Monday, September 01, 2008

L.A. STORY: THE 25 BEST LOS ANGELES FILMS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS


UPDATED 9/4/08 12:21 p.m.

Attention, Los Angelenophiles, wherever you may be! The more you drive, the less intelligent you are! That little bit of wisdom, perhaps more salient than ever in this season of $60 fill-ups, comes from the number-eight movie on a new list that will be generating some discussion, at least in the city in which I write, for the foreseeable future. If you are not either a resident of the City of Angels or a subscriber to the local paper of record, you may not know, but this past weekend the Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar section featured The 25 Best L.A. Films of the Last 25 Years, one of those big lists designed to occupy a holiday weekend of morning newspaper reading (the kind you can do in the bathroom, or wrapped in a chair on your front porch with a mug of coffee—I prefer Diet Pepsi, but that’s just me) and impassioned letters to the editor filled with outrage about the titles that did not make the cut. The list, compiled by several Times entertainment editors, features short, smart bursts of copy devoted to the films themselves, and Geoff Boucher’s intro hints at the process by which the list came to be, a process which, if you’ve ever participated in a think-tank operation like this one, can be a lot of fun, and quite maddening too:

”There was passionate debate and not-so-polite outrage ("Do you really believe Jackie Brown is better than Pulp Fiction?" "Look, I'll say this slowly: Fletch is not a good film") and provocative results (the only film here that won the Oscar for best picture is at No. 25). There was also some pain; the beloved Blade Runner and Fast Times at Ridgemont High were released 26 years ago, just missing our cut-off date. After all the politicking, we ended up with a list of crowd-pleasing popcorn fare, art-house standouts, modern farce and flicks with a disturbing amount of gunplay. Welcome to Los Angeles.”

Boucher’s entrée to the fun hints at one of the challenges a list like this inevitably faces, especially if you’re creating it in a forum that holds itself to some obligation to avoid complete esotericism in its approach to the subject. The 25-year cut-off date is purely arbitrary (just as the one was that I imposed on my question about comedies during the Memorial Day quiz), a way of focusing the discussion without any real necessity or rationale behind that. It certainly makes the task easier for those who have set it upon themselves, but it also, as Boucher notes, automatically disqualifies a set of films that, were there no restrictions based on date of release, would be certain shoo-ins for placement near the top.


These films would include titles that would pop right off the top of the heads of most movie buffs concerned with Los Angeles on film, titles like the aforementioned Blade Runner (1982) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), but also certainly Chinatown (1974), The Long Goodbye (1973), Killer of Sheep (1977) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and perhaps even a more recently exposed gem like Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles (1961). My own list of contenders that would be too outré to ever make a list by committee like this one would definitely include H.B. Halicki’s Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), action cinema purely unadorned by style, the demolition derby as primitive art, as well as a virtual time capsule tour of the Long Beach-South Bay area as it was nearly 35 years ago; Michael Schultz’s Car Wash (1976), an crassly funny American Graffiti-style paean to the spirit of a sliver of L.A.’s working class; and Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979). Frankly, lists like these have become prevalent enough in the post-Entertainment Weekly world of public film discourse (whatever that even means anymore) that I’m always secretly kind of glad that limits apply which prevent some of the perennial favorites from taking their place at the head of the pack—just that much more room for a group of editors to argue about and perhaps brazenly include a title or two that might not normally be spotlighted, especially when the argument is based on such recherché concepts as overall quality and merit.


And believe me, I am no Olympian snob when it comes to playing these kinds of games. I have decreasingly little tolerance for the kinds of lists that seem to be ET’s bread and butter (100 Greatest Pop Culture Icons of the Past Five Years!), but something like the L.A. Times list as least has at its foundation a juicy subject and leaves room for thought, argument and those “Aha!” moments when you realize they (Thank God!) left a title off, or when you remember (Dammit!) one that could have easily replaced another that did make the cut. For instance, I had resigned myself, because of the love it/hate it conversation it engendered when it was released, to the inevitable inclusion of Crash, serious contender (along with American Beauty) for worst Best Picture Oscar winner ever, so I was greatly relieved that other epics of suburban angst and middle-class (white) frustration like Lawrence Kasdan’s mealy Grand Canyon (1993) and Joel Schumacher’s repellent Falling Down (1991) were duly remaindered (Thank God!)

