When scandalous tales of fraud involving superstar athletes Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o were exposed in the last week, connections to films were immediate and obvious. The story of Notre Dame Football hero Te'o falling for a fake dead girlfriend on the Internet called to mind the documentary "Catfish." And disgraced cyclist Armstrong, who has finally admitted to doping in winning the Tour de France a record seven times, is already the subject of a biopic that's in the works.
It's a huge topic that's been explored in myriad ways on screen, and you'd probably come up with five entirely different choices, but here are my picks for five great movies about deception:
- "Vertigo" (1958): Speaking of fake dead women. ... One of Alfred Hitchock's best, it also feels incredibly personal - stylish and frightening, of course but also achingly sad. Yes, Jimmy Stewart is being manipulated, being duped into serving as part of a murder plot. And he's foolish enough to let himself fall in love with Kim Novak's doomed, quintessentially icy Hitchcockian blonde not once but twice. But he's also deceiving himself, allowing his need for love to feed his obsessive quest to recreate that sensation all over again. Much is made of some of the film's most famous images - the push/pull effect as Stewart's character fights off his vertigo in the bell tower, the eerie, neon-green haze of the hotel room. But at its core, "Vertigo" is about needing to feel secure and loved.
- "Some Like It Hot" (1959): Named the greatest comedy of all time by the American Film Institute, the Billy Wilder classic is also predicated on one big, wacky lie. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon pretend to be women to escape the clutches of mob thugs after they witness a massacre. Musicians Joe and Jerry change their names to Josephine and Daphne and join Sweet Sue's All-Girl Orchestra, where they befriend sexy singer Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, played by Marilyn Monroe in one of her most Marliynish roles ever. The laughs come from how utterly unbelievable these men are as women, but also from how they try to maintain this elaborate ruse as both their emotions and their enemies close in on them.
- "The Usual Suspects" (1995): The movie itself is one big lie - a seemingly simple caper mystery that grows enormously complicated with layer upon layer of twists and tricks. I am not even going to begin to try to explain the plot - if you've seen it, you know it, and if you haven't, you should. And then you, too, can say out loud, "A ha!" It's the movie that put director Bryan Singer on the map and it won both of the Oscars for which it was nominated: for Christopher McQuarrie's clever and complex original screenplay and for Kevin Spacey's chilling supporting turn as the chatty (and unreliable) witness Verbal Kint.
- "Infernal Affairs" (2002): A loyal young member of the mob infiltrates the police force and an undercover cop works his way deep within the mafia. Years later, each man must sniff out the mole in the other's organization - each man must find the other. Sound familiar? That's because this hugely suspenseful Hong Kong thriller was the basis for "The Departed," the 2006 film that finally earned Martin Scorsese his long-overdue Academy Award for best director (along with prizes for best picture, adapted screenplay and editing). The lies and cover stories must remain airtight, even as crises of identity and purpose begin to creep into the characters' consciousness. Andy Lau and Tony Leung are both great as two sides of the same coin who must tap into their resourcefulness as the danger of being exposed increases.
- "Compliance": This movie made me so angry while I was watching it. How could anybody be so stupid? How could anybody be tricked into falling for such outlandish manipulation? But that's where the power comes from in writer-director Craig Zobel's startling film with its understated performances: This did happen, over and over, across the country. He's just exposing an element of human nature we'd rather suppress. A prank phone caller pretending to be a police officer (Pat Healy) tells the middle-aged manager of a fast-food restaurant (Ann Dowd) that a young, pretty employee (Dreama Walker) has stolen money from a customer, and leads her though a series of increasingly invasive, degrading investigative steps. Everyone goes along with this charade - no one thinks to question it - and all you can do is sit in your seat and watch, and squirm.