X-List: The movies behind L.A. Noire

Posted on Mar 26 2012 - 3:22pm by Laurie-Anne Vazquez

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Listen up, ya mugs. If ya dug L.A. Noire’s take on the mean streets of Los Angeles, check out these six noir pictures. They’re dark, bleak, and the characters within believe that the world is out to get them. They’re also the best ever made. Don’t agree? Go sleep with the fishes.

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Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The City of Angels has some dark corners, and never is that more clear than in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. A dark depiction of show biz sleaze, Sunset is the grande dame of film noir. From its opening shot of a dead man floating in a pool to its final terrifying close-up, the film commits every frame to the destructive price of fame… and the slow, horrifying descent into madness that even death can’t stop. Ready for your close-up, Mr. DeMille?

Double Indemnity X List: The movies behind L.A. Noire

Double Indemnity (1944)
When lust is a crime, murder and double crossing are its after-effects. Ripped straight from the tabloids, Double Indemnity tells the story of an insurance salesman falling for a shady dame and the subsequent hell she puts him through for offing her husband. Double crosses ensue. People get shot. The boss sees all. It’s a mean, nasty little crime story, and is extra sweet for featuring gangster godfather Edward G. Robinson as the all-seeing boss. More Billy Wilder goodness.

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Sin City (2005)
A neo-noir rooted in Frank Miller’s gritty source material, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City is an ode to the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days when tough guys growled voiceovers, shady dames shot down crooked cops, and innocent people got caught in between. It’s also incredibly violent, with lots of red, splotchy goop splattering the razor sharp black and white cinematography.  It’s blood for blood. By the gallon.

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White Heat (1949)
If insanity needs a little push to get started then Cody Jarrett got shoved off a cliff. Raoul Walsh’s White Heat is a noir crime drama, and James Cagney’s Jarrett is a gangster who hears demons and sits in his mama’s lap for consolation. Cagney’s energy almost comes out of the screen and the breakdown he has in prison when he finds out mama died will haunt you for the rest of your days. Scarface be damned; this is a gangster.

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The Maltese Falcon
This is the stuff that dreams are made of – assuming those dreams lead to murder. John Huston’s gumshoe flick cemented Humphrey Bogart as the burned out, put-upon detective who always gets his man, even when everyone else around him gets offed. All the characters are types rather than people, and plot twists make a big knot that isn’t easy to follow, but you don’t get more noir than Bogey. He’s at his best here.

TearsInTheRain X List: The movies behind L.A. Noire

Blade Runner (1982) – Just because a movie takes place in a crazy, Phillip K. Dick future doesn’t mean it isn’t noir. Ridley Scott’s magnum opus is exactly that, with retired cop Rick Deckard brought in for one last job and unraveling a seamy crime story bit by intricate bit. Sure it has flying cars, but it questions what makes us human and forces us to examine how much we really know about the world we live in. And, like its noir predecessors, it’s one hell of a mindfuck. Fiery the angels fell, indeed.

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News and Culture Editor Laurie Vazquez really misses when all games were flat. Sure, she’s worked in television and veered off into film and television writing, but when she’s not whacking out scripts for contests (or, more likely, when she should be whacking them out) she fires up her beloved flat games. Take away her Nintendo, and she is a sad, sad girl. Just don’t take away her Futurama or her viola: that makes her mad.

7 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Glenn May 17, 2011 at 8:44 PM - Reply

    Pretty close to my best. LA Confidential is obviously the closest match to LA Noire but not the finest example of the genre. I’m both surprised and pleased to see Chinatown excluded from the list. I always felt that one was overrated.

    The only thing I’d change, more a personal favorite than a usual suspect, is Key Largo. Bogart in that one sort of perfected the action-hero-exercises-restraint thing before it became the norm but the movie doesn’t get much play.

    Do you think Ghost in the Shell qualifies for the genre? I’ve been trying to work that out lately.

  2. Jeffrey L. Wilson May 17, 2011 at 11:54 PM - Reply

    Glenn, I agree..Chinatown is massively overrated. I don’t think anything about it is particularly special. There’s some good acting, but in find the plot on the dull side.

    Ghost in the Shell I wouldn’t lump in there for the most superficial reasons. It’s far too quiet (I like my noir banter) and it lacks the femme fatale. Oshii does capture beautifully bleak images, tho.

  3. Glenn May 18, 2011 at 5:08 AM - Reply

    The dialogue is extremely similar to Blade Runner, though, in topic and tone. Remove the voice-over narration from Ridley Scott’s movie, which Ridley did himself, and you’ve got reciprocality (not a word) between the both of them. So I disagree but still have to work out what Blade Runner has that GITS doesn’t, if indeed one is neo-noir and the other is straight scifi-action. It’s five in the morning where I live. This is pathetic.

  4. Glenn May 18, 2011 at 5:13 AM - Reply

    One could argue the Puppet Master as the femme but everyone’s so androgynous in that movie it would be a stretch. It does take on a female body-shape to prey on a detective for it’s own personal gain though.

  5. Laurie May 18, 2011 at 9:25 AM - Reply

    You know, Glenn, I don’t consider Chinatown a pure noir film: sure, it’s got the detective story angle and the tone, but what Jeffrey calls no plot I call a tone poem. It’s noirish, but it’s more mystery than noir film.

    I’m not sure about Ghost in the Shell. It certainly utilizes a lot of the same noir themes Blade Runner does. The femme fatale element, to my mind, doesn’t necessarily need to be included in a noir film (which is why I included a gangster picture), but a bleak world outlook certainly does. Oshii’s good at making us question what makes humans different from machines, but his concept’s so rooted in sci-fi it’s hard for me to see it as noir. Maybe the fact Blade Runner keeps humans as the focus of its story (for the most part) rather than a machines is what makes the difference between noir and sci-fi opera.

    Also, I love reciprocality as a word. And Key Largo is fantastic. I wanted to throw in the Big Sleep, but I thought people wouldn’t read a list of 7.

  6. Jeffrey L. Wilson May 18, 2011 at 2:11 PM - Reply

    @laurie – What your opinion on Oshii’s work as a whole? I feel that is work, generally, is excellent, but there’s always one element in every work that drives me insane. Love the guy, near perfection, but then there’s the “why the fuh did he do that….” moment.

    And as for China Town..it’s decent!But you’re right its more of a mystery (with a major surprise).

  7. Laurie May 18, 2011 at 3:53 PM - Reply

    I don’t think I get Oshii. I feel like he’s trying to make a very big, intelligent, elaborate point and I’m too dumb to catch it. Like Peter Chung. But slower paced.

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