But actually, as these things go this isn’t a bad list at all. Take a look:

1) L.A. Confidential (1997)
2) Boogie Nights (1997)
3) Jackie Brown (1997)
4) Boyz N the Hood (1991)
5) Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
6) The Player (1992)
7) Clueless (1995)
8) Repo Man (1984)
9) Collateral (2004)
10) The Big Lebowski (1998)
11) Mulholland Drive (2001)
12) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
13) Training Day (2001)
14) Swingers (1996)
15) Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
16) Friday (1995)
17) Speed (1994)
18) Valley Girl (1983)
19) To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
20) L.A. Story (1991)
21) To Sleep with Anger (1990)
22) Less Than Zero (1987)
23) Fletch (1985)
24) Mi Vida Loca (1993)
25) Crash (2004)

(You can read the list with capsule reviews by Boucher, Mark Olsen, Kenneth Turan, Chris Lee, Rachel Abramowitz, Scott Timberg and Patrick Day by clicking here.)

There were only eight, perhaps nine instances where I felt like the choices could have been replaced, by another film in the director’s filmography, or by another similarly themed film, or just by another movie to replace one that just shouldn't be there at all. For example, I can certainly understand why Boogie Nights is on the list, but it’s ultimately too diffuse and far more conventional than its electric style would suggest. I much prefer P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), a high-wire act in which Anderson gets more directly in touch with his inner Altman and dashes all concerns over whether anyone’s having a good time or not, planting Old Testament visual clues that subliminally lay the groundwork for that shocking rain of frogs. (And speaking of Altman, while I'm not the biggest fan of The Player, I was far happier to see it representing the great director here rather than the dour and sour Short Cuts.) I can also acknowledge the influence of Boyz N the Hood while also acknowledging that the movie seems, after 18 years, a trifle melodramatic, and I would trade the more emotionally satisfying South Central (1992), with its searing performance by Glenn Plummer as a father determined to steer his son from the gang life that so defined his own identity, for John Singleton’s picture in an instant.

It’s hard for me to think of Beverly Hills Cop as much of anything, and I can’t help but imagine its overwhelming popularity (and its title) is the primary reason it’s on this list. Instead, how about a comedy that manages to make its way south of the 110 Freeway and revel in caustic street humor without making a shell game over whether or not it has a heart? I’m thinking Ron Shelton’s White Men Can’t Jump (1992). And I know that it’s in violation of the Times one director-one movie policy, but if they’re going to insist on the Eddie Murphy vehicle, then how about trading away Training Day for another David Ayer-scripted L.A.P.D. expose, this one based on a James Ellroy story, also directed by Ron Shelton, that features a lead performance (by Kurt Russell) every bit as good as Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winner, but with a shade more ambiguity and lived-in meanness that extends to the whole of the movie itself-- Dark Blue (2002).

The comedy choices at positions #18, 20 & 23 are among the list’s diciest players. I’d have to trade Martha Coolidge’s time capsule Valley Girl, which may be representative of an ethnographic excavation of sorts, but it’s really not much of a movie. Take it out and replace it with John Landis’s dazed and morbid Into the Night (1985), in many ways the woozily comic version of Michael Mann’s nocturnal L.A. vision in Collateral. Say bye-bye to L.A. Story’s tired faux-Woody Allen love-hate L.A. clichés and trade up to another Steve Martin Hollywood valentine, Bowfinger (1999), which also gets you back the Eddie Murphy you traded away in Beverly Hills Cop. And though I love Michael Ritchie and saw Fletch more than once theatrically and on VHS back in the day, it really doesn’t hold up as much more than a reminder that we all once thought of Chevy Chase as a movie star. Instead, if we can justify the inclusion of another brilliant chase thriller to go alongside Speed (#17) that cleverly incorporates an element of L.A. life—obsessive cell phone use-- that only ten years ago might have seemed excessive, if not preposterous, look no further than David R. Ellis’ hot-wired action comedy Cellular (2004), from a script by Larry Cohen.

