Los Angeles is the home of Hollywood. It’s where it all began. So, it’s no surprise many of America’s finest filmmakers find a way to make it their playground. Legends like directors Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, and Paul Thomas Anderson have made it their home. Filmmakers explore ways to expand the vast array of nothingness in one of America’s largest cities while also using their filmmaking prowess to craft tight, taut stories about ensembles of mischief. The open highways, getting across town, and the make-up of elite, rich millionaires living in the hills have made for a fascinating history of movie heroes and villains. The sun-soaked canvas of Los Angeles makes it a picturesque place to make a comedy or a thriller, while using the city as a character to make the story more complex. There could’ve been a million ways to create this list because of how rich a tapestry the Los Angeles film is. But, these are the nine best.
9 Point Blank
The hallucinatory nature of sun-soaked Los Angeles was a fitting backdrop to the psychedelic oscillations of John Boorman’s neo-noir Point Blank. With a left-for-dead, old-school noir badass Lee Marvin tearing through the streets, looking to right the wrongs on his supposed grave, the film is a sucker punch of adrenaline. Never mind the multiple readings you can dig into the opening 20 minutes, Point Blank is a fever-pitched, violent thrill ride that was a perfect foray into the beginning of John Boorman’s wild filmography.
8 The Player
Robert Altman was a filmmaker known for having deep contempt for the industry that allowed him to work; his 80s were mired by shortcomings and controversies that his epic run in the 70s seemed to be his apex. But, in 1992, Altman had a comeback that put him right back on the map. A movie about movies, The Player is a nasty, funny, thrilling, and biting satire on the ridiculous soulless nature of Hollywood. With a bumbling Tim Robbins as a studio exec ensnared in a murder mystery, The Player is a quintessential portrait of Los Angeles and the rich whose egos run amok.
7 Boyz N The Hood
One of the great directorial debuts of the last 40 years, John Singleton gave South Central Los Angeles the cinematic treatment in the vein of Charles Burnett’s Killer Sheep. A film about the trappings of masculinity, economic disparity, and Black anger under the throes of a state that could not care less about your livelihood. With star-making performances from Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, and Cuba Gooding jr. as three friends caught in a cycle of violence that will forever alter the course of their lives, John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood is a masterpiece.
6 To Live and Die In LA
William Friedkin’s renegade auteurism and tenacious filmmaking style about the chase were the perfect tools to make a high-octane thriller set against the Los Angeles backdrop. With an incredibly cool and badass performance from then-unknown Willem Dafoe as the artist who dabbles in counterfeit money and the psycho sleaze of William Peterson hot on his tail. To Live and Die In LA is one of the best crime sagas placed in the city of angels and also produced one of the great highway car chases.
5 Boogie Nights
Boogie Nights is like Goodfellas meets a budding porn industry in 1970s Los Angeles. Paul Thomas Anderson borrows heavily from ensemble authors like Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman to weave an epic cast into a hilarious but ill-willed spiral about the caution of unbridled ambitions. With a star-making performance from Mark Wahlberg as “Dirk Diggler”, the burgeoning adult-movie star who’s a lot dumber than he realizes, and the ambitious director played by Burt Reynolds trying to curb his new starts expectations. Boogie Nights marked the arrival of new filmmaking talent and was one of the best films to come out of the 90s.
4 Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece set the industry ablaze as did his script and filmmaking style. Tarantino is a filmmaker who sets many of his films in the sunny hills of Los Angeles like Jackie Brown and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, as he traverses the open landscape with his colorful characters. But, what set Pulp Fiction apart was the non-linear approach to a showcase of wild criminals running into each other where coincidental run-ins had karmic implications. Also, endlessly quotable with the iconic career turns from John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction stands above the rest.
Chinatown has cemented itself as one of the great American films ever made. With a twisty plot, covering its tracks up until the final moment. Chinatown represents the corrupt, nihilistic, and virtueless legacy of capitalism, nearly running a major city dry. As Los Angeles’ sprawling landscape acts as the perfect metaphor for a city run by greed. With John Huston’s tormented performance looming over the story and Jack Nicholson at the center of it all. Roman Polanski’s work of genius will stand the test of time.
2 Mulholland Drive
David Lynch’s films are in a dimension of their own. Taking the genre conventions of noir and flipping them inside out to create a surreal, body-switching mystery into the abyss of Hollywood and the industry makes for what most consider Lynch’s masterpiece. With an incredible Naomi Watts at the center, as she delves deep into the Lynchian world of dread and the Hollywood Hills begin to swallow her alive, Mulholland Drive is a genius work of disorder in a city known for its winding roads and long stretches of nothingness.
Michael Mann makes films about Los Angeles like no other. His painted romantics, vivid post-modern aesthetic and constantly shifting camera angles that hyper-focus the audience on his love for men at work create a style of his own. Heat is an epic crime saga of men on opposite sides of the law but who both adorn the other dedication to their crafts. Pairing Robert De Niro and Al Pacino was a masterstroke from the maestro that culminated in a legendary diner scene that was then followed by the shootouts to end all movie bank robberies, a fierce one-two punch that would cement the legacy of the film. Heat is the definitive Los Angeles movie.
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