1.Blade Runner — Is it possible for a robot to have a soul? Director Ridley Scott builds a fantastic marriage of noir and science fiction. Just as L.A. Confidential recreates the recent past, Blade Runner creates a believable near future. (Based on a book by Philip K. Dick)
2.No Country for Old Men — Heads or Tails, die now or later. It makes no difference — what you do, evil stalks you and yours. The typical Coen Brothers dark humor rides a desolately thin line as the movie tells us there is no escaping evil or the collateral damage it brings. (Based on a book by Cormac McCarthy).
3. Gosford Park — This is an Agatha Christie on steroids, though, of course it was not based on an Agatha Christie story. Before he created television’s “Downton Abbey,” Julian Fellowes created Gosford Park, a kind of murder-in-the-parlor mystery that tops the sub-genre. Robert Altman directs a sterling cast.
4. Fargo — The Coen Brothers do it again and again. They can make you believe in the absurd. Unlike No Country, Fargo’s dark humor is laugh out-loud. The people are so real and yet what they do is so insane. That’s why we laugh. It’s so true.
5. The Godfather: This is the standard for “mafia” movies. However, it is much more than that. Francis Ford Coppola sets up the relativity and the complexity of right and wrong in a powerful, richly told tale. (Based on a book by Mario Puzo)
6. The Maltese Falcon —What can I say? As a mystery writer, this just might be as good as it gets. Unlike the uneven screenplays based on Raymond Chandler’s classics (with the possible exception of the Bogart version of The Big Sleep) this Hammett private eye tale is perfectly rendered. (Based on a book by Dashiell Hammett)
7. The Talented Mr. Ripley (also Purple Noon) The first is the American version, starring Matt Damon; and the second is the same film done earlier by the French with Alain Delon. Both are perfect portraits of a charming, ingenious sociopath. The films are intricate, fun, and stylish. Cynicism at its best. Timeless. Ripley’s Game, with John Malkovich as Ripley, is also a fine crime film. (Based on books by Patricia Highsmith)
8. L.A. Confidential — You can choose to watch a movie made in the 1950s. Or you can watch a 1950s film from the perspective of the late 1990s. Oddly, the rear-view mirror approach gives us a rich cinematography not available in the fifties. (Based on a book by James Ellroy).9. Chinatown — Roman Polanski may be one of the most underrated directors. However, this film shows up on nearly everyone’s list. There’s no question about its qualifications. It’s Los Angeles a couple of decades after L.A. Confidential. A lesser-known Polanski film, Frantic, is also well-worth watching.