Finally, spots #22 and #25 feature two pretentious dramas that absolutely must go. I can’t think of one good reason why Marek Kanievska’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less than Zero is on this list—not even Robert Downey, Jr. It’s as phony as all that prop coke vacuumed up during the picture’s endless party scenes. Dump this trash and make room for Tim Burton’s tribute to legendary schlockmeister Ed Wood (1994), itself also a lovely and hilarious remembrance of the last days of Bela Lugosi and a Hollywood underworld of untalented but driven performers who managed to carve a niche in movie history for themselves that no one else cared to occupy. And though Mark Olsen cites its influence and ambition, as well as its ability to spark water-cooler (and Internet) conversation as justification for its inclusion, Paul Haggis’ Crash is just too big for its britches, inept as storytelling, unmodulated as an actor’s showcase and, worst of all, shrill, unconvincing and obvious as a message picture. Though it would never tout itself as one, Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile, a terrific paranoid end-of-the-world thriller, works just as well as a snapshot of a small but significant part of the city that manages both a satirical perspective and a genuine sense of loss at its impending decimation.

Several years ago on this blog I raised the question, ”Is there any movie made that seems to be in love with Los Angeles?” Many of the movies that made the L.A. Times list were mentioned in the discussion of that question that followed. I’m not sure if Curtis Hanson’s movie exactly qualifies as a love letter, but I don’t have much of a beef at all with the Times’ ranking of L.A. Confidential at the #1 spot. Of the movies that actually made the list, I think my own #1 would have to be Jackie Brown, a movie that has definitely expanded in my brain and my esteem from the day I saw it during the 1997 Christmas season. (The Times writers certainly hold 1997 in their own high regard—the numbers one, two and three positions on their list are all held by movies released in that year.) But the movie I would personally put in the top spot is one that has as its very subject the ways Los Angeles has been depicted on film ever since the dawning days of Hollywood. It may have been disqualified due to considerations about how many people have actually seen it; maybe the writers didn’t feel a documentary was the kind of movie they had in mind when the list was conceived, particularly one composed entirely of bootlegged clips from other movies; maybe not enough of these writers themselves had seen it. All this is speculation. But none of these points are reason enough to discount Thom Andersen’s brilliant, provocative bit of film criticism entitled Los Angeles Plays Itself. As I wrote in 2005:

Los Angeles Plays Itself is no dry Film History 101 lecture, but instead a poetic consideration, a personal remembrance, a love letter, a politically progressive deconstruction of prevalent myths about not only Los Angeles but the films most often singled out as the best representations of the city, and a reconstruction of some forgotten chapters in the city's ongoing cinematic iconography. Andersen begins with a faux-ominous ‘This is the city,’ in first-person narration read by independent filmmaker Encke King, invoking the spectre of Dragnet, about which Andersen will offer surprising observations later. ‘They make movies here. I live here. Sometimes I think that gives me a right to criticize.’ Andersen frames his criticism with the use of extensive clips (nearly 200 of them) and that crisp, deadpan, often very funny narration to take on the gargantuan task of detailing how the movies have observed, and essentially created, a Los Angeles of the mind that often has little to do with the reality of the city. This Los Angeles is also the city within which resides Hollywood, and if you didn't already know, Andersen wants you to understand that there's a distinct difference between the two. The film states that Los Angeles is the most photographed city in the world, yet it's the hardest to capture, to get right.

Los Angeles Plays Itself is nearly impossible to see outside the festival and special screening circuit—Andersen created it for a classroom situation and the extensive use, without permission, of the clips seen in the movie, have created a rights-clearance nightmare the profundity of which will likely forever prevent the movie from ever seeing the light of a legitimate DVD release, a peculiar position for one of the best movies of the new millennium to find itself. But as thorough, irascible and hugely entertaining history lessons, works of social inquiry and piquant film criticism go, this is one of the best, a unique love letter to a city that, despite its reputation as a dream factory, is also recognized as an elusive cinematic target, not to mention a diffuse and disconnected community with little regard for its own shared history.

