate” some gold rumored to be hidden in an Iraqi bunker.

A modern classic of the war-is-inherently-hideous-and-absurd genre, “Three Kings” sports uniformly excellent performances, especially from Clooney, who was just emerging from the shadow of “ER” and Jonze of all people, who is mordantly funny and tragic as a redneck who worships Clooney’s impossibly cool major.