03 December 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Con Artists

My Thursday Movie Picking has been a bit intermittent of late. (I know. I know.) Stress from work begat a weakened immune system begat a fairly brutal case of bronchitis mixed in with the Thanksgiving Holiday, and I've barely had time to do any posting of any kind.

It is Thursday though. Maybe my favorite day, and I just can't say no to this week's theme on Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. I mean...Con Artists! Easily some of the best movie characters have taken the grift as their lifestyle of choice. And I've always found myself drawn to the seedy ones, the ones who run true confidence tricks with a look at the big score, the long con.

Here are my picks:

Ryan O'Neal as Moses Pray and Tatum O'Neal as Addie in 
Paper Moon
Dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1973

Few movies are as fulfilling as Peter Bogdanovich's follow-up to his 1971 masterpiece The Last Picture Show. Both films use black-and-white for immersion into a time and place as opposed to simple style. They couldn't be more different in tone. Paper Moon stars Ryan O'Neal opposite his daughter Tatum O'Neal (Oscar Winner at 10 for Best Supporting Actress) as a small-time con man, who's main game is ripping off widows, selling personalized Bibles door-to-door. He finds a partner in a young girl named Addie, who possesses a keen aptitude for the con. This flick is funny, warm, and just plain lovable.

Joe Mantegna as Mike in 
House of Games
Dir. David Mamet, 1987

Nobody writes a twisty, hard-boiled plot like Mamet. The dude is a certified genius. Known as a playwright, Mamet tried his hand at directing a film for the first time with House of Games, the story of a famed psychiatrist (Lindsay Crouse) brought into a world of seedy pool halls and cigarette smoke and slick con games, the world of Mike, a smooth-talking grifter played to absolute perfection by Mamet regular Joe Mantegna. This is one of the best screenplays ever written, labyrinthine but never hard to follow, filled with the witty, intelligent dialogue only Mamet can write.

Anjelica Huston as Lilly Dillon, John Cusack as Roy Dillon, and Annette Bening as Myra Langtry in 
The Grifters
Dir. Stephen Frears, 1990

It has been awhile but I just can't forget this one image from the early parts of Stephen Frears' pulpy 1990 con game called The Grifters. It features John Cusack as Roy Dillon, a small-time con man, sitting at a bar with a beer and a $10, running the short change trick. A move that ends up getting him a punch in the gut that will lead to a maze of betrayal. The script finds his loyalties tested when his con artist mother (Huston) comes back into his life around the same time he falls for a mysterious woman (Bening) with the long con on her mind. Nothing goes right for anybody in this movie, and it is so much fun to watch. Excellent work all around, especially from director Frears, who Martin Scorsese (as producer) handpicked to take the helm.

TV Bonus Pick

Josh Holloway as James "Sawyer" Ford in
ABC's LOST, 2004-2010
(Season 2, Episode 13 - "The Long Con")

Oh, how I miss LOST. It is simply the best network television show ever made and, for me, one of the best series of all-time. The greatest of the show's patented flashbacks feature Sawyer, the Southern con man with a tragic past. He always seems to be running the long con but never seems to get it right. That is, until The Island offers up a store of guns in Season 2. Don't fight it. Watch this show. It can be binged on Netflix in a matter of weeks, even with an average of 20 episodes per season. 


  1. I've only seen Paper Moon, which I liked. ( though O'Neal was not supporting aaarrgh) the other two sound good.

  2. The Grifters is a great movie and all three of the main stars are fantastic. Great pick!

  3. Glad to hear you've recovered from your various ills, and the holiday!, and happy to see you back with picks.

    Paper Moon is a charmer to be sure and Tatum is fantastic. Her win in supporting is surely the greatest case of category fraud in Oscar history, though she freely admits that Bogdanovich molded her performance with a heavy hand. Still she delivers. The B&W photography was the perfect storytelling choice as well.

    I respected the skill involved in House of Games more than I can say I liked it. I'm just not a big Mamet fan, sorry, but I did think Joe Mantegna was terrific.

    I loved Lost too and Sawyer was a big reason why. Thought Josh Holloway would have a bigger post show career but haven't seen much of him.

    We have a match!! The Grifters is rock hard but fascinating.

    This is such a rich genre and can go off in so many directions it was a pleasure shifting through the films to come up with my picks, which are:

    The Grifters (1990)-Roy Dillon, a small time conman is torn between his loyalty to his ice cold mother and his slightly less ruthless girlfriend, both far more adroit grifters then he. A fascinating examination of a group of unsavory people with a staggeringly great performance from Anjelica Huston as one hard opportunistic woman, a true Medea.

    The Music Man (1962)-Traveling conman Harold Hill blows into River City expecting to fleece the townsfolk by forming a band and selling their children instruments that don't exist. Everything goes smoothly until he meets Marion the Librarian. Sprightly and colorful with great music.

    Bedtime Story (1964)-Lawrence Jameson (David Niven) lives in a castle on the French Riviera seducing wealthy women and persuading them through charm and other methods out of large quantities of their fortunes. Everything is going swimmingly until rival Freddy Benson (Marlon Brando) appears on the scene. The two eventually meet and engage in a bet. The first to successfully bilk $25,000 out of the pocket of Janet Walker (a very lovely Shirley Jones), the daughter of a wealthy business man, will win the title of king of the flim-flam men. When Freddy pretends to be paralyzed, supposedly the result of a sad love story, in order to garner Janet’s attention and sympathy Jameson turns up as his rival's putative psychiatrist and the game is on! Breezy comedy was the basis for the Steve Martin/Michael Caine starrer Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

    Honorable Mention-The Hoax (2006)-I remember so well the outcry this caused when it was happening as it occurred almost concurrently with Watergate and the two together showed the two sides of journalism. Based on a huge scandal of the 70's. Novelist Clifford Irving tells his publishing company that he has partnered with the reclusive Howard Hughes and has been authorized to write his autobiography. Amid much fanfare and a great deal of money the book is published. The catch-the entire project is a con job. The film tells Irving's version of the events.

    1. Thanks, Joel. Glad to be back. So glad you're a fellow Lostie. I loved that show so much. Sawyer is a big part of that.

      I know I should've seen The Music Man by now. Sadly not the case. I've never heard of Bedtime Story, but The Hoax...great pick! I didn't even think about that one.

    2. Thanks, the Hoax is a good version of that wild story.

      I've found so many films to try out from this series I always try to find at least a couple of more obscure titles to bring them some attention. A side note on Bedtime Story, Brando pointed to it as the most fun he ever had working on a film and that David Niven was the funniest man he knew.

    3. I have to see it now. Love Brando but haven't seen enough of his work. Even less so with Niven.

  4. I still have to see The Grifters but have heard nothing but raves about it. Paper Moon is a great film and Tatum is great in it-so sad how she turned out actually. I haven't seen House of Games or even heard of it but, again, sounds great. I Love Lost! I too, miss it and I am one of the few who liked the ending. I figured they were all dead a long time back but was wondering how it would turn out. Sawyer is one of my favourites and the guy who lived below in that capsule. When he finally found the love of his life on the boat-I was a typical girl

    1. Definitely see House of Games. I love it. The Grifters is great as well. I'm so glad you love Lost. Such a great show. Yes. Desmond! Such great stuff.

  5. I've picked Paper Moon before so I skipped it this time. Heard of The Grifters before but never knew what it's about. House of Games is totally new to me.