UPDATE 9/4/08: Thanks to Robert Fiore for giving us all a heads-up to the American Cinematheque September schedule at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. It turns out that the oft-requested Los Angeles Plays Itself will screen Thursday-Saturday, September 11-13 at this terrific Montana Avenue venue, and after the screenings on the 11th and the 13th Thom Andersen will host a Q-and-A session, perhaps even commenting on some of the filmed representations of the city that have occurred since the movie was finished in 2004 (and maybe even a thought or two about that Times list). This is, it goes without saying, a must-see, can't-miss affair, not only for Andersen's participation but because, as noted in the Aero schedule, Los Angeles Plays Itself is one movie that will never be on DVD. Go see it while you have the chance, just like you used to have to do in the pre-Betamax world when engagements were really exclusive!

There are lots of other contenders within that 25-year span that might light your fire, and the embers of a few arguments, that you can find by taking a gander at this list of movies set in Los Angeles (This one extends wa-a-a-a-ay past that 25-year boundary), and local Los Angeles video store Rocket Video has checked in with some excellent alternatives to the L.A. Times list. Finally, as an online extra, the Los Angeles Times has provided a nifty location map revealing many of the spots where some of the city’s famous sequences were filmed. Any way you slice it, if the city of Los Angeles is a subject of interest to you, there ought to be something here worth investigating. (I have yet to see To Sleep with Anger or Mi Vida Loca, and I thank the Times list for reminding me about those films.) What about you? How do you feel the L.A. Times list measures up? Any glaring omissions? Any agonizing inclusions? What’s your Los Angeles number one?

(Thanks to Mark Olsen!)

34 comments:

Joseph B. said...

I don't live in LA, but I can proudly say I've seen every film on that LA Times list. Yay me. But aside from that, damn it I really wanna see "Los Angeles Plays Itself". I've been interested in it since Film Comment and others wrote about it back in '05. That realization is becoming less likely by the year.

Robert Fiore said...

I had the actual "Crash" experience once. You know that story people tell, “I was driving along and all of a sudden this crazy guy goes through the red light right in front of me”? Well, I was the crazy guy. It was the intersection of 8th and Crenshaw in Koreatown (or as I like to think of it, Han Kook Park), and I somehow got the idea the light had changed when it hadn’t. Anyway, I get centerpunched by one car, pushed into another, and a couple of others got scraped avoiding the melee, nobody injured thank God. It was a real rainbow coalition there, white, black, Asian, Latino. The poor sod who hit me was a bit miffed, having gotten the scare of his life and had his nice late model car messed up by an idiot, but took it fairly well under the circumstances. It was perfectly calm and cheerful, nobody feeling the need to scream racial epithets, everybody patiently getting my information, seeing as how I was going to be fixing all their cars. The weird thing is, all the bystanders were unified in commiserating with me and blaming the poor sod, who happened to be Korean. Now, people were no doubt misled by the fact that my car had been the one that was hit, but though there was absolutely no question that it was entirely my fault, nevertheless the whole tenor of the thing was, you know, “those crazy Korean drivers.” Angelenos of all races and creeds are united against them.

Right offhand the picture notable by its absence in the Times list and this exegesis is The Grifters, and I think Bugsy deserved some consideration. I would put Barton Fink ahead of The Big Lebowski, but I wouldn't expect anyone to listen to me. Fine picture though it is, L.A. Confidential is a prime example of the city's gratuitous badmouthing of itself in that it takes the greatest achievement of L.A. law enforcement -- keeping East Coast style organized crime largely out of the city -- and portrays it as policemen trying to keep the rackets for themselves.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Robert, thanks for the story, and for the reminder about The Grifters. I'm not sure how that one escaped my mind, as much as I think so highly of it (and of the Jim Thompson book too). Consider me chastised.

