Make the Case: 5 Movies Where Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Ocean's 11
Ocean's 11

Spoilers for the recent Godzilla Minus One follow

Cultured Vultures spoilers

As I realized while researching possible movies for this month’s theme at Make the Case, most movies that capture this topic are heist films. It takes a village to rob a casino or a train, I suppose, but movies in which different people must come together for a common goal will obviously cover a lot of possible titles. I’m going to simplify things at least a little by saying that I’m looking beyond certain expectations of movies in which teamwork is a particularly important element of the proceedings. No superheroes or sports teams this month, but I do plan to pay special attention to films in which people who normally wouldn’t cooperate with each other are suddenly compelled to do so.

If that’s going to mostly involve stealing paintings or casinos or whatever, then so be it, but let’s see if we can show this subject in all its potential. Sometimes, as movies have proven, you need some weird help to clear your name, or just get through the next couple of weeks.

It’s a new year. Let’s talk about the benefits of cooperation.

 

5. The Great Escape (1963)

The Great Escape
The Great Escape

Director: John Sturges

Directed by one of the greatest action movie directors who has ever lived, The Great Escape for many is the movie about people banding together for a common cause. Even if you’ve never seen this film, which is probably the most famous movie on star Steve McQueen’s resume, you know the song that plays through much of the nearly three-hour running time. You probably also know the shot of McQueen racing along the countryside on a motorcycle, creating an enduringly iconic depiction of cool in the process.

But of course, The Great Escape isn’t just Steve looking very handsome on his bike. The entire movie takes as long as it does to get the escape from a Nazi POW camp because it requires a massive effort that encompasses British and American soldiers. The level of dedication and quick-thinking that these characters showcase is half the fun of this movie.

The other half of The Great Escape’s appeal is in the form of an absolutely stacked cast, including Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence, the recently passed David McCallum, and several others. At no point does anything slow down, or get boring. It’s a relentless race to make it all work under truly dire circumstances. Not everyone makes it out alive, but not for lack of trying.

 

4. Ocean’s 11 (2001)

Ocean's 11

Director: Steven Soderbergh

A remake that completely eclipsed the original, Ocean’s 11 has the kind of ensemble cast that movie don’t seem to embrace anymore. It’s difficult at best to make a movie work with several notable stars and a number of recognizable faces who are also important to the freewheeling story of two friends who plan an elaborate Las Vegas heist. Ocean’s 11 could have very easily drowned under the weight of one star’s charisma, or under some sort of desperation to make sure everything and everyone is as cool as possible. Steven Soderbergh can make almost anything seem cool to begin with, and with one of the best casts ever assembled for a Hollywood blockbuster, the result is something that works on every fundamental level of mainstream filmmaking.

There are beats for every character, played by actors like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, and others. There’s a large story of the heist itself, which never strays too far from our sight. There’s humor, energetic editing and cinematography, pitch-perfect production design, and a banger script that never drops the stakes in favor of comedy. Not only is this an impressive movie about teamwork, but the sheer degree of cooperation required to make Ocean’s 11 as good as it plays is really something to appreciate, as well.

 

3. Sneakers (1992)

Sneakers (1992)
Sneakers (1992)

Director: Phil Alden Robinson

If you’re a fan of the 1992 classic Sneakers, inevitably you’re going to say “Why aren’t more people into this movie?” Most films fade into some degree of obscurity, even something that was a hit with critics and audiences alike at the time of its release. But Sneakers is forever a movie I’ll watch and wonder why it’s rarely remembered even by people who watch way too many films like me.

Sneakers is at least spiritually similar to Ocean’s 11, but with a decidedly different energy and tone. There’s a casual amiability to this story of a computer hacker (Robert Redford, making charm and charisma seem effortless) whose team is suddenly the focus of a murder investigation in the wake of their theft of a powerful decoder. There’s a lot of cloak and dagger going on in Sneakers, as we watch the cast go through a battle of wills and cleverness for the fate of the free world. This cast includes Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonell, David Strathairn, and Sidney Poitier, and it’s another ensemble where everyone contributes something special to one of the most underrated hits of the 90s.

Haven’t seen Sneakers? You should change that as soon as possible. It’s clever, fun, and a good example of what happens when you’ve got good people in your corner.

 

2. The Amateurs (2005)

The Amateurs movie
The Amateurs movie

Director: Michael Traeger

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for The Amateurs, a 2005 indie comedy that got bad reviews and is pretty much completely forgotten at this point. I won’t promise you a perfect or particularly deep movie. The whole thing, a movie in which a group of friends try to make an adult film in their small town, is pretty slight under the best of circumstances. The Amateurs has odd sitcom energy, and that didn’t seem to really work for a lot of people. Some small praise perhaps for a large cast led by Jeff Bridges with Tim Blake Nelson, William Fichtner, Ted Danson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and the late, endlessly great Glenne Headly. That’s the most I’ve ever seen anyone give to this movie.

Which, again, I admit isn’t nearly as polished as the rest of the movies I’m covering here, but it’s a satisfying little comedy about trying to make a low budget film. Even if the entire world is seemingly bent towards stopping that from happening. The Amateurs is a losers club story with authentic warmth between its characters, who work together in a way that I can’t help but find extremely charming. This one might surprise you.

 

1. Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Godzilla Minus One
Godzilla Minus One

Director: Takashi Yamazaki

One of the best movies of 2023, the real surprise in Godzilla Minus One is how hard the movie doubles down on the notion of community. The threat of Godzilla as a brutal, unstoppable force of destruction is beautifully and brilliantly brought to life in Toho’s latest, but that’s not what really sets the movie apart, other than perhaps the movie suggesting that Godzilla is keenly aware of the death and destruction he is causing.

One of the most fascinating elements to Godzilla Minus One is the fact that it’s not the military that brings Godzilla down this time. Nor is it another monster. While Godzilla movies have had numerous strong human characters throughout the decades, Minus One creates the ultimate underdog scenario by putting the task of destroying Godzilla on a group of exhausted small-town inhabitants in the wake of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

The longshot plan developed can only work if a ragtag group of veterans, veterans, fishermen, and others can maintain the most remarkable degree of collaboration and sheer force of will that some measure of fantastic good luck will come their way. There’s obviously other themes at play, but the shockingly heartwarming element of seeing these people come together is perhaps the most unique element of Godzilla Minus One’s overwhelming success.

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