Robert Altman’s distinctive genius first announced itself with this innovative, smash-hit black comedy in which a pair of irreverent surgeons (Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould) at a mobile army hospital stationed on the front lines of the Korean War stave off the everyday horrors they witness through their havoc-wreaking high jinks. The director’s stylistic trademarks—the overlapping dialogue, loose-limbed approach to narrative, and nimble marshaling of a sprawling ensemble cast—helped to create a pop-culture sensation that spoke to the unruly zeitgeist of Vietnam-era America.

A Hollywood studio executive with a shaky moral compass (Tim Robbins) finds himself caught up in a criminal situation that would be right at home in one of his movie projects, in this biting industry satire from Robert Altman. Mixing elements of film noir with sly insider comedy, THE PLAYER, based on a novel by Michael Tolkin, functions as both a nifty stylish murder story and a commentary on its own making, and it is stocked with a heroic supporting cast (Peter Gallagher, Whoopi Goldberg, Greta Scacchi, Dean Stockwell, Fred Ward) and a lineup of star cameos that make for an astonishing Hollywood who’s who. This complexly woven grand entertainment (which kicks off with one of American cinema’s most audacious and acclaimed opening shots) was the film that marked Altman’s triumphant commercial comeback in the early 1990s.

Elric (Jacques Dutronc) has a gambling addiction: from casino to casino, he plays the roulette table, consumed by a twisted mix of intense pleasure and desperation. His encounter with Suzie (Bulle Ogier) throws his life into turmoil, but instead of curing his pathological passion, Suzie also falls prey to the game. Prisoners of their destiny, the couple plunge into another, more dangerous world: that of professional con artists.

John Cassavetes engages with film noir in his own inimitable style with THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE. Ben Gazzara brilliantly portrays a gentleman’s club owner, Cosmo Vitelli, desperately committed to maintaining a facade of suave gentility despite the seediness of his environment and his own unhealthy appetites. When he runs afoul of loan sharks, Cosmo must carry out a terrible crime or lose his way of life. Mesmerizing and idiosyncratic, the film is a provocative examination of masculine identity.

The Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet sat in the director’s chair for the first time for this sly, merciless thriller. Lindsay Crouse stars as a best-selling author and therapist who wants to help a client by making restitution for the money he owes to a gambler. After she meets the attractive cardsharp (Joe Mantegna), her own compulsions take hold as he lures her into his world of high-stakes deception. Packed with razor-edged dialogue delivered with even-keeled precision by a cast of Mamet regulars, HOUSE OF GAMES is as psychologically acute as it is full of twists and turns, a rich character study told with the cold calculation of a career con artist targeting his next mark.

Agnès Varda eloquently captures Paris in the sixties with this real-time portrait of a singer (Corinne Marchand) set adrift in the city as she awaits test results of a biopsy. A chronicle of the minutes of one woman’s life, CLÉO FROM 5 TO 7 is a spirited mix of vivid vérité and melodrama, featuring a score by Michel Legrand (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG) and cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina.

A true sleeper hit, this existential thriller from Mike Hodges made Clive Owen an international star. He brings a cool reserve to the role of aspiring writer Jack Manfred, who, struggling to make ends meet, takes a job as a croupier at a posh London casino. Gradually, Jack is drawn deeper into the establishment’s at once glamorous and sordid night world—and into a relationship with a regular gambler (Alex Kingston) who has a plan to take the house for all it’s worth.

James Caan delivers a brilliant performance in this gritty, unsparing portrait of a gambling addict caught in a relentless downward spiral. He stars as Axel Freed, a Harvard-educated New York City English professor who appears to be the picture of success, but whose compulsive gambling has left him in enormous debt to his girlfriend, his mother, and ruthless loan sharks. Now, with the mob determined to make him pay up, Axel embarks on a desperate last-ditch attempt to salvage his life.

Dreams die hard amid the boardwalks and casinos of the faded New Jersey gambling town where Sally (Susan Sarandon), a young waitress and aspiring blackjack dealer, meets Lou (Burt Lancaster), a washed-up former gangster living in the past. Drawn together by a drug deal gone bad, the two find themselves relying on each other in their mutual search for redemption. Featuring one of Lancaster’s greatest performances, this poignant drama from Louis Malle glows with a lovely, bittersweet human tenderness.

It’s got some gross stuff in it. It’s pretentious. It’s one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve ever seen.