But, you're right, I'd rather bowl than spend time in the Hotel Earle! :)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I just got all excited because I remembered anothe great L.A. movie, Wim Wenders The State of Things... But alas, I did not remember that it came out in 1982, that same borderline year that disqualified Blade Runner and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Never mind.

Wrongshore said...

really wanna see Los Angeles Plays Itself.

driveindude said...

wrongshore....

You are AWESOME!!!!!!

ARBOGAST said...

Thanks for the love for Into the Night and I had Miracle Mile on the tip of my tongue before I saw you had included it. The official list is a Crashing bore to me... but the "in the last 25 years" stipulation actually is instructive in pointing out that Los Angeles had its heydey well past the quarter century mark. The list makes me want to watch Mikey and Nickey and Bobby Roth's Heartbreakers and Kiss Me Deadly.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I don't know L.A. from Boise because I've never lived there so I can't judge which movies represent it best just which ones are good or not. I hate the last 25 years stipulation because it just reminds me how out of step I am with post 1970's cinema. I don't like many of the movies on this list at all. I might think some of them are good and give them a boringly objective thumbs up, but I'm not a fan of more than three or four.

But I will say this. Even if you're not from a city you can still think of it in connection with a movie. Like the fact that despite not living in Frisco, I easily connect it to Vertigo. That said, I don't connect many of these movies with L.A.(like I do with Chinatown), even though they obviously all take place there. Many movies take place in New York that I don't connect to New York (which I know a hell of a lot better than L.A.) while other movies (Taxi Driver, Manhattan) scream it. But you know what I absolutely and completely connect with L.A.? You already said it, Into the Night. That is the L.A. movie for a non-Los Angelino. It's the West Coast After Hours. As with After Hours its story only exists because the city itself is the primary character. So for me, I find it quite stunning that Into the Night didn't make the list.

Robert Fiore said...

The L.A. Observed blog says L.A. Plays Itself is going to be showing at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica September 11-13.

Robert Fiore said...

Excuse me, Los Angeles Plays Itself. My apologies, Mr. Anderson.

Mr. Peel said...

Now I think less of this list than I already did. What about FLETCH makes it a great L.A. movie? Because some of it's set at the beach and the character is a Lakers fan? What is so specifically L.A. about the film that it couldn't have been set anywhere else? Along those lines, some time ago another blog (maybe Franklin Avenue) posted some screenshots from BEVERLY HILLS COP illustrating how little of it was actually shot in Beverly Hills (the Wiltern seen in the background, that sort of thing).
That INTO THE NIGHT and MIRACLE MILE, two films which display such a true cinematic love and fascination for the town, didn't make the list only proves that the people who put it together didn't put much thought into making it (for a very, very dark horse, what about THE TWO JAKES?).

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that ROGER RABBIT is the only title on the list of which the majority of the film wasn't actually shot in Los Angeles, which maybe should automatically have disqualified it. Did I mention that I don't even bother reading the L.A. Times anymore?

driveindude said...

BTW...for all you "Into The Night" backers (me included, here is a link to the theatrical trailer:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4yxio_into-the-night-theatrical-trailer_shortfilms

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Heh-heh! I was wondering if you were aware of your cultural faux pas, Robert! Thanks for the information. My wife wants to see the film in a big way, her being a lifelong Angeleno, so I suspect I'll be there one of those days for my third screening, and I'll be happy about it.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Mr. Peel-- I can much more easily see Roger Rabbit's inclusion, given that, like Chinatown, a version of the city's history, as embodied in both the death of public transportation, the emergence of the freeway system AND the world of cartoon animation, is what the movie is about. Fletch, however, gets in, one suspects because of the Chick Hearn and Kareem cameos, plus the fact that the hero hangs out on the beach a lot. Hmm. And if Beverly Hills Cop is good enough, why not Beverly Hills Cop II? Or III, which at least took place at some recognizable locations (Magic Mountain, for one). I like the list because it does seem to go just beyond the usual location-gawking and into some of what makes the city the city (Swingers, Repo Man, Devil in a Blue Dress, Jackie Brown), but I think it's clear, as I said above, that several of the titles included could have been easily replaced. Maybe the list would have been cleaner had it been shorter.

