The best movie I've seen in this young year might be California Split, a bit of minor Altman which was much better than I expected. I jibber-jabbed a little about it here.
Why is California Split the finest poker movie of all time? Because it doesn’t have any poker. That’s not a koan; it’s the truth. Portraying games on film is always a tricky business. Every sports movie has to end with The Big Game—there’s almost no way around it—and when the outcome of the story must be either “good guys win” or “good guys lose,” the screenwriter is in dangerous waters. This is why most sports movies suck, and why the few that transcend their genre are among the greatest films of all time. To wit: Bad News Bears.
(Thankfully, not every portly child athlete is so difficult to like. This kid, for instance, is amazing.)
Gambling movies should have an easier time of it. In gambling, it’s not just win or lose. You can win big or small. You can lose a little or you can lose your legs. It’s a world of possibilities. And yet, there are almost no good movies about gamblers. The best racetrack movie is The Killing, a Stanley Kubrick casino picture. The best casino movie is either a mob movie (Casino), a heist movie (Ocean’s Eleven) or a romantic comedy (The Cooler). And until yesterday, I was convinced that there is not a single good movie about playing cards. Thankfully, Bill Paxton set me straight.
As usual, there's much more over at Bullett. Two wonderful bits I didn't get to:
- Elliott Gould offends a woman at the track, making her so angry that, when he tries to leave down an escalator, she hurls the contents of her purse at him—including a few heavy looking oranges.
- Gould hustles a bunch of teenagers at pick-up basketball, huffing and puffing his way through the first game—to "Sweet Georgia Brown," naturally—before betting them $50 in a game of one-on-one. He shoots eleven straight baskets, and blows the kids' money at the track.
Basically, I can watch Elliott Gould do anything.