August 18, 2014

20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See

The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

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Wild Things (1998)
Think of it as endless endings. John McNaughton's playful erotic thriller about a larcenous school teacher, a pair of greedy coeds, and the cop on their trail has as many twists as there are characters, but it's all in good fun.
Wild Things (1998)
Think of it as endless endings. John McNaughton's playful erotic thriller about a larcenous school teacher, a pair of greedy coeds, and the cop on their trail has as many twists as there are characters, but it's all in good fun.
LA Confidential (1997)
Curtis Hanson's adaptation of the James Ellroy best-seller is that rarest of modern Hollywood creations, a crime drama with the brains, sex appeal, humor, danger and action to satisfy all tastes. The best film about Los Angeles since Chinatown.
LA Confidential (1997)
Curtis Hanson's adaptation of the James Ellroy best-seller is that rarest of modern Hollywood creations, a crime drama with the brains, sex appeal, humor, danger and action to satisfy all tastes. The best film about Los Angeles since Chinatown.
Chinatown (1974)
A private detective, Jake Gittes, hired to investigate an adultery case, stumbles on the plot of a murder involving incest and the privatization of water through state and municipal corruption, land use and real estate. If he doesn't drop the case at once he faces threats of legal action, but he pursues it anyway, slowly uncovering a vast conspiracy.
Chinatown (1974)
A private detective, Jake Gittes, hired to investigate an adultery case, stumbles on the plot of a murder involving incest and the privatization of water through state and municipal corruption, land use and real estate. If he doesn't drop the case at once he faces threats of legal action, but he pursues it anyway, slowly uncovering a vast conspiracy.
The Grifters (1990)
Director Stephen Frears' tense adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel The Grifters was one of a number of revival film noirs in the first half of the '90s. Updating the setting to contemporary Los Angeles, the film follows a trio of con artists who are intent on out-foxing each other. Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a simple, two-bit con, whose life is thrown into turmoil when his estranged mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston) returns home in an attempt to evade the law. Lilly doesn't warm to Roy's girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), who is too similar to herself. Soon, the two women are competing for Roy in a battle that is more of a power struggle than a pursuit of affection, and the battle quickly turns dangerous. Huston was nominated for an Academy Award for her work. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Movie Guide
The Grifters (1990)
Director Stephen Frears' tense adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel The Grifters was one of a number of revival film noirs in the first half of the '90s. Updating the setting to contemporary Los Angeles, the film follows a trio of con artists who are intent on out-foxing each other. Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a simple, two-bit con, whose life is thrown into turmoil when his estranged mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston) returns home in an attempt to evade the law. Lilly doesn't warm to Roy's girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), who is too similar to herself. Soon, the two women are competing for Roy in a battle that is more of a power struggle than a pursuit of affection, and the battle quickly turns dangerous. Huston was nominated for an Academy Award for her work. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Movie Guide
Bound (1996)
Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly nearly set the screen on fire in this clever, female-powered twist on the standard Mob caper film. Gershon is Corky, an ex-con renovating the apartment next door to where Tilly's Violet lives. Violet is the moll of psychotic gangster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), who uses the apartment as an occasional location for meetings and beatings, and also uses Violet as an occasional plaything for his Mob cronies. Violet is attracted to the super-sexy Corky, and the two begin an intense affair. Corky hatches a plot to escape with $2 million that Caesar is planning to give to a Mob boss, and the mayhem escalates from there.- Don Kaye, All Movie Guide
Bound (1996)
Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly nearly set the screen on fire in this clever, female-powered twist on the standard Mob caper film. Gershon is Corky, an ex-con renovating the apartment next door to where Tilly's Violet lives. Violet is the moll of psychotic gangster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), who uses the apartment as an occasional location for meetings and beatings, and also uses Violet as an occasional plaything for his Mob cronies. Violet is attracted to the super-sexy Corky, and the two begin an intense affair. Corky hatches a plot to escape with $2 million that Caesar is planning to give to a Mob boss, and the mayhem escalates from there.- Don Kaye, All Movie Guide
Red Rock West (1993)
Michael (Nicolas Cage), a down-and-out Texan lookin ' fer an honest home in which to hang his hat, ends up being mistaken for Lyle (Dennis Hopper) by a sheriff named Wayne (J.T. Walsh), who has set up a hit on his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle). Michael takes the booty -- $10,000 -- but finds Suzanne to tell her about her husband's scheme. She in turn offers to double the cash if Michael will kill Wayne. "Why?" asks Michael, all moral and naive. "Have you ever been married before?" she purrs. He takes the cash and bails, but for the next 24 hours, he cannot escape this goddamn town for the life of him. He cannot escape being manhunted, shot at, tied up, handcuffed, beaten, literally and figuratively fucked, and basically brutalized in every possible way under the sun, barrin annihilation. -- Amy Taubin, the Village Voice.
Red Rock West (1993)
