Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown

Last month, those wily ne’er-do-wells at Hillsboro Village’s Belcourt Theatre hatched a plan — to screen 16 of the best, most compelling or otherwise intriguing films of the heist genre. The Belcourt’s Heist! series kicks off this week and stretches into mid-October. The series is our lead pick for films to see this fall, and we rounded up a crew of our own to break down what’s in store for you. Read on for details on all 16 selections. 

Sept. 3 & 6: Jackie Brown 

The only feature film that Quentin Tarantino adapted from a previous work, 1997’s Jackie Brown is based on Elmore Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch — and Leonard himself reportedly said Tarantino’s script was possibly the best screenplay he ever read. Jackie Brown is about two-and-a-half hours long, but it zips by like a film half that length, and every second the iconic Pam Grier is on screen in her titular role as a money-smuggling flight attendant is a second worth relishing. It’s also got Michael Keaton’s delightfully weird performance as a crotch-adjusting ATF agent, Samuel L. Jackson’s and Robert De Niro’s bizarre con-man facial hair, and the late, great Robert Forster in one of his finest latter-day roles. An absolutely killer selection to kick off the series with. D. PATRICK RODGERS

Sept. 4-5 & 8: To Catch a Thief

Alfred Hitchcock loved using his people, and To Catch a Thief was like a family reunion. In this 1955 caper based on the David Dodge novel, Hitchcock regular Cary Grant (who also appeared in the director’s North by Northwest, Notorious and Suspicion) plays a former cat burglar trying to clear his name by hunting down a copycat in the French Riviera. Grace Kelly, who Hitchcock also cast in Rear Window and Dial M for Murder, co-stars with Hitchcock vets Jessie Royce Landis and John Williams (the actor, not the composer). This is a Hitchock title you’re far less likely to see in repertory screenings than the usual suspects, so take this opportunity to see it the way it was intended to be seen. Steal a ticket if you must. (OK, don’t actually do that.) CORY WOODROOF 

Sept. 6 & 9: Heat

Val is one of the best documentaries of the year, and it reminded me of Val Kilmer’s co-starring turn as Robert De Niro’s right-hand man in Michael Mann’s heist drama Heat. This 1999 thriller also includes iconic performances from legends Al Pacino and Jon Voight, rock-solid supporting spots from cinema tough guys like Tom Sizemore and Danny Trejo, cameo appearances from Tone Loc and Henry Rollins, and a young Natalie Portman in her third feature role. Heat gives us one of crime cinema’s great cat-and-mouse chases, and brilliantly pairs it with the little everyday dramas of family, romance, parenting and work-life balance in the life-and-death professions of both cops and robbers. JOE NOLAN

Sept. 7 & 12: Dog Day Afternoon

Sidney Lumet’s 1975 masterpiece Dog Day Afternoon, which won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, is unlike any other film playing in the Heist! series. For one, it’s based on a gut-wrenching true story — that of a Brooklyn bank robbery gone terribly awry, executed by a couple of small-time crooks with allegedly noble motivations. (As fate would have it, one of the real-life bank robbers handed a teller a note reading “This is an offer you can’t refuse,” and that robber would ultimately be played by The Godfather’s Al Pacino.) It features one of Pacino’s finest performances, as well as a spectacular turn from John Cazale, who would die from cancer just three years after Dog Day’s release. Cazale was in The Godfather too, as it happens — he played Fredo. D. PATRICK RODGERS

Sept. 8-12: The Castle of Cagliostro

Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut — a feature-length entry in the beloved long-running anime and manga franchise Lupin III — is a kinetic and colorful animated caper. After Arsène Lupin III (grandson of Maurice Leblanc’s classic fictional gentleman thief) robs a casino only to learn the money is counterfeit, he seeks the source of the fake bills in the small country of Cagliostro. There he befriends the nation’s runaway princess and butts heads with the country’s ruthless count, who wants her hand in marriage in order to discover an ancient treasure. Lupin’s iconic allies and rivals are also in the mix. While Lupin III isn’t a Miyazaki creation, the fluid animation, whimsical landscapes and colorful scenes preview the masterpieces he’d later bring to life at Studio Ghibli. ALEJANDRO RAMIREZ

