Saturday, June 17, 2006

Crime Films

CDs in Play: Henry Mancini, Experiment in Terror (soundtrack). The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street.

I like crime films, it is a genre of I get a lot of enjoyment out of. I decided to post a list of my favourite films in the genre, and these 10 films represent my opinion on some of the best crime films that have been put out there. It's in no particular order because I have a hard time quanifying things that specifically, thus this list should not be considered a ranking list

10 Crime Flicks I think People Should see
**In No Particular Order**

1. The Limey (1999)/ Get Carter (1971)
2. The French Connection (1971)
3. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
4. The Killing (1956)
5. Narc (2002)
6. Point Blank (1967)
7. Bullit (1968)
8. Fresh (1994)
9. The Third Man (1949)
10. Insomnia (1997) - in Norwegian and Swedish

There are other films I could have included, but most were made within the last 14 years. Pulp Fiction, Resevoir Dogs, Out of Sight and LA Confidential were wildly popular films. The Maltese Falcon is sort of a cornerstone of film making, but it is an "old" movie and people have this tendency to stay away from films on that basis alone. I wanted my list to cover wider ground chronologically and internationally as much as possible. I not sure whether or not I count the Cohen Brother's Miller's Crossing (1990) as a crime film or, more specifically, as a mob film. It is a favourite of mine, one of those films I can watch repeatedly. However, I put mob films in an entirely different category to the straight up crime film. Hard to compare films like Goodfellas and The Godfather (Parts I and II) to the likes of Get Carter and Narc.

Possible Spoilers Alert. In an attempt to fascilitate discussion but not ruin any of the films for those who have not seen them, I will set up the following: spoilers are in the black spaces between *Spoilers* *Spoilers*. Just highlight the black space and read. *Spoilers* What possible spoilers could I write here? There are no spoilers here so why are you highlighting this? *Spoilers*

The Limey/Get Carter

The Limey by director Steven Soderberg and writer Lemm Dobbs is essentially a remake of Get Carter from 19971, directed by Mike Hodges and starring Maichael Caine. Both films are about a criminal who learns of the death of a family member under seemingly innocent circumstances, (an alcohol related car accident) but don't believe the official version so they head out to investigate for themselves. The direction that each films' main characters take and the ends that they come to are completely different.
Soderberg and Dobb's film is the more adventurous of the two, drawing on a visual style heavily inspired by the surealism of French New Wave Cinema. *Spoilers* In fact, the disjointed presentation of The Limey is an attempt by Soderberg to represent the way memory works, since the film is told in flashback. Memory skips around, refuses to stick to the strict rules of narrative. We remember things out of sequence, memory overlaps itself and the film tries to represent that. *Spoilers* Solid performances from Terrance Stamp, Luis Guzmán, Peter Fonda, Leslie Ann Warren, Barry Newman, Ameilia Heinle, Nicky Katt and William Lucking. Commentaries are worth checking out on the DVD.
I never bothered to watch the Sylvester Stallone remake of Get Carter, but from what little I have seen on television it doesn't seem worth checking out. Mike Hodges' film starring Michael Caine is a very dark study in character. Jack Carter, unlike The Limey's Wilson, is a despicable man who is keenly aware of how despicable he is. The film came out at a time when realism in casting was in vogue in Britain - in other words, there are no beautiful people in the film at all, aside from Britt Ekland.

2. The French Connection

Still stands as a classic to this day. Based on real events, the French Connection is often considered to be the protype of the cop buddy flick. However, the relationship between Det. Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman playing a role based on Det. Eddie Egan) and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider as Det. Sonny Grosso) is anything but Hollywood's version. This film couldn't be made by Hollywood today, too dark. The fact that it is too dark is reason enough to see it, but it is an excellent film besides.

3. The Maltese Falcon

Kasper Gutman: "You're a close-mouthed man?"
Sam Spade: "Nah, I like to talk."
Kasper Gutman: "Better and better. I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking's something you can't do judiciously, unless you keep in practice. [sits back] Now, sir. We'll talk, if you like. I'll tell you right out, I am a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."

It is sad that so many people have a phobia of black and white movies these days, they are missing out. John Houston's masterpiece is still as good today as it was back in 1941. Sure, dialogue and delivery are a little different than what is produced today, but you have genuine icons on the screen. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre have no modern counterparts. These people has style and, more importantly, substance.
The Maltese Falcon is classic Film Noir and there is no way my list could have any credibility without it. You have probably heard the name Sam Spade kicked around on film and television and maybe you know why. If you don't, you need to see this film.

