In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme.
1. Friends With Money (2006)
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Gist: Three longtime female friends (Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener), all of whom are married and quite wealthy, work to maintain their bonds while the fourth member of this tight-knit group (Jennifer Anniston), a cash-poor woman who used to be a teacher, quits her job and takes work as a maid.
Currency: Income, earned or otherwise. The three wealthy women all get their funding from different sources: Franny (Cusack) is a stay-at-home mom sitting on a huge trust fund; Christine (Keener), is a successful TV writer; Jane (McDormand) is a fashion designer. Olivia struggles to make any kind of living whatsoever.
Expenditure: Despite the trio’s wealth and success, their respective marriages are fraught with difficulties. Franny’s husband is an accountant who likes to spend generous amounts of her inheritance; Christine’s relationship is on the rocks because of their inability to actually talk with one another; and Jane turns ever more irascible due to the onset of menopause and her husband’s evolving sexuality. Olivia (Anniston), meanwhile, grows increasingly frustrated at her lack of success, both in finance and in love, and takes increasingly erratic steps to rectify the situation.
Bottom Line: Being a Nicole Holofcener film, some things are happily resolved and some things are left hanging in the air. Essentially, the women all experience significant changes in their lives — Christine decides to leave her husband, Jane and Franny settle better into their situations and Olivia has maybe just found true love in a most unexpected source. It’s all a trade-off of one kind or another.
2. Trading Places (1983)
Director: John Landis
Gist: The Dukes (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy), a pair of extremely wealthy elderly brothers, engage in a nature/nurture contest with each other whereby they single out Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), one of their fat-cat employees, and intentionally ruin his life in order to promote Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), a homeless beggar they find in the street, to see what will happen.
Currency: Investment capital. The brothers tie their wealth heavily in the stock market, such that when Louis and Billy Ray finally figure out what’s been going on, they use the brothers’ illegal inside trading methods against them.
Expenditure: Initially, the brothers’ plan works perfectly: Louis, suddenly tossed in the street and disgraced, is forced to take increasingly unhinged and dangerous action in order to survive; and Billy Ray, after some initial hesitation, plunges into the world of high finance and proves to be an adept money manager. All this, and their bet was only for a single dollar.
Bottom Line: Louis and Billy Ray get sweet revenge by bankrupting the Dukes, using their penchant for insider trading against them, and getting themselves rich in the process, proving that ill-gotten gains can be lost just as quickly as hard-earned retirement portfolios.
3. Bound (1996)
Director: The Wachowski Brothers
Gist: A mob’s moll (Jennifer Tilly) begins a lesbian affair with an ex-con (Gina Gershon) who works in her building, and the two scheme to steal the $2 million the gangster is planning on laundering for the mafia.
Currency: Did we mention the $2 million? It comes in the form of paper currency, which has an unfortunate tendency to get splattered in blood when under a gangster’s care. This causes said gangster, Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), to literally wash and dry the bills, hanging them in his opulent apartment on strings.
Expenditure: The women’s plan gets significantly derailed when, after they steal the money and pin the theft on mob boss’ son, Caesar refuses to run away as they planned, but intends to get the money back from the son. Many violent encounters ensue.
Bottom Line: The course of love never did run smooth, but the two women eventually emerge with their lives together and money in tow, walking hand-in-hand into a brand new life, a pile of shot-up bodies in their wake, and a limitless future ahead of them.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Gist: Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young stockbroker in mid-’80s Manhattan, figures out a way to circumvent the existing market restrictions and quickly amasses a vast fortune with his company, before flaming out spectacularly and getting arrested by the Feds. The film is based on Belfort’s own memoir.
Currency: The wiped-out savings accounts of Belfort’s chosen suckers who fall for his smooth sales pitch, via penny (dreadful) stocks, from which Belfort and his cohorts profit madly. This gives him and his debauched team full access to fulfill the fantasies of their unchecked hedonism.
Expenditure: Well, there’s the significant cost of Belfort’s giant mansion, fleet of cars, enormous yacht and massive drug use, but, naturally, the real toll is taken directly out of the man’s soul, leaving it a barren husk.
Bottom Line: Disgraced from Wall Street and imprisoned, Belfort quickly turned to another skill with which he was blessed: He becomes a well-heeled public speaker and financial self-help guru. It also didn’t hurt that he wrote a bestselling, tell-all memoir that the great Scorsese saw fit to adapt (and even cast Belfort in a brief cameo). Some people are just born with a gift.
And the Antithesis:
5. Night and the City (1950)
Director: Jules Dassin
Gist: Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), a small-time grifter with dreams of making a huge score, hatches an elaborate scheme to take over a London wrestling operation from its existing promoter, Kristo (Herbert Lom), by using Kristo’s own aged father (Stanislaus Zbyszko) to manipulate him.
Currency: Fabian, who has no money of his own, is forced to enlist the financial aid of repugnant club owner Nosseross (Francis Sullivan), and his comely wife Helen (Googie Withers), whom Fabian plans to run away with when his scheme comes to fruition.
Expenditure: Let us just say that things go horribly, horribly awry for Fabian, leaving him on the lam and in a great deal of peril, financial and otherwise.
Bottom Line: Playing both sides to the middle is a difficult way to go about your life, especially when you don’t have the brains — or the luck — to pull it off. Chasing dollars in get-rich-quick schemes leads all too often to tragedy and financial ruination.