Sept. 10 & 14: Point Break

Surfing cinema is mostly a sports documentary subgenre defined by classics like The Endless Summer and Riding Giants. Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break is a bank-robbery action film, but its California-surf-scene backdrop is unique for a crime flick, and Patrick Swayze’s unforgettable turn as the waves-and-zen philosopher thief Bodhi makes this classic the crunchiest heist movie of all time. The teaming of Swayze with Keanu Reeves — the latter as newbie FBI agent Johnny Utah — still crackles, and Gary Busey plays Utah’s hard-boiled partner in pitch-perfect comic tone. Come for the guns and money, stay for the sun-baked aphorisms and those big blue waves. JOE NOLAN

Sept. 11-12: Rififi 

Rififi is the gold standard for heist films. Regarded as a lightning rod in its time and a template for the modern caper, blacklisted American director Jules Dassin’s jewel-heist movie might be the most respected and influential film screening during this series. Legendary New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, not an easy man to please, described Rififi as “perhaps the keenest crime film that ever came from France.” Dassin stuck it to McCarthyism and crafted his masterwork overseas, cementing him as one of the premiere talents of the French New Wave.CORY WOODROOF 

Sept. 15 & 19: Widows

Steve McQueen’s 2018 thriller Widows adds a secret notebook, corrupt politicians and some wicked-mad women into a beaker and sets it at high heat. The result is an unexpected chemical reaction wherein familiar heist tropes meet the emotional drama you’d expect from its star, the inimitable Viola Davis. She plays Veronica, the wealthy wife of a career criminal (Liam Neeson) who perishes in a heist, along with his crew. Neeson’s Harry leaves a hefty debt behind and a notebook Veronica is supposed to sell to his debtors. Davis rarely plays characters who do what they’re told, and Veronica is no exception. She marshals the other widows of Harry’s heist — Alice (Elizabeth Debicki, a wonder) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) — to execute a grand theft of their own. The twisty-turny plot gets a little in the weeds, but the performances, including assists from Daniel Kaluuya and ​​Brian Tyree Henry, see it through with flying colors. ERICA CICCARONE

Sept. 17 & 21: Bottle Rocket

Long before Wes Anderson was a lauded auteur making a splash at international film festivals with his impossibly stacked ensemble casts and meme-able photo moments, he was a recent University of Texas at Austin grad trying to make films with his buddies the Wilson brothers. Though 1996’s Bottle Rocket was a commercial flop, it was a remarkably special feature-length debut that introduced the world to the writer-director’s idiosyncratic style. With Owen Wilson as terminally inept would-be master criminal Dignan and Luke Wilson as his level-headed buddy Anthony, Bottle Rocket probably features the lowest-stakes heists of any film in this series, but quite possibly features the most heart — not to mention a couple of bits that still make me laugh till I cry. D. PATRICK RODGERS

Sept. 18-19: The Ladykillers

Before Sir Alec Guinness was Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was the duplicitous leader of a thieving gang that winds up at odds with a wily old widow. The Ladykillers is one of the more humorous selections in this Belcourt series, with comedy greats Peter Sellers (in his first big role), Cecil Parker, Herbert Lorn and Danny Green making up Guinness’ band of bumbling bandits. Screenwriter William Rose, who was nominated for an Oscar for this film, claims he dreamed the film’s story — a story that would ultimately inspire Joel and Ethan Coen, who remade the film with Tom Hanks in 2004. This being a heist series and all, it’s a good thing for The Ladykillers that the crew from Inception didn’t come across Rose while he was asleep. CORY WOODROOF 

Hustlers

Hustlers

Sept. 20:Hustlers

There’s only one bad thing about Hustlers: It will ruin damn near every other film about strippers you’ve ever seen. But it’s worth it. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers recounts the escapades of Destiny (Constance Wu), a young woman who makes a living as a stripper to support her daughter and grandmother. With the guidance of veteran stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), Destiny makes a more-than-decent living. Plus, her social isolation is soothed by Ramona’s devotion, and they make a formidable pair onstage. Their business grows much more lucrative when Ramona hatches a scheme: They pick up dirtbag Wall Street men at bars, drug them with ketamine and MDMA, and shepherd them to the club, where they are unapologetically fleeced. I am a sucker for narratives about female friendships, and Hustlers is a wild ride with a lot of heart. In no time, J-Lo will have you forsaking all gods for the pole. Oh, and it’s got Cardi B and Lizzo, who plays her flute in one scene. ERICA CICCARONE