Mr. Peel said...

Dennis--

Yeah, I was just being nitpicky. In truth, I actually like ROGER RABBIT very much and its CHINATOWN-inspired conspiracy is obviously extremely well-researched.

One thing about BEVERLY HILLS COP III that always amused me was that if you look on the map of L.A. in Judge Reinhold's office it seems to locate that film's theme park right in the middle of the Sepulveda basin in Van Nuys. I'd like to see what it'd really be like to have a theme park there.

Charles Noland said...

On one level I sort of like Training Day, on another, when I turn on my brain a little bit, it has some gaping credibility gaps. I'm thinking it could be replaced with Tequila Sunrise, a movie I always thought was underrated. I wouldn't have thought of Into the Night, but that is a worthy candidate.

Robert Fiore said...

If Roger Rabbit's conspiracy theory were well researched then they would have realized that it's factually inaccurate. But then, it's not nearly as factually inaccurate as the conspiracy theory in Chinatown. See previous remarks regarding L.A. Confidential; it's the same genre.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

That's the thing about those movies, isn't it, Robert-- as history lessons they are all less than reliable, and one of the points Andersen makes in his film is that over the years (at least in the case of Chinatown) the historical inaccuracies have been (willfully?) glossed over by critics and audiences. I wouldn't necessarily expect historical accuracy, especially from a fanciful production like Roger Rabbit, even if the context of the actual historical record is alluded to and gives the movie weight (or at least the appearance of it). Besides, I doubt anyone believes what happens in that film has much connection to the reality of how the freeways were developed. But I think many more people may believe that the Mulholland story in Chinatown is closer to fact than it actually is, which is why hearing Andersen's voice as a historical corrective (if not as convincingly anti the film's cynicism) is a good one to hear.

Patrick said...

I would replace Valley Girl with another piece of fluff, Earth Girls Are Easy. It's just as much a time capsule, it's got Jim Carrey half a decade before he took off, and it has some great lines ("Well, I see split ends are universal").

I'm also missing The Karate Kid...

driveindude said...

Would The Aviator, Short Cuts, Bobby, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Quiceanera, Crank, The Limey, Friday, American Me, Get Shorty, The Italian Job (2003), Dead Again, Free Enterprise, The Doors or Hollywoodland hold any importance to this discussion? Actually I could've gone on and on.

Robert Fiore said...

People who reflexively enlist Raymond Chandler for or concede him to the conventional literature of malediction against Los Angeles misunderstand the nature of the disenchantment he expresses in The Little Sister and The Long Goodbye (the main sources of the quotations the prosecution loves to cite). In reality Chandler is expressing the disenchantment of someone who comes to Los Angeles when it is one thing only to see it change into something else. This is a universal experience of anyone who lives in the city long enough; if you don't leave Los Angeles, Los Angeles will leave you. The irony is that the Los Angeles that Chandler disowns is the Los Angeles that Robert Towne and James Ellroy pine for. (I would have to admit myself that I liked the Los Angeles I came to 30 years ago more than the Los Angeles I live in now, but I'd say the same about America in general.) To Towne in his script for Chinatown the crime of the power brokers of Los Angeles was not in taking the water under false pretenses but in seeking water for the city's future growth and not just its present needs. It's a silly accusation, particularly since it wouldn't be long after the building of the Aqueduct that Los Angeles would be tapping the Colorado as well, but behind it is a dream that had its growth been limited by resources it would have stayed the smaller city he would have preferred.

Drew Fitzpatrick said...

Love to see the makings of a pile-on in support of Into the Night. As a NYC dweller, I think that Mr. Lapper may be on to something when he says that it's the perfect L.A. movie for non-Angelinos - everything we hope for and fear from L.A. in one movie!

