1. There Will Be Blood (2007)
A quote about the unabashed pursuit of power (and how it always seems to end in tragedy) would be fitting here. I’m sure they’re plentiful, and since this is the internet, Google your own.
It seems that any story about power hungry people seems to end in their unraveling — in this case, the unraveling involves (spoiler alert!) a bowling pin and someone’s head.
Based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, the film tells the story of a ruthless quest for wealth by one Daniel Plainview. Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of silver-miner-turned-oil-man Plainview is the definition of scene stealing and will leave you wondering who else starred in the film. Set against the capitalistic frenzy of Southern California’s oil boom, we are shown the perverse outcome of the unchecked pursuits of power and wealth.
Ultimately, this film explores the dark side of the American dream — the idea that anyone is capable of success in the land of opportunity creates a Darwinian melting pot in which only the strong survive (in business). It takes a certain type of individual to claw their way up to the top in America, especially when the foundation is made not-so-metaphorical oil and blood. Whatever your stance is on morality and capitalism, at least you’ll be entertained.
2. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
This film has developed a cult following over the years, and for good reason. Al Pacino and John Cazale both have career making performances as first-time crooks attempting to rob a bank on one of the hottest days of summer.
Why are they robbing the bank?
It’s simple — Sonny Wortzik (Pacino) wants to finance his lover’s sex change operation. This might sound a bit ridiculous but it’s based on a true story and Frank Pierson’s Oscar winning script doesn’t disappoint.
3. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
“I know what gold does to men’s souls.”
– Howard, The Treasure of Sierra Madre
It’s hard to deny John Huston’s genius as a writer and director, especially in the case of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He had an ability to get great performances from his actors and a social conscience that was lacking in many films of the time.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is about men that have made their way into Mexico to either escape jail time, or are in search of riches, as is the case of the men that meet in a Tampico shelter. Curtin, Dobbs, and Howard start out as partners seeking out gold in the Sierra Madre but as luck would have it, none of them find the riches they so desire.
4. Office Space (1999)
This great Mike Judge film is about the things we put ourselves through to get a paycheck. (This for example).
It does an awesome job of satirizing daily life for many Americans working in IT, or any other soul-draining office environment. Here is one of many great exchanges between the main characters:
Peter: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you’d do if you had a million dollars and you didn’t have to work. And invariably what you’d say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.
Samir: So what did you say?
Peter: I never had an answer. I guess that’s why I’m working at Initech.
Michael: No, you’re working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there’d be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.
5. Fargo (1996)
In the real world there aren’t many spectacular jewel heists and bank robberies.
There are a lot of real people stealing cars, robbing liquor stores, and conning money from the elderly.
Fargo is one such story.
It’s a film about a car salesman from Minneapolis who hires two men to kidnap his wife for $80,000. Sounds simple enough but our incompetent crook, played by the wonderful — and woeful – William H. Macy, has no idea what he’s doing. He hires two of the most useless men imaginable and then has a change of heart and tries to call the whole thing off.
Unfortunately for Macy, the wheels are already in motion. The Cohen brothers keep the laughs and bizarre plot twists going throughout this 98-minute gem.
Frances McDormand won an Oscar for her superb performance as pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson, who is tasked with solving these unusual crimes.
6. The Corporation (2003)
I’ll let journalist and author Naomi Klein sum up this documentary:
“This is a transformative film: one of the most powerful and illuminating documentaries of our time. It boils with rage, sadness, love, hope, reality. It is not about a hurricane. It is about America.”
7. Trading Places (1983)
Not all Christmas classics need to be in the vein of Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life — some of them need to be about money, concentrated orange juice futures, and $1 bets between long-in-the-tooth millionaires.
Mortimer and Randolph Duke, brothers and owners of Duke & Duke, a successful commodities brokerage firm, have an on-going argument on the issue of nature vs. nurture. One believes that “good-breeding” will allow you to overcome anything, no matter what the circumstances are; the other believes that anyone will do well if given wealth and power, and will resort to a life of crime if stripped of it.
They decide to settle the argument once and for all by taking everything that Louis Winthrop III (Dan Aykroyd), a Duke & Duke employee has, and give it to Billy-Ray Valentine, a Philly street hustler played by Eddie Murphy. Eventually Billy-Ray becomes wise to their game and decides to take action against the two men who so flippantly toy with people’s lives.
I’ll let you watch the movie yourself to see how it turns out, but let me say it involves a real gorilla, a fake gorilla, and the former falling in love with the latter. Classic.
8. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
This 1988 Terry Gilliam film isn’t about money. It is famous for money though — specifically the overspending and the pitiful box office returns that it made.
The film officially came in over-budget by more than $20 million (in 1988), but estimates from outside sources say that the number was closer to $50 million. Movie producers everywhere are still cringing as Baron Munchausen made only $8 million at the box office.
9. Glengary Glen Ross (1992)
This film is all about sales – real estate sales.
It starts out with this great (profanity laced) scene, in which Alec Baldwin describes how he has been sent by the faceless owners of the real estate company, Mitch and Murray, to help “motivate” the staff to make more sales.
It all comes down to dollars when Baldwin tells the agents that in one week, only the top two salesmen will remain at the company.
10. Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels (1999)
Roger Ebert described Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels as “Tarantino crossed with the Marx Brothers, if Groucho had been into chopping off fingers.”
The movie follows young poker player Eddy and his three friends, who help him bankroll a stacked card game with Hatchet Harry, a big-time London crime lord. Harry rigs the game (what crime lord wouldn’t?) and Eddy runs up a huge debt. Owing money to a guy with a nickname like “Hatchet” isn’t a good idea and Eddy knows this, so it’s a mad dash to find the money in time.
Set among the low-lifes of London’s East End, this Guy Ritchie film has your eyes glued to it until the very end.