Top Ten L.A. Films

5. Chinatown (1974) (dir. Roman Polanski)

What can be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said? When Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston are the leads in a noir detective film how could it go wrong? It can’t. When you see this movie for the first time it’s difficult not to be drawn into the investigation and be left with so many visual souvenirs. I can almost never forget the moment you see Nicholson’s character open his glove box to see the large amount of pocket watches and their eventual purpose.

4. Reservoir Dogs (1992) (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

The beginning point of Tarantino’s career as a director for many of his fans in a film which doesn’t particularly bring a lot of setting to the table. The film spends 80% of its runtime within the confines of an abandoned wharehouse where the remaining members of the team are waiting to hear from Joe (Lawrence Tierney) after everything went wrong at the heist. Regardless the film is set in L.A. and it sketches into the list on a technicality, but in it is. Some days I pop in the DVD just to hear the opening diner scene (most specifically the Like a Virgin conversation) at random points in my week.

3. Boogie Nights (1997) (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Sometimes I find it hard to think that at one point in time people went to public theatres to watch pornographic films. While film watching is a communal thing for me (and many others) I imagine that kind of film to be a bit more private hobby. However, watching the story of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) on his rise, dip, and rise again to fame of the adult entertainment industry. Along the way we see the shift of technology and convention with the viewpoint of actors, film techs, crews, and director (Jack Horner).

2. Sunset Boulevard (1950) (dir. Billy Wilder)

I think it may be illegal in some parts of the world to discuss L.A. films, or films about movies, and not bring up Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Even if you’ve never seen the film you would know the famous line, “Mr. Demille. I’m ready for my close up.” Which comes near the end of the film. Being the prime example of a film where just because a character is narrating the film doesn’t mean he has to live at the end of it (as we see in the opening scene of the film). It’s a great discussion of a shifting time in Hollywood and how actors (like in the film The Artist) were left behind as we see Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) talk of how the screen got smaller which is why she stepped away after the change from silent films to ‘talkies’.

1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) (dir. Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen)

Talking about movies about movies we reach my #1 L.A. film with Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. He discusses the same topic as The Artist – what filmmakers have to do when audio is introduced into films and they have a horrible sounding actress to sell – but with all the sides of film represented. Music, dance, comedy, romance, drama and even some good old fashioned performance driven discussion of the hard work of the movies. While the film is remembered for some iconic scenes like Singin’ in the Rain, Make ‘Em Laugh, and Good Morning; I doubt the film (or any like it) can top the level of choreography, criticism, art and introspection that’s brought about by the final number Gotta Dance in the film.

What are some of your favourite L. A. films that I forgot to mention?


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  • Ryan Mcneil

    Dude – L.A. CONFIDENTIAL!!

    I’m also rather partial to COLLATERAL and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER

  • Andrew Robinson

    *cough* *cough* Still haven’t seen LA Confidential *cough*

    (500) Days of Summer was in contention, but somehow all the above beat it for me… I realise though looking over the list… lots of crimes happen in LA.

  • Ryan McNeil

    Dude! Fuckin’ BLADE RUNNER!!! what happened there? One of the very best uses of The Bradbury Building of all LA films.

    Move L.A. CONFIDENTIAL up the list – high up the list. You can thank me when you rave about it on TUMP.

  • Sam Fragoso

    Don’t think of 500 Days of Summer for LA. Do check out The Player though if you haven’t Andrew.

  • Andrew Robinson

    will do sir.

  • SJHoneywell

    Holy crap! I’ve seen all of these! That never happens when someone makes a top-10 list.

    Ryan makes some good points–Blade Runner, L.A. Confidential and Collateral are all ones I’d consider, and at least two would make my list.

  • jakecole

    I find L.A. Confidential boring, tbh. Bog-standard filmmaking that makes too-neatness of James Ellroy’s style. Brian De Palma’s messier, more Romantic Black Dahlia is the better film, in my opinion, though few share it.

    Big +1 for Collateral, however. A gorgeous evocation of L.A.’s night. I’d also throw my support behind William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A., which sort of used the Miami Vice style of the day against itself to peel back nasty layers at the other end of the country from Miami.

    I’d also recommend Mulholland Dr. and In a Lonely Place.

  • Anna

    Whoa. Only haven’t see Boyz n the Hood, but all the other ones I’ve seen.

    Seriously, man, you need to see L.A. Confidential. It’s brilliant.

  • Andrew Robinson

    I love Collateral… one of the many Michael Mann films which work better and better everytime I view it.

  • Andrew Robinson

    you should go watch Boyz n the Hood… I LOVE that movie. I promise LA Confidential has been shoved to the top of the list.

  • Andrew Robinson

    never actually heard of IN A LONELY PLACE… Humphrey Bogart and the 50s, added to the list.

    While I reserve judgement on LA CONFIDENTIAL I can’t see anything really being worse than THE BLACK DAHLIA.