I’m doing something a bit different on the blog over the next few weeks – instead of waffling on about writing and book launches, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on films and TV shows I enjoy . I’ll be listing my top ten in genres such as gangster films, heist films, serial killer films, TV detective shows, spy and conspiracy films … Anything related to the genre I write in basically.
First up is a no-brainer though: my top ten contemporary crime films.
- Heat. Michael Mann’s epic film was the first time Al Pacino and Robert Dn Niro had appeared together on screen and the chemistry between them is amazing. De Niro is the professional and ruthless thief, Pacino is the obsessed cop who tries to bring him down. With a supporting cast that includes Tom Sizemoor, Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman, Jon Voight and William Fictner to name but a few, Mann has produced a film that has, and will, stand the test of time. Oh, and the shoot out near the end has never been bettered.
- The Town. This is a film that could have been added to the ‘heist’ list when I get around to it but as it is a straight up cops ‘n’ robbers movie, I’m putting it in here. I love this film and have watched it over and over again. Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner portray lifelong friends who’ve grown up in Boston’s Charlestown area and who now rob banks. Jon Hamm plays the FBI agent tasked with apprehending them and the late Pete Postlethwaite plays a Boston-Irish gangster. The stand out character for me though was Boston itself; a beautiful city with hidden poverty. Superb film.
- The Usual Suspects. The film with that twist. When the ‘usual suspects’ of Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Benicio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Pollack are all brought in when a shipment of weapons goes missing, a sequence of events begins which has gone down in movie folklore. Told from the perspective of Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kent, a story unfolds with enough twists and turns for a hundred films. Anyone who said they guessed the ending first time round is lying.
- The Departed. The second film in the list that takes place in Boston, The Departed is a film about two men: Leonardo DiCaprio, a cop who goes undercover with Jack Nicholson’s crime gang; and Matt Damon, the man from Jack Nicholson’s gang who takes a job in Boston PD. What follows is a never-bettered game of cat and mouse as the two men, who are unaware of the other’s existence for most of the film, rise up their respective organisations. A supporting cast that includes Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin add real depth to this intelligent crime movie.
- Leon. Leon is the story of a milk-drinking hitman and the little girl he takes in after her family are murdered by bent cop, Gary Oldman. Jean Reno is utterly believable as Leon and Natalie Portman brilliantly plays the little girl who wants to learn his trade to avenge her little brother. This is no mentor-mentoree film though – it’s an intelligent character study on shy and lonely people and how extraordinary circumstances can draw them together. Yes, there’s violence and yes, there’s a story about assassins and revenge and bent cops but at it’s heart Leon is a film about two people and how their relationship changes them both for the better.
- No Country For Old Men. The film that introduced Javier Bardem (and his pudding-bowl haircut) to the world. He plays a hitman, with an unusual method of killing people, chasing down two million dollars that Josh Brolin Stumbled across by accident. Tommy Lee Jones is the grizzled cop trying to make sense of it all. It’s Noir at its best.
- Gone Baby Gone. A film with an ending that will divide its audience. The third Boston film to make the list (I swear this isn’t because one of my favourite bands – The Dropkick Murphys – are from there) it revolves around the search for a missing four-year-old. Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan are the private detectives who are hired by the child’s aunt to find her. The ‘what would I do if it had been me’ part at the end of the film stayed with me for weeks.
- Fargo. ‘This is based on a true story’ has now become infamous in the movie world. It wasn’t true but it set the tone for what followed. William H. Macy hires two inept hitmen – the ever brilliant Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi who, when they argue amongst themselves, really are funny – to kidnap his wife. He’s bungled a business deal and thinks his father-in-law’s ransom money will get him out of a big hole. Unsurprisingly, things do not go to plan and when the body count rises, it is up to the heavily pregnant Frances McDormand to untangle it all. Mcdormand is the real star of this film and arguably the only nice person in it. Fargo is simply brilliant and it is not surprising that it lead to an equally brilliant TV series.
- Insomnia. Al Pacino is the insomniac LAPD detective investigating a murder in a small Alaskan town, Robin Williams is the killer and Hilary Swank is the young and principled local cop. Pacino was under investigation by internal affairs and Martin Donovan, his partner, had been offered a deal to testify against. During a shoot out in the fog with Williams, Pacino accidentally kills Donovan. He corrupts the scene so it looks like Donovan has been killed by Williams and what follows is a tangled web of lies as Pacino becomes more and more desperate to catch Williams before it all falls down and internal affairs arrest him. Great film by one of world’s greatest directors: Christopher Nolan.
- End of Watch. The documentary-style End of Watch follows Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as they go about their day-to-day business as uniformed cops in the LAPD and what happens when they are ‘green lit’ for inadvertently getting involved in cartel business. End of Watch is humorous, brutal and desperately sad at times but always thought provoking and watchable.
This is my list and I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts. Do you agree with my choices? Are there ones you can’t believe I’ve missed?