In my last re-view for this project, four weeks ago, I made myself feel incredibly depressed by speaking of the boredom I felt when it came to the formula of heist movies. The film in question was Heist (I wonder what that’s about?), and while I enjoyed the movie both ten years ago and now, I spoke of my dramatic shift in perspective on the genre as a whole and basically came to the conclusion that I could see through the genre now. I was sad that I had grown weary about something, anything, at such a relatively young age. Here are some selections of me being incredibly sad:

– “But now…now… [sad violin music] my innocence is lost. I yearn for the days when these kinds of films could still surprise me. Like an old man, I am weary of what I once loved. Or, if not loved, at least approached with positivity.”

– “My fear of being bored, or being talked down to, or being insulted, or seeing an up-and-comer Hollywood actor struggle with playing a good guy until the final twist when it’s revealed that he or she was actually a villain the whole time, is starting to go beyond reason.”

– “I don’t want the magic to be gone. And if you care to recommend any good heist films from the last ten years, from any country, I am all ears. I want to believe. Clap so that Tinkerbell may live.”

When I wrote those words, I knew I was being terribly maudlin and, more importantly, suffering from a terrible case of blank-mindedness thanks to a stout Stout hangover. And as of this week, it turns out that, while my issues with heist movies may still limit my enjoyment of the more middle-of-the-road entries in the genre, I only had to wait four weeks to realize I was tormenting myself for no reason.

Because Ocean’s Eleven fucking rules. And it doesn’t just rule. It fucking rules. I know I use a great deal of swear words in most of my writing – more than I need to – but there is no way to convey the sheer extent of Ocean’s Eleven’s awesomeness without the word “fuck.” What I once enjoyed passably (on a double-bill with A Beautiful Mind, it represented mindless fun) now holds a dear place in my heart, because for whatever reason…

  1. A comparison to the general mainstream film world that has followed;
  2. A better understanding of mid-century escapist entertainment;
  3. This memory: During my Freshman year of college, all of our dorm computers in McKay were networked together, and the shortsightedness of the school’s IT resulted in a bunch of nerds sifting through other people’s hard drives for fun. On a particularly woe-is-me day, I watched somebody else’s illegally downloaded copy of this. In retrospect, it may have helped me through the rest of a very tough first year away from home;
  4. The lameness of the sequels. (Ocean’s Twelve was a mess. Ocean’s Thirteen was a virtual remake of the 2001 film, but without any of the structure or whimsy.);
  5. A still-quite-recent preference for wanting to enjoy life for what works as opposed to picking apart what doesn’t (a.k.a. Why the hell didn’t I realize earlier that being positive is so much more fun than being negative?);

Ocean’s Eleven has evolved into being one of my favorite films of our young century. And it didn’t occur to me until two days ago.

This isn’t supposed to happen. The general idea is that the films we cherish closest over the years are the ones we fall for immediately, either by ones we knew were geared toward our unique sensibilities in the first place (for me in this most recent decade, this includes such works as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Incredibles, Chicago, Billy Elliot, The Squid and the Whale) or the ones that caught us by surprise opening weekend (for some reason, I’m always shocked by how much I love each and every Christopher Nolan movie, as if I’m always waiting for him to stumble).  But this time, it’s: watch a film during a holiday break from school, be charmed, move on with life, watch a shitty download on a shitty computer, have it help you through the year, catch it three times over five years on cable, realize how effortlessly rewatchable it is, watch it on its tenth anniversary, realize it’s a near-perfect piece of entertainment, write about it?

It’s exhilarating to have this opinion grow from a happy little seed into a full-blown of gotta-buy-this-on-Blu-ray-and-add-it-to-my-favorite-films-list-on-Facebook obsession and outpouring of accolades. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, right on the heels of my bullshit emo trippin’ on Heist. I have faith again, because I see that, when somebody like Soderbergh puts his mind to it, it’s possible to make a featherlight-yet-obsessively-technical ensemble comedy heist thriller that can deliver the goods both in terms of characters and the heist itself. On its seventh viewing, it’s just as exciting (perhaps even more) than the first or second time around. The vibe of the movie, from the performances to the technical work, is as follows:

“We know Soderbergh just went home with the Oscar for Best Director after he directed two films to a Best Picture nomination last year and helped Julia Roberts get her trophy. But now he wants to use his clout to remake a trifle of a 60s Rat Pack movie? Where Sammy Davis, Jr. makes funny faces and Angie Dickinson has boobs? He convinced Warner Bros to do this? They couldn’t have given him much. … What? They gave him $90 million to do whatever he wants?  *cracks fingers* We’re going to Vegas. And let’s make sure to have the best time of our lives.”

