By Simon Miraudo
October 12, 2012
"In this country, you got to make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women." Wise words from Tony Montana, taken to heart by the subjects of Andrew Dominik's commentary on American capitalism Killing Them Softly (though they struggle to complete even the first step without losing their lives). In honour of that flick, we're depositing our 10 favourite money movies into your brain banks. Oh, and we're going to need a receipt for that.
The middle instalment of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy concerns broke Polish immigrant Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), who is smuggled out of Paris in a suitcase following a devastating divorce from Dominique (Julie Delpy) and a series of money-losing mishaps. Once home, Karol's luck begins to change, and he uses his profits to take revenge on the woman who ruined him. Darkly comic, the corruptive power of money in Three Colours: White certainly sets the tone for the rest of this list.
Jean Renoir's landmark comedy of manners La Regle du jeu has been a mainstay in the Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films ever made, recently dropping to #4 after decades in the top three. A series of romantic entanglements that breach class divides come to a head during a weekend retreat at a wealthy Parisian's estate. Forget Downton Abbey; Renoir's controversial 1939 satire dealt with the sexual exploits between the upstairs and the downstairs well before Mr. Pamuk made his way into Lady Mary's bed.
Whit Stillman received an Oscar nomination for his witty script to 1990's Metropolitan, in which middle-class teen radical Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) gets swept up in the world of wealthy boarding school socialites. Basically, it's the Lonely Boy storyline from Gossip Girl, with Chuck Bass just the mutated version of wise-cracking Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman). Stillman, look upon your works and weep!
Billy Wilder's pitch black film noir Double Indemnity tells of an insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) manipulated by Barbara Stanwyck's femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson into killing her husband and sharing the remuneration from his life policy. But the complicated murder plot - almost more confusing than the insurance premium math - and some classic backstabbery leads to their undoing. I mean, have you ever heard of a movie in which the killer lives happily ever after?
6. City Lights
Charlie Chaplin's tramp flirts with the high life in City Lights, as he attempts to raise funds for the object of his affection's eye surgery. Perhaps the only entry on this list in which money is used in a positive way, even if the tramp can't quite figure out how to keep any of it in his pockets. His trials - and eventual return to poverty - are all worthwhile for the beautiful final scene. You will cry.
5. The Sting
Besides the million-dollar smiles of stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Best Picture winner The Sting involves a couple of con-men grifting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a cruel crime boss (Robert Shaw). Watching this duo finagle money from rubes is one of cinema's great joys.
4. The Jerk
When Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) revolutionises eye-glasses with a handy nose-gripper, he's awarded all the riches he never got to enjoy as a poor black child. However, Navin learns that money isn't everything when it's suddenly taken away from him. It's a tough adjustment. As his wife, Marie (Bernadette Peters), exclaims: "I don't care about losing all the money. It's losing all the stuff."
Preston Sturges' 1941 comedy Sullivan's Travels remains one of the great Hollywood send-ups, with Joel McCrea's eponymous, idealistic director pledging to make the pre-eminent motion picture about the depression. Being a serious artist, he wants to first live on the streets and see suffering first hand, but no matter what he does, he can't stop coming into money. It's only when he teams up with a failed actress (Veronica Lake) that he actually discovers how dark things in America have become, and decides that maybe people need to laugh more than they need to see their tragic lives reflected on screen. Sullivan's Travels miraculously achieves both.
There might be no better embodiment of soul-decaying greed than Daniel Day-Lewis' Daniel Plainview, the oil-man who defies God, abandons his adopted son, cheats, steals, and murders his way to extreme wealth. We don't see money change hands; instead we get the currency of oil, which is a disturbing visual metaphor for money as it engulfs everything it touches. Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is one of the best of the past decade. Still, it certainly doesn't make you feel good about humanity.
Almost every Coen brothers' feature involves some schmuck destroying their life in pursuit of the Benjamins, but Fargo is arguably their finest achievement. In it, car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires a couple of thugs (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife and demand a ransom from her wealthy father (Harve Presnell). The ploy would ideally help Jerry pay off his personal debts. Of course, this taking place in the Coens' world, things get out of hand, people end up dead, and sharp-as-a-whip detective Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) closes in. We'll leave you with this choice quote from the super lady herself, befuddled by the high body count: "And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."