Thursday, January 26, 2023

My Favorite Crime Movies

 That’s right, my Top Ten list. You don’t like it, make your own.


Top Ten lists are the two-inch erections of writing.  (A man and a woman go to bed together. She sees his erection measures two inches, at best, and asks, “Who do you expect to satisfy with that?” “Me,” he replies.) Everyone has their own tastes and criteria. Watching the Godfather trilogy a few weeks ago got me to thinking about my personal Pantheon of crime films. Take it for what it’s worth.


I have two primary principles when evaluating films for my list:

1. I have to like the movie.

2. It has to bear up under repeated viewings.


This means pictures such as A Touch of Evil don’t make the cut, no matter how much Chili Palmer likes it. I can appreciate the art, but a movie that casts Charlton Heston as a Mexican and leaves Janet Leigh to sit alone in a motel room for most of its duration is not something I’m going to watch a lot. Or even again.


Pulp Fiction is also right out. I’ve seen it many times and will probably see it again, but my opinion changes with every viewing. Is it brilliant? Is it a series of brilliant scenes that don’t quite equal the sum of their parts? Is it indecipherable, self-indulgent twaddle? Is it all of the above? Every time I watch it, I come down on the side of a different answer.


What does make the cut? These are all movies I’ll watch again—most of which I own—and look forward to doing so, knowing I’ll find something to enjoy I missed before. I made no effort to rank them; they are displayed in chronological order of their release.


The Maltese Falcon (1940)

The quintessential black and white noir film, in my mind rivaled only by Sunset Boulevard. (Which did not make the list because I don’t consider it a crime movie, though there is a crime committed.) The complex plot is not too complex to follow, and all the ends are tied off without being too pat about it. Bogart looks nothing like how Spade is described in the book, but he’s still perfect in the part. My only quibble was with Mary Astor as the femme fatale, but a little research taught me she had a reputation as a Hollywood bad girl at the time, which made her more believable to audiences of the day.


The French Connection (1971)

Including this one saved me a beating from Reed Farrel Coleman, but it would have made the cut, anyway. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider made their bones here; Hackman already had a name for himself, but Popeye Doyle blew him up. Don’t pay too much attention to the story; this is the ultimate mood picture, with one of the great (underrated) soundtracks ever. The chase sequence still grips me, though I have come to wonder how many cars that subway train had.


The Godfather (1972)

I talked about this one last week.


The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

Wonderful and faithful adaptation of George V. Higgins’s groundbreaking novel. My favorite Robert Mitchum performance, though Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, and Steven Keats were all worthy of award consideration. The movie that, as much as any, shaped my ideas about criminal life.*


Chinatown (June 1974)

My go-to film when anyone complains about the water situation in Southern California. It’s a desert. People weren’t meant to live there. Just about a perfect noir.


The Godfather Part 2 (December 1974)

I talked about this one last week, too.


The Usual Suspects (1995)

It’s hard to imagine anyone who reads this blog isn’t familiar with The Usual Suspects, but I’ll not say much just in case, lest I spoil the greatest reveal in crime film history. Kevin Spacey steals the show, but all of the supporting actors are outstanding. Fun fact: Chazz Palmentieri played federal agent Dave Kujan (pronounced koo-yawn.); “Cujon” (very close in pronunciation) is a Cajun word for “fool.”


LA Confidential (1997)

Here it is, Mike Dennis. I wrote a blog about this one over ten years ago that probably needs some updating now that I’ve read the book. The only thing close to a flaw I can find is the display of Susan Lefferts’s body in the identification scene. She was killed by shotgun but doesn’t have a mark on her. Think how good a film must be for that to be my major quibble.


The Drop (2014)

A clinic in how to get in and get out of a story as economically as possible while still providing maximum impact for the audience. Tom Hardy is at his chameleon best, and James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, and Mattias Schoenaerts hang right with him. The final reveal here is first rate.


Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan’s masterpiece to date. Not that his other work isn’t good, but Hell or High Water shows both the criminal and law enforcement side with equal depth and understanding. The final scene between Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, each understanding the other better than the other thinks, worthy adversaries to the end, ties off a movie as well as any I’ve seen.


* -- This is why Heat, Goodfellas, and Casino didn’t make the list. They’re all brilliant films worthy of repeated viewings, but they’re too flashy.


I expect this list to satisfy no one other than myself. Bring it on.


Colin Conway said...

Dana -

Great list.

I'm one of those rare viewers who doesn't dig The Godfather movies. Yeah, sue me. Any time someone gets all gooey about them, I sort of tune out. But that's okay, because you can't please everyone.

Love The Friends of Eddie Coyle. What a great movie and book. And I'm also a huge fan of Hell or High Water. Such a wonderful performance.

I'd respectfully suggest three movies. One you might consider too flashy. There's no way you think that of the second. The third you might not have heard of.

The first is Inside Man. Directed by Spike Lee. Starring Clive Owen and Denzel Washington along with a number of other big names. I've seen it half a dozen times. Every time I view, I think, "Amazing!"

The second is Winter Bone starring Jennifer Lawrence. Good Lord, that is an intense move. I've watched this at least four times.

The last is Small Town Crime. John Hawkes is so freaking good in this movie. I watched it on back to back nights. Wow. I might even watch it again now that I'm thinking about it.

Dana King said...

Actually, I've seen all three, and share your opinion. All would be worthy candidates if I ever do a Second Ten list.

Charlieopera said...

I like your list and am too lazy to make my own. Good to see The Drop in there.

Dana King said...

Yours is a list I'd love to see. You're six months younger than me. Suck it up.