American cinema worships an array of iconic landscapes: Monument Valley; the streets of New York; Niagara Falls; the car-chase hills of San Francisco; and last, but certainly not least, Las Vegas. Vegas, with its neon haze and endless tales of lost hope and fortune, has provided a gaudy back-drop to many great films. With the upcoming release of the Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy, What Happens in Vegas, RT thought it might be time to brush-up on the Las Vegas canon with our Top Ten Vegas Films.
1) The Godfather: Part II
In one of the greatest sequels ever made, the story of the Corleone family continues. A chilling moment in this chapter of Coppola‘s saga is the Hyman Roth “There was this kid I grew up with” speech. “That kid’s name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas”. Rotten Tomatoes has goose bumps just thinking about it!
RT’s favourite review: “The performances, Gordon Willis‘ memorably gloomy camerawork, the stately pace and the sheer scale of the story’s sweep render everything engrossing and so, well, plausible that our ideas of organised crime in America will forever be marked by this movie.” Geoff Andrew, Time Out. More reviews
2) Leaving Las Vegas
This is not the most upbeat pick for a Friday night but it will hold you riveted right to the end of the bottle. It has got bright lights, addiction and a hooker with a heart of gold but that is where the Vegas stereotype ends. It is relentless and while many describe it as a cautionary tale, the reality is that it is dark enough to drive you to drink.
Yeah yeah, he did it all before in Goodfellas but no-one does a mobster like Scorsese and this time it is under neon lights. Where better to set a story about the destructive force of greed but in the ‘morality car wash’ that is Vegas?
RT’s favourite review: “People talk and talk about how Vegas works, and Scorsese’s camera sprints to keep up. He’s like an energetic tour guide making sure we understand everything.” Rob Gonsalves, eFilmCritic.com. More reviews.
4) Ocean’s Eleven
It is not often that a re-make outshines an original but the 1960s rat pack vehicle is quite shambolic beside the slick, uber-sexy perv fest that is this little slice of Clooney/Pitt/Damon/Garcia heaven. It is fun, serviceable eye candy.
5) Viva Las Vegas
Elvis WAS Vegas. Combining the two was an act of cinematic genius.
6) The Cooler
In the true tradition of the Vegas genre, The Cooler is about luck and who has it and who is so far out of it that it takes some serious work to be that down. William H. Macy carries his hang-dog expression to great effect as a man running away from lady luck.
Before Jon Favreau went all blockbuster with the likes of Iron Man, he was making cool, independent films that made us all want to grab a martini, say cool things and hit Vegas with our equally cool friends. In retrospect it may have been a little too cool for its own good but it sure gave good vernacular.
8) Diamonds Are Forever
Don’t try to keep up, just enjoy the smooth sophistication of Connery, the greatest of the Bonds. Debonair in the face of ludicrous surroundings, this Bond movie may be the perfect Vegas metaphor.
This is not everyone’s cup of tea with a peyote chaser. Depp‘s performance is not unlike sitting in a centrefuge at a heavy metal concert or, for that matter, going on a drug binge in Las Vegas with Hunter S. Thompson. It may be teeth clenchingly frenetic but so was the original book by Thompson, and this is a gripping adaptation of both the book and the man.
Smut, nudity and some of the bitchiest slanging-matches to hit the screen. There is no question that this is a truly dreadful film, but dreadful films can bring so much pleasure. Best watched in a pack.
What Happens in Vegas opens in Australian cinemas on May 8 and US and UK cinemas on May 9.