Couch Trip: MT’s neo-noir staff picks

Aug 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

The Long Goodbye (1973)

This "neo-noir" stars Elliott Gould as detective Philip Marlowe, and is actually adapted from a classic thriller novel by Raymond Chandler. But, given the unusual treatment you'd expect from director Robert Altman, it ends up being a sort of wry commentary on the differences between the hard-boiled 1940s and the California of the 1970s. The only thing in common between the decades seems to be Marlowe, and the fact that you could smoke absolutely anywhere.

Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott takes the noir genre into the future, depicting a dystopian L.A. of 2019 where bioengineered "Replicants" live secretly among humans. The film's visuals are a pastiche of different sci-fi and retro styles, but all point to noir: Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, the hard-boiled cop whose job is to exterminate a gang of renegade Replicants, and Sean Young's well-coiffed Rachael serves as the film's femme fatale. While they didn't have giant video billboards in the 1940s, the film's shots of smog-ridden L.A. is pure noir.  

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)

A loving send-up of the golden age of film noir, this comedy starring Steve Martin and the gorgeous Rachel Ward was a technical masterpiece when it was made. Moviemakers created scores of period sets to match their film with bits of classic Hollywood, all so Martin could "co-star" with such Hollywood luminaries as Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Splashed upon the backdrop of 1950s Hollywood, this tale of corrupt cops, a sleazy gossip columnist, prostitution, murder, racism, the mafia, and set-ups made a young Russell Crowe, percolating with rage, a household name. The scenes drip with the subtle sexuality of decades passed. Kevin Spacey gives a spectacular performance, along with Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, and Kim Basinger.

Memento (2000)

Before Christopher Nolan dove headfirst into the Dark Knight trilogy, he crafted the mentally exhaustive Memento, the story of Leonard Shelby and his attempt to figure out who killed his wife. Problem is, Shelby has anterograde amnesia and can't store recent memories. Using a nonlinear structure, Nolan uses scenes that move in reverse order, contrasted by a series of black-and-white scenes that show in chronological order. Shelby, played by Guy Pearce, begins writing scrupulous notes on the back of Polaroid images, gets tattoos to give himself instructions, and it's a fucking mess. Pearce's character points to traditional noir protagonists, and the film's conclusion hits that point square on the nose.  

The Spirit (2008)

Frank Miller hit the jackpot with flicks like Sin City and 300, but his take on noir newspaper comic strip The Spirit didn't fare so well. Despite performances by mega hot Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes (among other hot people), the movie only earned a rating of 14 percent from Rotten Tomatoes. Sure the plot, based on a rookie cop doing battle against an immortal enemy, is almost indecipherable, and the dialogue is clunky, but the visuals are just as awesome as Miller's other movies.— mt