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August 18, 2014 Slideshows

20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See 

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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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Body Heat (1981)
Lawrence Kasdan's first directorial effort is a throwback to the early days of film noir. The scene is a beastly hot Florida coastal town, where naive attorney Ned (William Hurt) is entranced by the alluring Matty (Kathleen Turner in her film debut). Ned is manipulated into killing Matty's much older husband (Richard Crenna), the plan being that Ned's knowledge of legal matters will enable both conspirators to escape scott-free. This might have been the case, had not Matty been infinitely craftier than the cloddish Ned. Just when it seems as though the film has run out of plot twists, we're handed yet another surprise.- Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
A thief posing as an actor teams up with a tough-guy private eye and a frustrated actress. They become involved in a murder case filled with twists, turns, deceptions, betrayal, and romance.
Blood Simple (1984)
A Texas bar owner hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover, but things don't go as planned when double-crossing and betrayal abound.
Femme Fatale (2002)
A contemporary film noir about an alluring seductress named Laure Ash. A sultry former jewel thief and con woman trying to live the straight life, Laure is suddenly exposed to the world--and her enemies--by a voyeuristic photographer, Nicholas Bardo, who takes a sudden interest in her. Seen as a dangerous individual dressed in black, Nicholas is always hounding her, attempting to reveal Laure for what she really is--a born manipulator. As Nicholas tries to determine her true intentions, he begins to uncover some dangerous secrets. Her shadowy life of deceit had also spawned vengeful co-conspirators who will neither forget, nor forgive her lies. Laure's shady past comes back to haunt her, and soon thereafter, Nicholas becomes ensnared in her surreal quest for revenge.
Thief (1981)
In Thief, James Caan plays Frank, a professional jewel thief who wants to marry Jessie (Tuesday Weld) and settle down into a normal life. In order to achieve his dream of a family, Frank -- who is used to working solo -- has to align himself with a crime boss named Leo (Robert Prosky), who will help him gain the money he needs to begin his domestic life. Frank plans to retire after the heist, yet he finds himself indebted to Leo and he struggles to break free. Thief is the first feature film from director Michael Mann and it seethes with his stylish, atmospheric direction. Though his cool approach may put off some viewers, it's a distinctive and effective story-telling approach, and Caan's performance ranks among his very best, making Thief a crime movie like few others. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Movie Guide
Brick (2005)
Brick, while taking its cues and its verbal style from the novels of Dashiell Hammett, also honors the rich cinematic tradition of the hard-boiled noir mystery, here wittily and bracingly immersed in fresh territory - a modern-day Southern California neighborhood and high school. There, student Brendan Frye's piercing intelligence spares no one. Brendan is not afraid to back up his words with actions, and knows all the angles; yet he prefers to stay an outsider, and does -- until the day that his ex-girlfriend, Emily reaches out to him unexpectedly and then vanishes. Brendan's feelings for her still run deep; so much so, that he becomes consumed with finding his troubled inamorata. To find her, Brendan enlists the aid of his only true peer, The Brain, while keeping the assistant vice principal only occasionally informed of what quickly becomes a dangerous investigation. Brendan's single-minded unearthing of students' secrets thrusts him headlong into the colliding social orbits of rich-girl sophisticate Laura, intimidating Tugger, substance-abusing Dode, seductive Kara, jock Brad and -- most ominously -- non-student The Pin. It is only by gaining acceptance into The Pin's closely guarded inner circle of crime and punishment that Brendan will be able to uncover hard truths about himself, Emily and the suspects that he is getting closer to.
Romeo is Bleeding (1993)
New York cop Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) has a nice home, a stunning wife Natalie (Annabella Sciorra), and a sweet, if stupid mistress, Sheri (Juliette Lewis). Jack also earns extra money by betraying mob witnesses to Mafia-boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider). Assigned to guard the viciously sexy Russian-born hit woman, Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin), Jack is almost instantly seduced and allows Mona to escape. Falcone orders Jack to find and kill Mona, and threatens to murder him if he fails. Mona offers to pay Jack to help her eliminate Falcone and fake her own death. Several plot twists and turns later, Jack is left with his life in shambles. - Linda Rasmussen, All Movie Guide
Cutter's Way (1981)
After emigrating to the United States in 1969, Czech-born director Ivan Passer finally broke through to American audiences with his fourth film, a unique blend of mystery and social commentary. Cutter's Way is set in Santa Barbara, CA, a community of wealth and power. Its main characters, however, are among the town's have-nots: Richard Bone Jeff Bridges, a beach-boy gigolo starting to go to seed; Bone's best friend Alex Cutter (John Heard), a Vietnam veteran maimed in body and spirit; and Mo (Lisa Eichorn), Cutter's alcoholic wife. When Cutter spots one of the community's most prominent citizens in the act of covering up a murder, Bone insists that the police would never take their word over that of a man of wealth and prestige. Cutter seizes the opportunity to blackmail the killer, as a means of striking back at a system he thinks sent him off to an unjust war and ruined his life. The film was fortunate to fall into the hands of United Artists Classics, a new division of the company crippled by the financial disaster of Heaven's Gate. UA Classics adroitly marketed Cutter's Way, riding a wave of rave reviews and good word-of-mouth among more discriminating filmgoers to modest box-office success.- Tom Wiener, All Movie Guide
Out of Sight (1998)
George Clooney, as a career bank robber with more charm than sense, and Jennifer Lopez, as a by-the-book federal marshal with the unpredictable heart of a romantic, give "opposites attract" new meaning in Steven Soderbergh's funny, smart adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel.
To Live and Die in LA (1985)
William Friedkin's crime thriller, based on a book by U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, concerns an arrogant Secret Service official who wants to get his man at any price. Willem Dafoe plays Eric Masters, an ultra-smooth counterfeiter who has managed to sidestep the police for years. He is so up-front about his dealings, in fact, that when some undercover agents try to make a deal with him at his health club, Eric tells them, I've been coming to this gym three times a week for five years. I'm an easy guy to find. People know they can trust me. But when young and eager Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William L. Petersen) finds out that his partner has been cold-bloodedly murdered by Eric, he trains his relentlessness upon capturing Eric -- whether it means robbery, murder, or exploiting his friends and associates. As Chance erases the dividing line between good and evil, he drags his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow) and Ruth Lanier (Darlanne Fluegel), an ex-con, down into the maelstrom with him.- Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide
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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.

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