Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Edward Jemison, Bernie Mac, Shaobo Qin
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Why it made the list: It’s easy to watch the stylish, breezy, seemingly effortless charm of Steven Soderbergh’s remake and take all it does well for granted. After all, how hard could it be to shoot a remake in an exciting locale, fill it with a handful of A list stars and top notch supporting players, turn the cameras on them and watch the money roll in?
The fact that it’s been nine years since its release and no one has been able to duplicate the success or fun of his Ocean’s Eleven (including Soderbergh himself with two sequels) should give some indication that the magic only looked effortless. Hell, the by-all-accounts sloppy mess that was the 1960 original Ocean’s Eleven starring the Rat Pack itself shows how difficult it can be to just let a bunch of friends hang out in casinos in front of cameras. Soderbergh, Clooney, Pitt, Damon, screenwriter Ted Griffin, and the rest mixed a special brand of alchemy with this one, that may very well be my most watched movie of the decade.
Since it’s a remake that takes a good element from an unsuccessful first attempt, it feels appropriate for me to pillage my old review of Ocean’s Eleven for a moment, which explains why it’s one of the best films of the decade pretty well, if I do say so myself:
Ocean’s Eleven is a spirited heist flick that exudes cool from every pore, pure entertainment with limitless replay value that delivers in every area. It’s loaded with sex appeal, deft comic timing, action, tense schemes, and tight plotting, all while delivering old Hollywood charm reminiscent of the Rat Pack (which is fitting, as it is a remake of the Rat Pack’s 1960 movie). Steven Soderbergh stepped away from his usual artistic experiments to create a populist movie that trades on the star power of its performers, using storytelling techniques honed in Out of Sight and Traffic, and delivered a movie that is as high in quality as it is in entertainment value.
Spoiler Specifics: One of the reasons this might be my most watched film of the decade is that my wife and I liked to watch it before our trips to Vegas, to get a glimpse of the glamour our modest budget keeps us from experiencing ourselves. Given that we went there four times this decade, that significantly bumped up the count. While we couldn’t play high stakes poker, or wear imported silk suits, or, you know, rob a casino, we did make sure to watch the Bellagio fountains as often as we could, including one night in our wedding attire (yes, we were married in Vegas. No, it wasn’t by Elvis or through a drive-thru. No, that’s not the first time someone has thought of that joke). The final scene when they all gaze at the water show while reflecting on a job well done is indicative of the elegance that underpins the film: watching this movie allows you to draft off the projected cool of its stars, location, and director. It’s an exercise in style, sure, but not an empty one.
Significant scene: So many great scenes with great quotable lines to choose from. Hell, I just talked about a scene. So I’ll cheat a bit and go with a sequence: one of the most enjoyable parts of any heist film is when they assemble the crew of specialists to do the big job. Ocean’s is no exception, introducing the seven other men that will make up Danny Ocean’s crew of eleven (he, Pitt, Cheadle, and Gould were already introduced before the montage begins) in an amusing way that economically tells us all about the guys we’ll be rooting for. My favourite part is the Malloy brothers introduction, as their bickering was the most reliable source of comedy throughout all three films (“I’m gonna get out of the car and drop you like third period French”).
I couldn’t find a clip of the whole sequence, but the one below is a great demonstration of the banter that makes the movie such a treat. It’s also a great example of the chemistry between Clooney and Pitt, which is the movie’s biggest highlight. Question: in all their films as leading men, with some of the biggest actresses in Hollywood, have Clooney or Pitt had better chemistry with any of their leading ladies than they do with each other here? I’ll say yes to Clooney with Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, and maybe he and Vera Farmiga were on par in Up in the Air. But Pitt? None that I can think of.