Michael (Nicolas Cage), a down-and-out Texan lookin ' fer an honest home in which to hang his hat, ends up being mistaken for Lyle (Dennis Hopper) by a sheriff named Wayne (J.T. Walsh), who has set up a hit on his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle). Michael takes the booty -- $10,000 -- but finds Suzanne to tell her about her husband's scheme. She in turn offers to double the cash if Michael will kill Wayne. "Why?" asks Michael, all moral and naive. "Have you ever been married before?" she purrs. He takes the cash and bails, but for the next 24 hours, he cannot escape this goddamn town for the life of him. He cannot escape being manhunted, shot at, tied up, handcuffed, beaten, literally and figuratively fucked, and basically brutalized in every possible way under the sun, barrin annihilation. -- Amy Taubin, the Village Voice.
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
"In more ways than one, Devil is Chinatown with soul," wrote Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown in 1995. "Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins (Denzel Washington" is a war vet from Houston who's come to L.A. following the dream. Easy found a job at Champion Aircraft and bought a fine little house with a yard and its own fruit trees. This house he loves like a woman, and, judging from the femmes fatale he meets in the course of Devil, it's less trouble.
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
"In more ways than one, Devil is Chinatown with soul," wrote Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown in 1995. "Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins (Denzel Washington" is a war vet from Houston who's come to L.A. following the dream. Easy found a job at Champion Aircraft and bought a fine little house with a yard and its own fruit trees. This house he loves like a woman, and, judging from the femmes fatale he meets in the course of Devil, it's less trouble.
Night Moves (1975)
Private eye Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is dedicated to his job, but his dedication does not make him happy or powerful in his personal life, and his wife (Susan Clark) is cheating on him. Aging actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) hires Harry to find her trust-funded daughter Delly (Melanie Griffith), distracting Harry from his marital problems as he tracks the lascivious runaway teen to Florida. In the Keys, Harry has an affair of his own with Paula (Jennifer Warren), and he succeeds in locating Delly, even as he learns that finding her is only the beginning of a much larger case. As the accidental deaths multiply, Harry discovers that everyone has his or her own motives and that he cannot do much to stem the tide of deep-seated depravity.- Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
Night Moves (1975)
Private eye Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is dedicated to his job, but his dedication does not make him happy or powerful in his personal life, and his wife (Susan Clark) is cheating on him. Aging actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) hires Harry to find her trust-funded daughter Delly (Melanie Griffith), distracting Harry from his marital problems as he tracks the lascivious runaway teen to Florida. In the Keys, Harry has an affair of his own with Paula (Jennifer Warren), and he succeeds in locating Delly, even as he learns that finding her is only the beginning of a much larger case. As the accidental deaths multiply, Harry discovers that everyone has his or her own motives and that he cannot do much to stem the tide of deep-seated depravity.- Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
Miami Blues (1990)
Based on the late Charles Willeford's series of hard-boiled crime novels featuring Miami cop Hoke Moseley, the Jonathan Demme-produced Miami Blues opens with the prison release of Frederick Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin), a deranged killer who has barely de-boarded his plane before he's killed a Hare Krishna in the airport. Checking into his hotel, Frenger meets up with Susie Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a young prostitute with dreams of domestic life, and the two quickly become romantically involved. Meanwhile, the Hare Krishna murder case is given to Moseley (Fred Ward), a grizzled vet who vows to hunt down Frenger, but may be getting too long in the tooth for the demands of his job.- Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide
Miami Blues (1990)
Based on the late Charles Willeford's series of hard-boiled crime novels featuring Miami cop Hoke Moseley, the Jonathan Demme-produced Miami Blues opens with the prison release of Frederick Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin), a deranged killer who has barely de-boarded his plane before he's killed a Hare Krishna in the airport. Checking into his hotel, Frenger meets up with Susie Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a young prostitute with dreams of domestic life, and the two quickly become romantically involved. Meanwhile, the Hare Krishna murder case is given to Moseley (Fred Ward), a grizzled vet who vows to hunt down Frenger, but may be getting too long in the tooth for the demands of his job.- Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Along Mulholland Drive nothing is what it seems. In the unreal universe of Los Angeles, the city bares its schizophrenic nature, an uneasy blend of innocence and corruption, love and loneliness, beauty and depravity. A woman is left with amnesia following a car accident. An aspiring young actress finds her staying in her aunt's home. The puzzle begins to unfold, propelling us through a mysterious labyrith of sensual experiences until we arrive at the intersection of dreams and nightmares.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Along Mulholland Drive nothing is what it seems. In the unreal universe of Los Angeles, the city bares its schizophrenic nature, an uneasy blend of innocence and corruption, love and loneliness, beauty and depravity. A woman is left with amnesia following a car accident. An aspiring young actress finds her staying in her aunt's home. The puzzle begins to unfold, propelling us through a mysterious labyrith of sensual experiences until we arrive at the intersection of dreams and nightmares.