I'm also glad to see that the odd similarity to Collateral wasn’t my own private delusion (alike minds think greatly!) For those interested, here are my thoughts on the film from my blog back in Oct 07:

"The best Landis film that you’ve never seen, however, is Into the Night. The story of a cuckolded insomniac Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) whose aimless night driving throws him in to the path of Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), a stunning blonde being pursued by an Iranian goon squad, half the criminal underworld of L.A., and nearly the entire DGA appearing in cameos. The film takes place over a single night, and captures the otherworldly isolation of Los Angeles at night as well as any film ever had (see Michael Mann’s Collateral for an updated take and a more sinister vibe). Landis shot the film while still awaiting trial in the Twilight Zone case, and the effect is palpable. Into the Night, still technically a comedy, has a much darker tone than anything else he had done and also has a surprising amount of on-screen violence – certainly contributing factors in the disappointing box office."

nathaniel drake carlson said...

Choose Me? That one seems pretty obvious. Maybe it's already been mentioned and I missed it. How about Against All Odds? Also, pretty obvious.

On the less obvious, though no less legitimate, end of things, what about Wayne Wang's Slam Dance? Or another Tom Hulcer Echo Park? I do appreciate the shout out to Miracle Mile however.

And from the farthest flung reaches: Jeff Reiner's Blood and Concrete: A Love Story or Everett Lewis' magisterial The Natural History of Parking Lots.

Chris Stangl said...

Does The List propose to collect great films with stories are set in L.A.? or films that best grasp the L.A. Thing - the feel, the spirit - portraits of the city itself? Or what? Either way, I don't think FLETCH or BEVERLY HILLS COP go click as cop movies, comedies, or visions of The Angles.

JACKIE BROWN and THE BIG LEBOWSKI have best matched and possibly even informed my experience of the city in the roughly here-and-now, and they're certainly my top picks for capturing the abstract vibes of neighborhoods and locations. Certainly one of the first things I did when I moved here was insist: we have to go to the In-N-Out from BIG LEBOWSKI. You never see the In-N-Out, and those drinks are clearly not In-N-Out cups... but would probably be the one on Lankershim. LEBOWSKI is both very right, as if an anthropologist assembled the details, and alluringly wrong, as if that scientist were alien or extremely baked (or, er, actually lived in New York).

JACKIE BROWN, however, is strictly insider biz. I can't get over the scene at Beaumont's shitty Hollywood apartment that's lit like it takes place on the moon, and Ordell's assuring him he won't be in the car trunk long... because yeah, makes sense. Koreatown would only be 10 minutes away, and yeah, they'd be right by Roscoe's... I'm recalling something Roger Ebert said on TV about how gratifying it is when a story must occur in a specific place at a specific time, and locations aren't just plugged in at random; ironically, JACKIE BROWN feels that way despite RUM PUNCH being a Florida story. I just can't imagine it without the lightless bunker-feel of the Del Amo mall.

There's a lot of chunky this-time-and-place observation in the limited scope community portraits of magnolia and BOYZ N THE HOOD, but BROWN & LEBOWSKI canvas the city, smogline to fault line. Those stories zoom through sprawling Metro maps of L.A. geography, class and social strata, and public and private spheres of life; that probably helps them "feel right". The plots force characters to explore the city top to bottom, and paints neighborhoods with differentiated, poetic judicious detail; no Angeleno spends a whole day in one place.

Jim Jarmusch talks about how his mission is to nail the Feel of a city without visiting any major landmarks or tourist sites. Locals are loathe to hang out at Hollywood and Highland, of course. BODY DOUBLE (though it's something of a time capsule at this point) like BROWN and LEBOWSKI, I think embodies the epic sprawl and spiritual thin air of the whole-city.

Speaking of period pieces, nothing has ever felt real to me about L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, though it looks like it was exhaustively researched. The alternative pick, ED WOOD crackles with felt, lived L.A. experiences and dreary/dreamy realities of studio era Hollywood: the electric tingle of a movie nut walking onto a studio lot for the first time, the architectural shape of cheap apartment interiors, the sunlight's oppressive pound against suburb housing (why Burton moved Lugosi from Silverlake to Baldwin Hills, I dunno...), the then-undeveloped black void surrounding the old Derby.