4. The Killing

Also in B&W, is The Killing from director Stanley Kubrick. (2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining) Been a while since I have seen this one, but it is another examlpe of classic Film Noir. This isn't done in the definitive Kubrick style, it's very much a studio film, but it bears Kubrick's imprint destinctly. Someone said to me once that criminals are losers who go on perpetuating their loses, and The Killing portrays this beautifully. Anyone who goes on about Tarrantino's genius but has not seen this film should hang their heads in shame.

5. Narc

Narc was an independent film shot in Toronto, which was subbing in for Detroit. Director Joe Carnahan has stated openly that he was inspired by William Friedkin and his masterpiece The French Connection, and it shows. Ray Liotta (as Henry Oak) and Jason Patrick ( as Nick Tellis) team up to solve the mystery of the death surrounding Michael Calvess, Oak's former partner. A first class, realistic tour through the slimy underbelly of the drug world. The film is streetlevel all the way, therefore it is also gritty and very dark.
I think it is worth pointing out, that the depiction of the junkies, dealers and low-lifes are very accurate - right down to the gangsta wanna-be white boy. I see these type of people on the job almost everyday.

6. Point Blank

Not to be confused with Grosse Point Blank, a late 90's romantic comedy about a hit man trying to win back his high school sweetheart. Point Blank was adapted from a novel entitled The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, which was also adapted by Brian Helgeland as Payback in 1999. To be honest, I actually like Payback better than Point Blank overall. Mel Gibson is essentially doing a riff on Lee Marvin's performance, which is the weakest part, but the rest of the cast are great. Gregg Henry's double-crossing associate is much better than John Vernon's double-crossing friend. Maria Bello may be playing the stereotypical hooker with a heart of gold, but she does it well and makes the part her own. Besides, I never liked Angie Dickinson.
So why did I pick Point Blank over Payback? It is the original and it has Lee Marvin. Cold, calculating and unrelentling, Marvin's Walker beats out Gibson's Porter hands down. Point Blank is dated in so many respects, dated in a way that the older films on my list are not. Point Blank's polt-line is also much more complex than Payback's, straight-forward tale of revenge. *Spoilers* The criminal organization in Point Blank is much more nebulous and competent than the one in Payback. We learn that over the course of the film that Walker has been manipulated by one ranking boss in the syndicate to get rid of his internal competition. Walker also never gets his money. When he leaves the scene nothing is resolved, Walker never gets his money.*Spoilers* Carol O'Connor (best known as Archie Bunker) is great in the film, a good match for Marvin's hard-ass act.

7. Bullit

Probably the best film that Steve McQueen ever made, in my opinion. City politics, police politics and ambition all collide to make one honest cop trying to do his job very, very difficult. McQueen's closed mouth Lt. Frank Bullit doesn't need to say much to get his point across, something Quentin Tarrantino knock-offs could have taken note of. When Bullit does speak the audience listens. In one instance, McQueen uses an common expletive, but says it with so much force that it truly carries the intended moral authority.
Solid performances from Simon Oakland, Norman Fell, Robert Vaughn and Carl Reindel. Bullit has my favourite car chase on film, by the way. Most people point to The French Connection for its car chase, and I can understand why. However, Bullit's car chase is a car lover's car chase between classic muscle cars the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Charger. (Futurama riffed on this chase in the episode with Beck) Bullit's car chase was probably also done is such a way to minimise the potential dangers to the general public, unlike The French Connections.

8. Fresh

A crime film that has been criminally overlooked since its release in 1994. Boaz Yakin did his own streetlevel film about a drug courier trying to do what is best for his family. Often lumped in with films like New Jack City, Fresh lacks the glorification of the "gansta" lifestyle as well as the requisite hip-hop soundtrack.
Starring Sean Nelson, the highly underrated and under-used Giancarlo Esposito and N'Bushe Wright in incredibly naturalistic and touching performances. Samuel L. Jackson also stars as Fresh's hard-assed, embittered chess playing father. In fact chess provides the overall motif for the film. See it. Honestly, if you only pick one film from this list pick either The Limey or Fresh.

9. The Third Man

Harry Lime: "Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly."

The BFI ranked this as the greatest British film of all time, and it was the only non-American film on the AFI's top 100. Graham Greene wrote the screen play and it stars Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, and Bernard Lee. (the original "M" from the James Bond series) Wilfred Hyde-White also turns in an appearance, leading one to conclude that he was always an old man. The above quote was written by Welles himself, which led one Swiss national to complain that the Swiss did not invent the cuckoo clock.