This film is pure cinematic joy. Even if you don’t like a certain actor (I’m still not sold on Roberts after all these years), don’t worry, just wait, because there are 73 other characters to follow and we only have two hours. It has Carl Reiner doing a con where he’s pretending like he’s Alan Brady on The Dick Van Dyke Show pretending to be an evil arms dealer. It manages to be retro without being ironic. It even has what has always seemed to be to be very Coen Brothers-influenced flourishes, especially in the Shaobo Qin and Don Cheadle characters.

It just works. I don’t know how they did it, but it works.

Every Best Films of the 2000s list that doesn’t include Ocean’s Eleven is stupid and wrong. Why must you stifle happiness?

Free-Floating Thoughts:

During the opening scene, the parole hearing, I accidentally attributed Clooney’s backstory from Soderbergh’s Out of Sight to Danny Ocean. I’m okay with that. Jack Foley and Danny Ocean are basically the same character, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It makes me identify with him quickly, a good thing in a movie with such a large ensemble and twisty story.

The first scene, with Bernie Mac, is incredibly funny for no reason, other than it looks like both he and Clooney are struggling to keep from laughing at something off-camera, like Brad Pitt making silly faces and fart sounds.

In the Topher Grace cameo scene, it’s nice to see Shane West and Barry Watson and all that, but this scene has the added benefit of Joshua Jackson now being known for playing the time-traveling, universe-jumping Peter Bishop on Fringe. Ocean’s Eleven is now part of The Pattern.

I like Ted Griffin as a writer because he’s has the ability to embrace and ridicule clichés simultaneously. He does this beautifully with his script for Matchstick Men. Not so much with Rumor Has It…, which got destroyed by studio intervention. (Although it probably wasn’t a wonderful screenplay to begin with.)

I finally noticed that the music playing during Yen’s Ringling Brothers performance is just a rearranged cover of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” but done as a stereotypical Chinese nightclub version.

This film reminds me that, from a modern radio perspective, I believe that “A Little Less Conversation” is probably Elvis’ second best song after “Burning Love.” Feel free to express your disagreement, along with a song of his you think is better.

The movie, like the best heist movies, does a phenomenal job of setting up the layout of the target’s location (here, the many secret hallways and vaults in, around, and underneath the casino). By the time Soderbergh has shown us through the virtual blueprints, then the ensemble doing their own in-house research, then Andy Garcia’s opposite-end-of-the-criminal-spectrum path through the location, the casino has become its own character. And on the seventh viewing of this movie, I’ve realized that the casino itself is by far the film’s best character. (It certainly out-acts half the ensemble, including Andy Garcia.)

The sequence with the pickpocket stripper at the Crazy Horse is a gem of storytelling economy. I don’t think it lasts more than 45 seconds.

I’m glad the movie kept in Bernie Mac doing an extended improv bit on skin moisturizers.

That’s pretty bold, holding Julia Roberts back from appearing onscreen until 45 minutes in.

I don’t think Roberts is particularly great in this film, but her first scene with Clooney has an overwhelming amount of chemistry. [applause to you, Roberts]

This film is impeccably designed, and the neon-and-bubblegum-and-steel color schemes are beautiful to watch in HD.

Andy Garcia sucks in this movie, but at least he does it in an interesting way. But do you want to see what he can really do as an actor? Watch The Untouchables and City Island back-to-back. Now that’s a star with a unique gift.

Does anyone else here prefer Funny Matt Damon to Dramatic Matt Damon?

Oh god. When I lived in Los Angeles, I saw a test screening of I Spy, with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, and they were using placeholder music in lieu of an unfinished score/soundtrack. This consisted of the main theme of the Ocean’s Eleven score (groaning bass, muted trumpet: da DADA da DA) being used about every five minutes to indicate a non-action scene transition. Near the end of the test screening, the audience had started humming along with the recurring refrain.

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