Most of the time, movies are like this, providing perfect miniatures of special L.A. moments: the eerie, greasy glitter of the Walk of Fame at night in INLAND EMPIRE, the yawning emptiness of the streets as Vincent Vega's cruising around after dark in PULP FICTION, those queasy shots of the Tar Pits museum's Dire wolf skull display in MIRACLE MILE, a visit to the Hollywoodland development that proves the city literally rotten to the core in THE BLACK DAHLIA. It's the little things, as the movies are usually busy selling a dream version of L.A. that only exists in your peripheral vision.

Other places to look, some past The List's cut-off date: there's a quality in MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED and CLEOPATRA JONES that drive me up the wall with period L.A.-ness. If you feel like slumming, there's neat stuff in idiot sex comedy masterpiece HOLLYWOOD HIGH (1978) and not-masterpiece HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS (1984). I can't pass through Venice Beach without seeing the barren, blasted Hellscape of THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA. These pictures all give hazy brown thrilling views of Alive and Ugly chunks of the town where the movies do not like to go, and the rest of us sometimes must. They live the secrets that ESCAPE FROM L.A. is only pretending to know.

You're dead on about DRAGNET. Two more Angeleno TV detectives who preserve their home and eras like little smoggy cathode-ray Kandors: COLUMBO and ANGEL live in very dissimilar L.A.s that are somehow both valid, recognizable and real.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

I don't have an LA movie to contribute. I just wanted to say that although I have never been to LA, I have picked up an amazing amount of disconnected LA geography from TV and movies.

Just take Hollywood Blvd to Mulholland Drive, left on Pico, catch the Santa Monica Expressway, turn at the Cahuenga Exit, and you're there!

Wait, I do have a movie - "Sweet Sweetback's Baaaad Aaaaasssss Song". It has tons of stolen location shots of the dark side of LA.

Flower said...

This is maybe a little off topic, but Boogie Nights always struck me as an Altman/Scorsese hybrid homage, probably with emphasis on the Scorsese side. It rips an awful lot from Goodfellas (the naive protagonist who romanticizes the world he's about to enter, mafia/porn industry as substitute for family, the rise & fall structure - and especially the paranoia of the fall). They end up in different places (though not really), but... yeah. Don't know where I'm going with this, just wanted o throw it out there...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Flower, maybe that's why I've always preferred Magnolia to Boogie Nights-- it's less fun, but fresher, I had no idea where it was going, and the milieu it spun was more than enough.

Chris: Thanks as always for your contribution. I dug your answer sheet to the quiz too!

Rocket Video said...

Thanks for mentioning our ROCKET VIDEO BLOG
http://rocketvideo.blogspot.com/2008/08/la-times-plays-with-itself.html

As I mention on it missing from the list is
"Ken Loach’s brilliant docudrama BREAD AND ROSES (2000) about the janitor strike staged by heroic exploited immigrants. With a excellent performance by Adrien Brody as a union organizer. This is an important under-appreciated flick, that speaks more about the LA experience for more people then say, L.A. Story ever did".

We actually have DVD of LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF available for rent in our FREE section at Rocket Video in Hollywood.

-sweeneyrules

Flower said...

Dennis-

Yeah, I prefer Magnolia for the same reason.

The Rush Blog said...

As an Angeleno, I can honestly agree with the decision to list "L.A. CONFIDENTIAL" at the top of the list. I'm still peeved that "TITANIC" won Best Picture. On the other hand, I found "CRASH" a bit too frantic for my tastes. Yes, I have encountered a few of these racial clashes . . . okay, perhaps two clashes. But I still found "CRASH" a little too frantic.

"JACKIE BROWN" would certainly be on my list, along with "HEAT". By the way, I was at the Downtown Central Library when Michael Mann was filming the famous shoot-out sequence outside the building. Sounded like a war zone.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's too recent of a film, but I would have put Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on this list.

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Concrete Cutting Los Angeles said...

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that ROGER RABBIT is the only title on the list of which the majority of the film wasn't actually shot in Los Angeles, which maybe should automatically have disqualified it. Did I mention that I don't even bother reading the L.A. Times anymore? Concrete Cutting Los Angeles