Monday, 7 May 2012

Listorama! My Top Ten L.A. Movies

I thought it was about time I got around to doing another top ten list. On this occasion, I'm going to be counting down my favourite ten films set in Los Angeles. LA is a city which I've never visited, though due to the sheer number of films and TV shows I've seen which are set in Southern California, I feel like I know the place anyway. It's possibly for the best that I've never been there in person - the real Los Angeles could never live up to the city I've created in my mind.

Now, I know that a huge number of films have been shot in LA, but to qualify for this list, the films have to be set in LA (or its environs), and feature the city's locations prominently. As with my other lists, there were a number of excellent movies which didn't quite make the cut: Heat, Down In The Valley, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Boogie Nights, The Big Sleep,  Boyz N The Hood, Sunset Boulevard and Inland Empire.

Right then, that's enough of a preamble. On with the list!

10. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

I've loved the Naked Gun movies since I was a kid, and for my money, Leslie Nielsen's first outing as Lt. Frank Drebin is the best. I had a hard time deciding between this movie and Heat, but for sheer re-watchability, Naked Gun wins hands down. Provided you've got a sufficiently puerile mind, it's hilarious from start to finish, and culminates in a brilliant scene set at a California Angels baseball game. Plus, we get this fine montage, set in such quintessential Los Angeles locations as the beach, tattoo parlour, and the rodeo (that's a popular activity in LA, right?).

Memorable lines:

"Jane: Would you like a nightcap?
Frank: No, thank you, I don't wear them."

9. Magnolia (1999)

An incredibly ambitious, sprawling three hour epic which shares the stories of a number of heartbroken Angelenos, it's hard to believe that Paul Thomas Anderson was only 29 years old when he made this picture. It's also noteworthy for featuring a performance from Tom Cruise that proves that the guy really can act if he wants to, as well as brilliant turns from the likes of Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffmann and William H Macy.

Memorable lines:

"Claudia Gator:  Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing me again?"

8. Short Cuts (1993)

Another lengthy anthology of LA stories, this time directed by old master Robert Altman. It's tough to choose between this movie and Magnolia, but Short Cuts just about edges it.  Each of the segments here is based on the short fiction of Raymond Carver, one of my favourite writers, and it's crammed full of fascinating, desperate characters from all ends of the social spectrum in Los Angeles.

Memorable lines:

"Tess Trainer: I hate L.A. All they do is snort coke and talk."

7. Barton Fink (1991)

This is the first of several films on my list which touches on the dark side of showbusiness. Promising playwright Barton Fink is whisked off to Hollywood with dreams of making a difference to the common man, but like William Faulkner and F Scott Fitzgerald before him, he winds up crushed by Hollywood, writing Wallace Beery wrestling pictures for crazy studio mogul Jack Lipnick. One of the Coen brothers' finest pictures, it goes to fiendish lengths to portray the way the writer is treated by the studio system.

Memorable lines:

"Ben Geisler: Look, you confused? You need guidance? Talk to another writer.
Barton: Who?
Geisler: Jesus, throw a rock in here, you'll hit one. And do me a favour, Fink: throw it hard."

6. Double Indemnity (1944)

A magnificent film noir, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G Robinson. This film has MacMurray as Walter Neff, a straight arrow insurance salesman talked into a murderous scheme by a beautiful femme fatale (Stanwyck). I suppose what I like so much about this film is the contrast between the beauty of the setting - a city where the sun is always shining and the American dream is being lived to the full - and the corruption and unpleasantness which resides just below the surface of that mirage. It's a film I can watch over and over again.

Memorable lines:

"Phyllis: I'm a native Californian. Born right here in Los Angeles.
Walter Neff: They say all native Californians come from Iowa. "

5. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Probably the most quotable film of all time, a movie which has launched conventions, festivals, irritating adverts for VW... you name it, Lebowski has done it. It's also a great LA movie, taking in the Dude's private residence in Venice, the Big Lebowski's mansion in Pasadena, Jackie Treehorn's place in Malibu, In-N-Out Burger and, of course, the famous bowling alley, which has apparently now been demolished. If you haven't seen this movie, you really need to rectify that situation right now. (By the way, I'm aware that in a previous list of Coen brothers movies, I placed Barton Fink above the Big Lebowski, but here it's a few places lower. I suppose there are two reasons for that: and (a) It was extremely difficult to separate the top four films on my Coen list - on another day, the top four could have been in a completely different order (b) I felt that Lebowski was more of a 'Los Angeles' movie, if that makes sense - it covered a broader range of LA locations and people than Barton Fink, which just took place in the world of Hollywood.)

Memorable lines:

"The Stranger: Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude. The Dude, from Los Angeles. And even if he's a lazy man—and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in all of Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide."

 4. L.A. Confidential (1997)

I absolutely love James Ellroy's books - particularly the L.A. quartet, four hardboiled crime novels which expose the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles in the '40s and '50s. For me, L.A. Confidential is probably Ellroy's greatest novel, and Curtis Hanson's adaptation perfectly translates the book to the big screen. It features career best performances from the likes of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger, a beautiful recreation of postwar LA, a brilliantly twisty plot and an amazing ending.

Memorable lines:

"Sid Hudgens: Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. There are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside every house, a happy, all-American family. You can have all this, and who knows... you could even be discovered, become a movie star... or at least see one. Life is good in Los Angeles... it's paradise on Earth. Ha ha ha ha. That's what they tell you, anyway."

 3. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Perhaps David Lynch's finest movie, this is another film on this list which examines the dark side of Hollywood. It has a hypnotic, mesmerising quality - like watching a beautiful nightmare that you can't turn away from. It took me several viewings to even get close to working out what's going on in the second half of the picture, but the film is so full of bizarre, memorable scenes that rewatching it is always a pleasure, never a chore.

Memorable lines:

"The Cowboy: You will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad.”

2. Pulp Fiction (1994)

A film that launched a thousand (pale) imitators, Pulp Fiction is Quentin Tarantino at his absolute best. Cutting between different intersecting L.A. crime stories, we get to meet bungling hitmen Jules and Vincent, washed up prizefighter Butch, sadistic redneck Z, crime boss Marcellus Wallace, his coke-addled wife Mia and many other wonderful creations. It's just a brilliant Los Angeles movie - funny, exciting and unbelievably cool.

Memorable lines:

"Jules: And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know My name is the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon thee."

1.  Chinatown (1974)

So, we finally come to number 1 on my list, and as Chinatown is probably my absolute favourite film of all time right now, there wasn't much doubt in my mind that it would be top of the charts in terms of L.A. movies, too. It's brilliantly directed by Roman Polanski, wonderfully scripted by Robert Towne, and features iconic performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. I'd say it's probably the perfect film noir - one in which Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes discovers the ultimate truth about Los Angeles - the poisonous foundations on which the City of Angels was built.

Memorable lines:

"Morty: Can you believe it? We're in the middle of a drought, and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A. "

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