But if you want something tamer, but still ultra noir, off the top of my head, here's my list of classics and neonoirs you should check out. And why. (You've all seen Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and L.A. Confidential, right?) Because before my ossession was Lost, it was (and still is) film noir. Here's the list, in no particular order. (Updated April 3.)
1. Romeo is Bleeding: Fans of Alias will probably already be familiar with this - it stars Lena Olin in her *first* role as a psychopathic Russian assassin. There's a scene where she has to cut off a body part - her own! Points for handcuffing Gary Oldman.
2. The Grifters: God, I love Jim Thompson. Read, read his books! So damn dark and twisted! This one has another love triangle, between a guy, his girlfriend, and his mother. Plus lots of great cons, a fantastic score by Elmer Bernstein and an "I didn't see that coming" ending.
3. Chinatown: "Forget about it, Jake. It's Chinatown." A great mystery, dark love story, and examination of power and corruption. Director Roman Polanski makes an appearance as a knife-wielding thug who slices Jack Nicholson's nose, warning him that if he doesn't drop his investigation, "Next time I'll cut it off and feed it to my goldfish."
4. Blade Runner: GUH! So noir. So sleek. So brutal and haunting. Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty is one of the best movie villains of all time. Harrison Ford makes a great noir detective, even if he hated the voiceover he had to do and sounds bored doing it! ;-) One of the most influential movies ever made. If you've never see it, run, run to the video store and see it now.
5. After Dark, My Sweet: I've always said this lead character is the Hamlet of noir - is he crazy or just faking it? A punchy boxer gets involved in a shady kidnapping scheme and things quickly go south. Can he trust the woman he's fallen in love with? And can she trust him? Based on another sizzling Jim Thompson novel.
6. Sexy Beast: A retired thief has an unwelcome visit from an old colleague who won't take no for an answer when a new job comes up. Violent, intense and slightly surreal. Ben Kingsley is a far cry from Gandhi here!
7. Get Carter: The original, not the Stallone remake, for God's sake! Characters don't come any more cold and brutal than Michael Caine's does here, as he seeks revenge for his murdered brother and he doesn't care who he has to kill. Chilling and bleak.
8. Point Blank: Another revenge flick, this one starring Lee Marvin as a man whose partner and wife betrayed him and left him for dead. He's back, but he just wants his money. He savages his way up the food chain to get his man. Oddly psychedelic (well, it was made in the 1960s), but packs a punch. Please ignore the horribly inferior Mel Gibson remake, Paycheck.
9. The Limey: A nonlinear genre piece that's boiled down to the bare noir essentials: violence and obsession. A British con just released from prison seeks vengeance for his daughter's death. Terence Stamp's brutal intensity makes the film.
1. Kiss Me Deadly In 1955, this was apocalyptic as noir got. Our "hero" is Mike Hammer, a sleazy detective who'd slug you as soon as look at you. When he picks up a dame wearing just a trench coat and she gets bumped off, he starts to think the elaborate cover-up means something big is going on. And it is. Bigger than he could ever imagine. Violent, strange, and the ending is so out there it's almost sci-fi.
2. Gilda: Kinky! A love triangle with homoerotic content so blatant it's not even subtext. My favorite noir dialogue: "I hate you so much Johnny, I think I'll die from it. Hate is a very exciting emotion? Haven't you ever noticed?" Oh yeah, we noticed! Rita Hayworth was never sexier.
3. Out of the Past: Okay, Robert Mitchum is my favorite classic actor. He's so damn sexy and here he delivers his signature line, "Baby, I don't care," as he grabs a gangster's girl for a sizzling kiss on the beach. LOVE it. The way he smokes a cigarette or just looks at a woman *kills* me. Every time.
4. The Asphalt Jungle: The best pre-Reservoir Dogs "heist gone wrong" flick ever. Tough, hardboiled noir with a hero so fatalistic, you'll swoon. Marilyn Monroe makes a brief, early appearance!
5. Brute Force: Burt Lancaster attempts a prison break from the pen where the warden is a sadist who loves to torture men while listening to classical music. Fantastic finale. Chilling final line.
6. Criss Cross: Burt Lancaster again - as a chump who can't stay away from his no-good ex-wife. Somehow it all ends up with him masterminding an armored car robbery with her new husband, a mobster. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong.
7. The Big Heat: Violent revenge noir: cop seeks the men who killed his wife. Famous "boiling coffee in the face" scene. Director Fritz Lang was a German emigre who fled Nazi Germany (along with many, many other noir directors) and the nihilism comes off this movie in waves.
8. Gun Crazy: The Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple in this B-movie inspired my fic "You Only Live Once" as much as the movie I named it after. She's a gun-crazy dame and so is he, but when they hook up he realizes she won't draw the line at killing people. Original title of this was "Deadly is the Female."
9. Vertigo: That Jimmy Stewart, gosh, he's always so nice! He'd never obsess over a dead woman he loved and convince a girl who looks kind of like her to dress and talk just like her? Would he? One of Hitchcock's best. Fantastic Bernard Herrmann score.
10. The Third Man: Classic post-war noir set in Vienna in which naive American writer Holly Martins shows up because an old pal has promised him a job. Only his friend has just died in a mysterious accident. Haunting zither score, crooked camera angles and Orson Welles is unforgettable as charming amoral cad Harry Lime. Final chase sequence through the Vienna sewers is a masterpiece.
11. The Lady From Shanghai: Rita Hayworth as a blonde(!) femme fatale who seduces hired man, Orson Welles. (They were divorcing while the film was being made. Awkward!) Soon he's on trial for murder and only her brilliant lawyer husband can get him off. Climactic shootout in a hall of mirrors is justly one of the most famous scenes in film noir.
12. In a Lonely Place: Hollywood noir. Screenwriter Humphrey Bogart is an alcoholic has-been in need of a hit, and not the kind he's always making with his fists. His becoming a suspect in a girl's murder doesn't stop his romance with neighbor Gloria Grahame (one of noir's sexiest dames). But his violent temper soon surfaces and she starts to wonder if he might actually be guilty. Bogart at his darkest.
13. White Heat: G-man Edmond O'Brien goes undercover in Jimmy Cagney's gang. Cagney's character is just a *little* obsessed with his mother, and when mom goes, Cagney loses it. Another famous, explosive finale.
14. Touch of Evil: Visually baroque, late noir with a famous, one-take opening scene in which the camera swoops through a sleazy Mexican border town (actually, Venice, California), and ends with a car exploding. Orson Welles is a corrupt cop who always knows where to find the evidence - because he's the one planting it! Charlton Heston is a straight-arrow Mexican cop (I know, I know, just go with it), and Janet Leigh his vulnerable young bride who ends up kidnapped and drugged and - depending on your imagination - sujected to a *lot* more by a gang of toughs. One of Welles' last cinematic masterpieces. Recently restored to the director's original version.
15. The Big Combo: Another later noir, which makes it more violent and sexier than its earlier noir counterparts. Cop Cornel Wilde wants to nail mobster Richard Conte, and the way to do that is through his girlfriend, Jean Wallace, who knows something that could bring the mobster down. You've got creative torture, a man disappearing below frame as he's kissing a woman (what *could* he be up to?), and two clearly gay gangster pals.
And that's just a small sampling! Enjoy!