Top Six What-Went-Wrong Crime Movies

There are a couple of factors I took into account when making this list.

First, if I never cared to watch the movie more than once, it is removed from contention.

Second, the people need to feel like real people. I mean really, sure Travolta was fun to watch in Swordfish, but come on, “The world’s most dangerous spy is hired by the CIA to coerce a computer hacker recently released from prison to help steal billions in unused government funds” (IMDb plot summary)?  And George Clooney in Ocean’s Twelve as the world’s greatest thief (is there an official competition for this?) has him for the ladies and Zeta-Jones for the guys, but really, raising a house several inches so as to better a sight line?  If criminals are like this, the rest of us have no hope. And as much as I like seeing Zeta-Jones onscreen, I could never put myself through this movie a second time.

So, with the rules somewhat described, on with the list.

(Word of warning: plot information contained in the listing.)

Feeling Minnesota  – Keanu Reeves, Cameron Diaz and Dan Akroyd. Set in and around the Twin Cities. 1996. In this movie, the often woodenness of Reeves’ acting actually fits his part. Jjaks, the Reeves character, arrives at this brother’s somewhat odd (ok, very odd) wedding to Cameron Diaz (who is dragged there and forced to marry as punishment), which everyone somehow seems to think is pretty normal.  Diaz and Reeves hook up immediately and go on the run, but don’t have money.  This movie almost did not make the list because eventually Diaz and Reeves end up alive and together, but Akroyd’s character, a truly vile cop, gets his due.  Everything which could go wrong in this one does and yet, somehow the two lovers end up together.

Quote: (Diaz) Time is like an orange. It’s round. It repeats itself. Everything happens for a reason.

A Simple Plan – Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda. Set in upper Minnesota. 1998.  Paxton and Thornton play brothers who, with a friend, stumble onto $4 million in a crashed airplane in the snow-covered woods.  They decide taking it is stealing stolen money and all they have to do is wait a little while to make sure no one comes looking for it. Simple, right?  Paxton keeps money and with the help of Fonda, his wife, come up with scheme after scheme to keep the money a secret.  Slowly, the trust between the three men fades and things get intriguing.  Mistakes, common greed, financial needs and distrust eventually unravel the whole plan, which ends with Paxton and Fonda, the only survivors, burning the cash, the serial numbers of a good portion of the which had been recorded by the FBI.

Two Oscar nominations, one for Thornton, one for writing.

Quote: (Paxton) Nobody’d ever believe that you’d be capable of doing what you’ve done.

Pulp Fiction – John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Ving Rhames, Uma Thurman. Set in Los Angeles. 1994. Plot in this one is impossible. Travolta and Jackson are hit men working for Rhames.  Willis is a boxer, expected to take a dive for Rhames. Thurman, the wife of Rhames, is escorted by Travolta one night and mistaking his heroin for cocaine, takes a nose full and almost dies.  Willis kills the other boxer and flees with his girlfriend, only to have to return to his apartment to gather up his most prized possession, his father’s watch.  Travolta accidentally kills someone in Jackson’s car. . . .The look, the feel, the music.  Everything is incredible.

With seven nominations, it won the Oscar for best writing  and brought back Travolta’s career.

Quote:  (Jackson) The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.

The Ice Harvest – John Cusak, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielson, Oliver Platt and a cameo by Randy Quaid. Set in Wichita in 2005, Cusak plays a seamy lawyer whose primary client owns several low rent strip clubs in the area and Thornton, a laid-back but ruthless pornographer and entrpreneur start the movie by stealing $2 million from the strip club owner on Christmas Eve. An ice storm delayes their departure, forcing them to hang around acting normal for a few hours, which Cusak finds difficult to do. Nielson plays Cusak like a cat with nip. Platt nearly steals every scene he is in. Nielson is sensuality walking.

Nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Award fro best screenplay.