Sept. 24 & 28: Inception

Whatever else can be said about Christopher Nolan’s 2010 thought-crime thriller — as in, like, Leonardo DiCaprio literally doing crimes inside your thoughts — there is no denying its status as one of this century’s almost instantly iconic pieces of cinema. That was true even before the film’s release. (Say it with me: BRAAAM.) If you doubt it, consider the fact that the word “inception” went from meaning, I don’t know, whatever the hell it used to mean to being universally understood as planting thoughts or ideas in someone’s head. Few movies are absorbed into the cultural bloodstream as quickly or completely. But here’s what else can be said about Inception: It’s a film whose visuals are as thrilling and dizzying as its plot, which consists of movie stars in suits trying to pull off the perfect crime. It’s not nearly as confusing as many make it out to be, but if you do find yourself losing the plot a bit, remember you’re at the movies and just let it overwhelm you. That’s part of the fun. STEVEN HALE   

Sept. 25-26: The Italian Job

The plot holes in director Peter Collinson’s 1969 comic caper are big enough to drive a bus through. But when young Michael Caine — starring as ambitious crook Charlie Croker, alongside comic legends Benny Hill and Nöel Coward — sets out with a motley crew to lift a shipment of gold bullion bound for the Fiat factory, what you get is a showcase for the most sophisticated car stunts possible at the time. In a great display of British motoring pride, Minis whiz around Turin like it’s a Baroque pinball machine, orchestrated by iconic stuntman Rémy Julienne, who died of COVID in January at age 90. STEPHEN TRAGESER

Sept. 29 & Oct. 3: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’s title is as memorable as its unique hold-a-subway-car-hostage take on the heist film. The movie revolves around the genre’s familiar cop-versus-robber dynamic, but The Taking of Pelham One Two Three upsets expectations again by making its primary protagonist a wise-cracking transit cop instead of a hotshot detective or federal agent. The 1970s gave us great crime cinema, and this movie makes any short list of the decade’s best. Quentin Tarantino lifted Reservoir Dogs’ color-coded criminals idea directly from this film, and Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw are both at the top of their game as the transit officer and the criminal mastermind, respectively. JOE NOLAN

Oct. 2 & 5: The Great Muppet Caper

As with many of Jim Henson’s joints, my favorite part of The Great Muppet Caper involves Miss Piggy. In the 1981 musical heist film — in which investigative reporters Kermit and Fozzie get caught up in shenanigans while reporting on a jewel heist — she steals the show in a water-ballet scene set to a song called “Miss Piggy’s Fantasy.” The absolute best part is her cute piggy feet flying out of the water with heels on. The scene, filmed in a specially built pool, apparently took a ton of work to coordinate (figuring out if muppet material changes when wet and how to get that dang puppeteer from making bubbles in the water while operating the pristine porcine). Henson said of it in the notes from his daily work journal: “It’s safe to say that no one has ever done a sequence like this in any other film. At least not with a pig.” As the song says: “All the world’s ever wanted, was you, a dream come true. Ah, Miss Piggy.” AMANDA HAGGARD

Le Cercle Rouge

Le Cercle Rouge

Oct. 8-10: Le Cercle Rouge

Jean-Pierre Melville’s filmography — including the hitman classic Le Samouraï —is brimming with unique, stylized takes on genre movies that made him the spiritual godfather of the French New Wave. Melville’s influence can also be felt in works by John Woo, Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino, and Le Cercle Rouge is a good primer on Melville’s stripped-down, gritty French take on Raymond Chandler-style trench-coats-and-cigarettes noir. In Le Cercle Rouge, a group of acquaintances separately prepare to heist a jewelry store. Melville builds his characters and plot deliberately, line by line, action by action, frame by frame. It’s a slow burn, but it builds to one of the most memorable heist sequences in the genre. That sequence alone has Le Cercle Rouge on our don’t-miss list for this first-rate fest. JOE NOLAN

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