7. House Of Games (1987)
David Mamet’s diabolical directorial debut based on a story he wrote with Jonathan Katz focuses on the recently published, tired psychiatrist Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) who feels unsatisfied with her life.
However, after one of her patients threatens to kill himself because he owes too much money to a dangerous guy called Mike (Joe Mantegna), she decides to take some action and sort out his trouble for him. She confronts Mike about her patient’s mental health and he says that he is willing to forgive the debt if Margaret helps him, which she does and continues to after experiencing the thrill of the con.
Mamet’s twist-turning film noir convincingly bluffs its way into labyrinthine depths where the characters’ motives are carefully hidden behind deceptive bonds and expected downfalls.
Margaret wants to learn from Mike, follow his cons, and be part of this new adventurous and dangerous world that she has avoided all these years in favour of rules and order. Mike is sceptical about her wanting to write a book about cons and if she can handle it, but agrees anyway since he likes her. But soon, the small cons and random kleptomania escalate to much bigger circumstances, with higher stakes and risky consequences.
8. Nine Queens (2000)
Fabián Bielinsky’s Argentine crime drama film centres on two con artists, Juan (Gastón Pauls) and Marcos (Ricardo Darin), who meet at a convenience store after Juan messes up a scam and Marcos successfully saves him by pretending to be a police officer with the help of a toy gun he had just stolen. The two bond and agree to be partners for the rest of the day, mainly so Marcos can show Juan a couple of tricks that may help him get some money for his father, who is in prison.
After a couple of short-cons and bets, the two seem to prove themselves a very good team – Marcos isn’t afraid to cause a scene while Juan is sympathetic and is much more of a people-person. Then, a seemingly perfect scheme pops up in Marcos’s sister’s hotel. An incapacitated Sandler, who is a former business associate of Marcos, needs his help in selling a counterfeit copy that he made of some very rare and valuable stamp collection, “The Nine Queens”.
Since Sandler needs to go to hospital, he cannot meet the mark, Gandolfo, a rich Spaniard who is facing deportation and needs to flee the country quickly with whatever valuables he can. Juan convinces Marcos that he needs him, but remains very sceptical whether he is in fact being conned himself, since the whole thing seems too good to be true.
Hardly predictable, the plot twists around into satisfying dark comedy-drama full of smart dialogue, deadpan humour and quickly developed characters all within two days. The film was nominated for 28 awards and won 21 of them, and is now considered a classic in the country’s film history.
9. American Hustle (2013)
David O. Russell’s black comedy crime filmwas inspired by the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The film follows the deceptive con artist couple, a balding Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) whose cons are taken to another level by the beautifully manipulative Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who switches between her all American self and a posh British Lady Edith with elite banking connections for their art scams.
However, Irving is married to the very unstable Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who often holds their son hostage for whenever he thinks of leaving her for Sydney. The scamming duo are soon caught by a tightly permed FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who offers to release them, but only if they can help him form an elaborate sting operation to catch bribing, corrupt politicians (including Jeremy Renner) despite the objections of Richie’s boss (Louis C.K.).
However, Richie soon finds himself falling for the plunging necklines and the British accent of Lady Edith, who might be manipulating him to distract him, or be genuine in her affection.
It received ten nominations at the 86th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Bale), Best Actress (Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Cooper), and Best Supporting Actress (Lawrence), but did not win in any category. It received three BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
10. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels focus on a charming, intelligent man who wants to reinvent himself as somebody else. The novels have been adapted into many different films, with John Malkovich portraying him in the film “Ripley”, but probably the most acclaimed version which story was only previously portrayed in Plein Soleil from 1960.
Anthony Minghella’s psychological thriller takes advantage of every possible opportunity by having Ripley (Matt Damon) not only being lucky, but by having him play along with every lie he formulates by playing on everybody’s politeness and assumptions. He borrows a Princeton blazer to play the piano at a party and a rich couple assume he must have known their son Dickie at Princeton. He agrees and just decides to become Dickie’s friend. Everyone assumes you are who you say you are.
