What is it about Las Vegas and movie making that creates such a synergistic energy that transcends the limitations of a simple viewing screen? It is the glitter and glimmer of the Las Vegas strip that oozes its way out of the fourth wall?
Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that films that convey the essence of Vegas in its totality have a special quality to them, and these seven films have just that. So enjoy, and let these movies prepare yourself for a walk down through city of sin.
7. The Cooler
Want to see a stellar William H. Macy performance mixed with some fantastic, scene-chewing instances provided by Alec Baldwin set against the backdrop of a sordid and abrasive Las Vegas that looks and smells like a worn out rug? I thought you would. If you haven’t seen this quiet film yet, then do yourself a favor and check it out. If Casino romanticizes Vegas, The Cooler soaks the city in a tar pit and leaves it out hanging for you to watch dry.
6. The Hangover 3
No, it’s not as good as the first film in the series, but it’s a fitting end to an epic comedic trilogy, plus The Hangover 3 takes a different approach to Las Vegas. If Vegas was—in the first film—a jangled web of over-indulgences gone awry, it was, in the final film, a snarling beast that was ne’er talked about, and damn sure never visited upon due to its willingness to taint the souls of men. The Wolfpack is as entertaining as ever with Galifianakis bringing the comedy, Ed Helms inflecting his twitchiness, and Bradley Cooper leading the way. It’s safe to say the Wolfpack will be missed. (Insert sad emoticon here)
5. Very Bad Things
Very Bad Things announced to the world that Peter Berg could do more than just act; he could also direct one hell of a movie (talent of which he displayed again in The Rundown). It’s also a film that really showed what could happen when the white-collar folk skinny-dip inside the seedier areas of lake Vegas. Featuring excellent performances by Jeremy Piven, Jon Favreau and Christian Slater (dare I say his most entertaining performance?), Very Bad Things is a nightmare on celluloid, but a scream to watch.
4. The Hangover
It made Zach Galifianakis a household name as his absurdist humor, set against the backdrop of a similarly ludicrous landscape (let’s face it: Las Vegas is a surrealist’s dream), set ablaze this impressive action-comedy that was a critical and commercial hit when it was released in 2009. Two sequels later, the series now holds a special place in the lore of Las Vegas films (sans the second film, which takes place in Thailand), and the original film remains the ultimate bachelor party pic…well, maybe except for one other film on this list.
3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
When you think of Hunter S. Thompson, the late, famed trumpeter of gonzo journalism, who else but Terry Gilliam (Brazil) would be able to take the twisted musings of Thompson and turn them into a comprehensible piece of cinematic art? Much like Casino, Fear and Loathing shows Vegas in a way it’s never been approached before. Gilliam took the strip, turned it upside down in front of a funhouse mirror, doused it with gasoline, then lit it on fire. While the film may not capture the entire “lucid insanity” of the literary piece, there’s no question this film is as close as you can get to entering the mind of a journalistic genius at the height of his powers.
2. Leaving Las Vegas
It’s the most heartbreaking film on this list and it also features Nicolas Cage’s best performance. Elizabeth Shue and Cage dance around a subject so sensitive that the two of them can only try to elicit from each other the last strains of comfort and humanity left inside their diseased souls in order to tiptoe through a minefield of jagged memories and thoughts. Mike Figgis’ sobering drama is a poetic masterpiece that displays the fractured notes of a tortured man’s last days in the City of Sin.
What else did you think would be number one? Not only is it one of the best gangster films of all-time, Scorsese’ epic romanticizes all the glittering lights of the Las Vegas strip in a way that has never been done before (and probably never will be again). Blistering performances from Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Oscar-nominated Sharon Stone, bolster Martin Scorsese’s epic rumination on antiquity, relationships, and opulence.