10. Insomnia

Norwegian Director Erik Skjoldbjærg created a variant on Film Noir that depends on light rather than darkness to set the tone. Perhaps it could have been called Film Blanc? Stellan Skarsgaard is Jonas Engström, a disgraced Swedish cop working in north Norway. He is driven by his ego. When a tragic mistake happens, Engström works sleeplessly to cover it up rather than admit to what he has done.
In Film Noir, the protagonist or anti-hero often woks to uncover the truth from a shadowy, oblique world where the truth fights to remain hidden. In Skjoldbjærg's film, our anti-hero works hard to keep the truth from coming to light. But in a landscape where the sun never sets, that proves to be a formidable task.
I have yet to make it through the remake by Christopher Nolan. (sleep and life have conspired to prevent me from seeing it) Truthfully, I thought a remake so soon after the original was a little shallow, but I am willing to give it a chance. Peter Chattaway tells me that the films main characters are quite different from one another, at least their motivations are.


Blogger Geosomin said...

The spoiler alert thing is very cool. How'd you think of it...neato.
Now i have a bunch of movies to see...

01 May, 2006 10:22  
Blogger Magnus said...

Well, I saw it on Someone was posting details about some film no one wanted to have spoiled for them, so the people who did see it, blanked their discussions like that. Can't remember what film, something Audrey Tautou would have dubbed as Thingy, Blah, Blah Part 3

01 May, 2006 22:38  
Blogger Magnus said...

Which ones do think you might try to rent first?
I may try and do a mob film list at some point. One film I wanted to include was the Cohen Brothers' Miller's Crossing but decided it was more a mob film than a straight up crime film. Blood Simple is another crime film byth Cohens that is worth checking out, as is their comic spoof of dectective films The Big Lewbowski

01 May, 2006 23:26  
Anonymous Trent said...

And here I thought your spoilers were pointless. Spoiler: Carol O Conner is great in the film. Wha? That didn't ruin anything for me.

It was only on reading yo Gee's comments that I figured it out.

06 May, 2006 01:25  
Blogger Magnus said...

The two people I thought would have a lot to say on this post have chosen to remain silent. Pete and Thoth? Hello? I was looking forward to their comments.

09 May, 2006 00:58  
Blogger Thoth Harris said...

Bullit kicks butt! I love Steve McQueen. Of course, Third Man, I love it.

I watched, way back when, the VO from your Get Carter dub. Not bad. Of course, you can't get everything and the whole sense of action from the subtitles, and Get Carter never seemed to be available anywhere, including, even, I think, Boite Noire! But it didn't reach the expectations, at least from what I could see from images and subtitles, as I was expecting much from you vaunted opnion. Oh well, everybody's taste is a little bit different. Also, sometime, we like things for more sentimental reasons, too.

I loved the Limey. The sense of suspense caused by imagined acts was a particularly interested effect employed by S.

I will try to write more, either in your comment section here, or as another post in my blog. You're right, we should comment on this post. Good idea, updating this post from several months back. But Peter never seems to comment on other people's posts, or even on other people's comment in his posts either, for that matter, does he?

18 June, 2006 22:08  
Blogger Magnus said...

Pete's a father of two right now, and they gobble up time in addition to food.
You saw my copy of Insomnia correct? I liked Caine's Carter because Carter is aware of how bad he is. He hates himself for it but seems resigned to his role. I think The Limey and Get Carter also juxtapose in a ninteresting manner in the way Carter and Wilson dela with their familial guilt and cupability in their family member's demise/ruin.

19 June, 2006 02:25  
Blogger Thoth Harris said...

Yeah, I agree, Insomnia is amazing. saw it many, many, many times. After seeing it with you and then you took it back with you to B.C., I rented it and made a copy from the video store one for myself. Al Pacino is just as compeelling, for different reasons, of course. I'm not sure which version I like the most. They're both quite unsettling for subtly different reasons

I must confess that I have been watching movies a lot less recently. Mainly tv. Sure, I watch so many movies on cable tv. But when you watch them on TV rather than renting them or going out to see them, you forget what went on. Everthing is becoming more and more of a blur to me. I must get back to my film studies discipline in Canada. But the politics of the department might just be too far gone at this point. It seem the department has been rather moribund, of late. No more synoptique (they were supposed to have a winter issue). Mostly, I don't blame the student, of course. Many of them are great people whom I might actually call friends! But its the politics of some of the teachers. Fighting with each other through TAs etc. I was rather a victim of that sort of thing. Of course I won't outline all the details right now. Although I do sometimes desire exposing it all. Sick. Petty. And lacking in humility and compassion for the students they are involving. Don't mention the university if you discuss this in my site or yours, ok. But whoever knows me knows me and whoever does their research knows it too. And everyone in the department knows it.

Have you seen Inside Man, yet? How about Hostel. Of course, Saw is more of a horror film. I haven't seen Hostel yet, so can't really tell you!

I love the verification today!:


19 June, 2006 07:55  

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