Quote: (Billy Bob) He actually threatened to shoot Gladys if I didn;t tell him where the money was. But I think her was counting on a level of commitment and affection between her and me that just simply wasn’t there.


Fargo – William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Frances McDormand. Set in the Twin Cities and the road to Fargo, North Dakota.  1996. Ok, the folks in Minnesota don’t talk quite like they did in the movie, at least most of them don’t.  Macy needs money, so he hires Buscemi and Stormare to kidnap his wife, fully expecting his rich father-in-law, from whom he has been stealing, to cough up the ransom, from which he will pay Buscemi and settle his own debts. Buscemi forgets to display the dealer tag and gets pulled over with Macy’s wife bound and gagged in the back seat.  Stormare shoots the Trooper and two kids who just happen to see them dispose of the body.  McDormand, the local pregnant sheriff, investigates.  Nothing goes right for Macy and he finally tries to flee in a stolen car.  McDormand catches Stormare in the act of stuffing the last of Buscemi into a wood chipper. Ummm.

7 Oscar nominations, two wins: Best Leading Actress and writing Oscars.

Quote: (mcDOrmand) So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.

Dog Day Afternoon – Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, and Chris Sarandon. MOst people think Pacino, and the Godfather comes to mind first, and his roles in the first two may be the best view of understated evil in movie history. And while not evil, Pacino shines in this one as well, made shortly after Godfather II. This is based on a true story. Sonny Wortzik and two others go to rob a bank in August, 1972 to pay for a sex reassignment surgery for Sonny’s “wife,” Leon, a pre-operative transexual. But, they arrived after the daily cash pick up and all that is in the bank is $1,100. Sonny and his crew seem to be in over their heads, but Sonny quickly adapts to the situation. His hostages start to feel sorry for Sonny and even start to help him. What was supposed to be a quick in and out robbery turns into a long extended, national television, media event. Spectators cheer the robbers on. Cops and F.B.I agents desperately negotiate with Sonny. Sonny becomes a celebrity for one particular day.

6 Oscar nominations, one win: writing – original screenplay.

Quote: (Leon) I couldn’t explain why I did the things I did. So I went to this psychiatrist who explained to me I was a woman in a man’s body.  So Sonny right away wanted to get me money for a sex change operation; but where was he to get that? 2500 dollars! My God he’s in hock up to his ears already.

Four Very Honorable Mentions:

Blow, I think should be required viewing for all early teens,

The Big Lebowski, well what can I say – the rug really tied the room together.

Three Thousand Miles from Graceland was nominated for  five 2001 Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Kevin Costner), Worst Supporting Actress (Courteney Cox), Worst Screenplay and Worst Screen Couple (Kurt Russell and either Costner or Cox).  Why is it here? I have to admit I like a lot of Costner’s movies most people hate and the scene where the Elvises rob a casino makes it worthwhile, at least for a bit.

Thelma and Louise – a modern Butch Cassidy, and maybe one of the better buddy films about women.

2 thoughts on “Top Six What-Went-Wrong Crime Movies

  1. Very nice call about The Ice Harvest, not a lot of people have actually seen this. Billy Bob is fantastic and John Cusack goes around doing “John Cusack things” (acting manic and playing the fool.) You forgot one other career resurrection brought about by Pulp Fiction; Bruce Willis had suffered a string of abject failures since Die Hard 2. Death Becomes Her was a flop, Striking Distance was just a bad, bad movie and Hudson Hawk was such a mess it was rendered virtually unwatchable. After the success of Pulp Fiction, Willis was fantastic alongside Paul Newman in Nobody’s Fool, which he followed up with two spectacularly weird sci fi pics, 12 Monkeys and The Fifth Element, both of which achieved Cult status on DVD. Not to mention Uma Thurman, essentially an unknown at the time, being brought into the limelight 8 years later with the Kill Bill movies, which if they’re not my absolute favorite movies,ever are very high in the discussion. Anyway, good piece, my favorite so far. This blog is very enjoyable and I genuinely look forward to your posts.

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