EDITORIAL: Best casino movies of the 21st century so far

(Image: blacknerdproblems.com)

(Image: blacknerdproblems.com)

Flashy casino settings have long been inviting destinations for eager tourists and lavish film productions.  The twinkling lights and allure of scoring a life-changing payday is a shared dream of both the customer and the moviemakers looking for artistic and commercial successes.  Nowadays, a taste of that lucky escapism for thrill seekers can come online through eclectic sites like Casino Billions or continue at their local movie theater or the cushions of their couch with a good flick.  Staying recent, here’s a slick little ranked list of some of the best casino movies of this young 21st century.  Enjoy!

1) Ocean’s 11

Steven Soderbergh’s celebrity-filled romp from 2000 stands as not just the best casino movie from the 21st century, but likely all-time.  Indulgences, heists, and playful twists don’t get more decadent than watching George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon try to pull a nine-figure fast one on Andy Garcia’s casino owner heavy.  The second film, Ocean's Twelve, went international, but the crew returned to another casino setting versus Al Pacino for Ocean’s 13, a worthy honorable mention on this list.

2) 21

Since the dawn of gaming, players have always looked to beat the odds, every which way possible.  Even some of the smartest minds in the world have put their cerebral crosshairs on casinos, none more so famously than the MIT Blackjack Team featured in Ben Mezrich's novel Bringing Down the House.  21, led by Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey, spins the true story into a catchy film of card-counting college students raking at blackjack in the days before biometric software.  Just when you think you find an edge, the casinos push back.

3) The Cooler

Not every casino setting is lush and lavish.  Some are smaller and more seedy. That’s the atmosphere of The Cooler from director Wayne Kramer (Running Scared) showing the knee-breaking, crime-enhanced side of old school casinos.  William H. Macy gives a memorable performance as the walking embodiment of contagious bad luck who finds a little heartfelt hope in meeting a girl (Maria Bello) that irks his brutal boss (Alec Baldwin).  The Cooler is a rich, character-driven little indie worth your discovery.  I'm a big fan of Mark Isham's swanky score.

4) Mississippi Grind

Along the same lines as The Cooler, downtrodden luck and lovable losers fill the plot and chips being tossed around in 2015’s Mississippi Grind.  Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn are paired for a road movie rolling down the great river from the casinos of Iowa to big-money tables waiting in New Orleans.  Chasing poker winnings, the madcap chicanery and dire straits are here in spades.  This under-seen and unheralded film from a few years ago will impress you.

5) Reindeer Games

From Ocean’s 11 at the top of this list on down, casinos have played the backdrop for many imaginative robbery sequences even if the whole of the movie in question carries other settings.  John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games has one of those.  The imagery of Gary Sinise, Ben Affleck, and others pulling shotguns at a small casino dressed as Santa Clauses is highly memorable.  Double and triple crosses invade great plans and competing affections for a vampish Charlize Theron, but the chase is a fun one.  Seek out the director's cut for more action and intrigue.


Films from this century with some choice and famous casino scenes (my reviews linked where possible):

The Hangover, Rush Hour 2, The Grand, Lucky You, Casino Royale, Skyfall, Lucky You, and Black Panther