They offer him a trip to Europe and $1,000 if he returns with their son, the real Dickie (Jude Law), who is somewhere in Europe with his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow).Ripley finds them and instinctively knows that the best way to lie is to admit to lying, and to tell the truth whenever convenient. He tells Dickie about his parents’ task to get him back and Dickie immediately likes him for admitting the truth and accepts him into his group.
Highsmith wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley five years after writing “Strangers on a Train”, both of which are highly intelligent thrillers and expertly portray cat-and-mouse plots. This tense thriller was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor for Jude Law, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Film. Along with six BAFTA nominations, including one win for Jude Law and another five Golden Globe nominations.
11. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Frank Oz’s comedy tells the story of two con men, the expertly charming British Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) and the arrogant but underachieving American Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), competing to scam an American heiress out of $50,000 in the French Riviera.
Lawrence seduces wealthy women and steals their money, but has recently been competing with the unknown “The Jackal” who has been preying on other wealthy victims. After meeting Freddy on a train, he believes that he is the Jackal and gets him arrested so that he would go back to America and stop stealing his turf.
But Freddy meets one of Lawrence’s former marks on the plane, deduces that he is also a crook and forces Lawrence to take him on as a pupil in exchange for his silence. Lawrence believes that Beaumont-sur-Mer is too small for both of them, so they bet that whoever is the first to trick her out of fifty grand gets to stay there.
12. Matchstick Men (2003)
Ridley Scott’s black-comedy crime film based on Eric Garcia’s 2002 novel of the same name, follows the con artist Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) who is crippled by his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder as he tries to balance handling a big score with his partner (Sam Rockwell) and reconnecting with his estranged daughter Angela (Alison Lohman).
Roy and Frank are playing a refined version of the Pigeon Drop, in which victims are convinced they have a tax refund coming, and are then visited by Frank and Roy themselves, posing as federal agents who want cooperation in catching the tax frauds. His psychiatrist, Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) suggests that he recontacts his daughter who he hasn’t seen in 15 years and prescribes him medication, which seems to be the only thing that holds him together.
They meet and awkwardly bond but her presence provides a structure his life sorely lacked. Eventually, Roy admits that he is a con artist and reluctantly agrees to teach Angela a con. She seems to be a natural as the two of them go to a local laundromat and con an older woman into believing she has won the lottery. The lady shares half of her expected winnings with Angela; however, Roy then forces Angela to return the money.
Roy is clearly pathologically neurotic, but Cage manages to show his sly, intelligent side that he uses to be a crook, his avoidant side when he is with his therapist and his newly found paternal loving side that highlights that he is not just a labelled crook, but someone the audience sympathises with.
13. Ocean’s 11 (2001)
Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the caper 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name. Soderbergh also directed two sequels, Ocean’s Twelve in 2004 and Ocean’s Thirteen in 2007, resulting in the term the Ocean’s Trilogy.
After Daniel “Danny” Ocean (George Clooney) is released from prison, he immediately plans a complex heist with his partner in crime Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) where they simultaneously robbing the Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos, all owned by Danny’s ex-wife’s (Julia Roberts) new partner, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia).
They assemble a team of former colleagues and criminal specialists, including pickpocketing Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), a casino worker Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), mechanic brothers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk Malloy (Scott Caan), electronics and surveillance expert Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), explosives expert Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), elderly Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), acrobatic “The Amazing” Yen (Shaobo Qin), and wealthy friend and former casino owner Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) who agrees to finance the operation.
Since casinos are required by the Nevada Gaming Commission to have enough cash on hand to cover all their patrons’ bets, the three predict that, on the upcoming night of a highly anticipated boxing match, the Bellagio vault will contain more than $150,000,000. While more of a heist than a long-con scam, the film is full of short-cons that make the caper possible.