10. Sleight

Sleight is like Doug Liman’s Go crossed with Now You See Me, with a side of Chronicle. Smart, fun, and thrilling, JD Dillard‘s feature film that wowed at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival with some great high concept ideas at a micro budget, earning an acquisition by Blumhouse.

The story follows a young street magician named Bo (The Maze Runner’s Jacob Latimore) who is taking care of his little sister Tina (12 Years a Slave’s Storm Reid) following the death of their mother. Performing magic on the streets for tourists isn’t enough to pay the bills, so Bo has turned to peddling drugs at clubs and parties for a local drug dealer Angelo (Psych and West Wing’s Dulé Hill). Making clever use of his sleight of hand skills, Bo is able to avoid trouble from the police.

When another dealer tries to take over the Los Angeles market, Bo is propelled into a world of guns and gang violence, definitely not the “selling dime bags to club-goers” job he signed up for. Along the way, Bo falls for a girl named Holly (Seychelles Gabriel, a stand-out from the television series Falling Skies).  And of course, quitting the drug business isn’t as easy as it sounds — the film transitions from a more typical indie drama into a comic book origin story disguised inside a thriller. How will Bo use his magic skills to get out of this situation? You can read my entire review from Sundance here.

Penn & Teller Get Killed

9. Penn & Teller Get Killed

I’m not even sure Penn & Teller Get Killed is a good movie, and it certainly feels like a movie from the 1980s era, but I really enjoy it. It might be that I’m just a big fan of Penn & Teller, and this film not only stars the magic duo as themselves but it was written by the pair.

The fun of the film is that Penn & Teller use magic to play jokes on each other, letting us get a glimpse into how the magic works, in their own trademarked Penn & Teller way. But the real thrust of the story begins when Penn appears on an interview show and jokes that he wishes he had someone trying to kill him because his life would be a lot more interesting. Ask and thee shall receive. The resulting adventure is not what you might expect, and has one of the most insane endings to any movie of the 1980s.

I think part of the reason I like this movie so much is that it exists and shouldn’t. No production company should have spent millions of dollars on this movie, it’s just crazy. And yet it’s so enjoyable to those who connect with it.

Now You See Me

8. Now You See Me

Now You See Me is not the movie I wanted it to be, but it’s still very enjoyable. I love the ridiculous idea of a crew of magicians using magic illusions to pull off huge heists. I love that the film itself is a magic trick, a set-up that leads to a big reveal which I think is very satisfying.

Like many of you, I was annoyed by the CG illusions, especially since 80% of them could have been accomplished practically. Most of the concepts in this film were devised with the help of magic consultants and are theoretically possible, so its disappointing that director Louis Leterrier chose to use CG to accomplish these moments.

The Magic Life

7. The Magic Life

The thing I love about The Magic Life is it shows the love, artistry but also the struggle of those who try to make magic their profession. There are other magic documentaries out there, and some good ones on this list, but most of them are rather inspiring and hopeful, whereas this seems to capture a more realistic picture of an aspiring magician who works on the streets of Hollywood to try to pay the rent. The Magic Life might be the least seen movie that appears on this list, mostly having been seen by film festival audiences before making its way to VOD. You should give it a chance if you have the time as it’s available on both iTunes and Amazon streaming.

The Illusionist

6. The Illusionist

I didn’t like The Illusionist much when it was first released, and it probably doesn’t help that it was the period magician film which came out the same year as Christopher Nolan‘s period magician film The Prestige (I may be giving a clue as to that film’s possible appearance higher on this list). I have grown to enjoy this film more in additional home viewings, but the corny script is not as strong as the film’s stellar performances.

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