Top 5 L.A. Noirs (Chinatown memorial list)

As seen in the movies, its most famous export, Los Angeles is the place where dreams go to die.  In contrast to the tough but aspirational New York City, Los Angeles is deadly and cynical.  It’s a city where the picturesque exteriors and the schemers within them make it the perfect location for film noirs.  Inspired by Michael Mann’s intense Collateral, I look at the Top 5 L.A. Noirs.  The movies on this list feature conflicts between dreamers and schemers, desperate fame seekers, and smoggy skylines.

1. Double Indemnity (1944)

dir. Billy Wilder  starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Fred MacMurray stars as an insurance rep who gets caught in a web of sex, murder, and insurance fraud, spun by the seductive Barbara Stanwyck.  A classic noir based on the James Cain novel, and a screenplay by detective novelist Raymond Chandler.  This was based on a real crime and inspired another classic film noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice.

2. L. A. Confidential (1997)

dir. Curtis Hanson  starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce

This winner of the 1997 Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay (Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson) and Best Supporting  Actress (Kim Basinger) is an enthralling  neo-noir filled with police corruption, mysterious businessmen, and a labyrinthine plot.  Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey play three very different detectives whose investigation leads to the heart of the LAPD.

3. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

dir. Billy Wilder  starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich Von Stroheim

This is one of my all time favorite movies.  It features the iconic death in the pool beginning and the famous last line, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”  William Holden stars as a struggling screenwriter who takes a wrong turn, and ends up in the clutches of former silent film star, Norma Desmond.  Featuring the deliciously hammy and tragic Gloria Swanson, and Eric von Stroheim, as her stoic driver.  Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, and other famous faces cameo in this classic film.

4. Collateral (2004)

dir. Michael Mann  starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx

Recently featured on Film School Rejects Best of 2004, I decided to look back at Collateral.  It still holds up as an intense and well-structured thriller.  Tom Cruise plays against type as silver-haired hitman Vincent, who hijacks Jamie Foxx’s cab to take him from hit to hit.  It’s shot in a realistic high-def digital cinematography and has beautifully choreographed action scenes.

5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

dir. Shane Black  starring: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer

Before he was Iron-Man, Robert Downey Jr starred in this comedic, neo-noir.  This 2005 indie, written and directed by Shane Black, features fast-talking Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart, a thief turned actor, who gets stuck in a murder mystery.  Also starring Val Kilmer as Perry, a foul-mouthed, gay P.I., and Michelle Monaghan as Harmony, an actress who’s read too many detective novels.  The writing is meta, acerbic, and funny.

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