Releases like Guillermo del Toro’s lush remake alley of nightmares and the return of Adrian Lyne after 20 years of absence, deep waters, remind us that film noir is alive and well. The most enduring images and memories of black often evoke the 1940s and 1950s, fedoras, satin dresses and endless clouds of cigarette smoke. However, style (rather than “genre”, since it can’t be so easily classified) has come a long way from there.
Letterboxd users have noticed this, and the top-rated film noir on the site is a wide selection of must-haves, both classic and modern, pure black or variations thereof.
ten Remembrance (2000) – 4.1/5
Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and two Oscars, Memento noir redefined for the new millennium, as it suggests that the process of hero disintegration could go beyond the already exploited moral degradation in favor of psychological decomposition. The film’s protagonist (played by Guy Pearce) suffers from anterograde amnesia and must rely on photographs, notes and tattoos all over his body to piece together the murder of his wife and carry out his revenge.
Director Christopher Nolan finds in the very substance of the story the basis for a sophisticated narrative entanglement. Two parallel timelines, one backwards (in color) and one forwards (in black and white), force the viewer to become extremely involved in the mystery since the first riddle to be solved is the premise of the film itself- same.
9 In a Lonely Place (1950) – 4.1/5
This movie offers a rare chance to see Humphrey Bogart break away from his usual roles as a heartless detective or badass. Dixon Steele is a famous screenwriter with a bad temper who becomes the number one suspect in a murder investigation. Although his neighbor speaks to clear his name, she slowly begins to doubt his innocence as she gets closer to him.
The best word to sum up In a lonely place is “suspense”, and it is truly one of the most suspenseful films of its time. With a slowly rising level of tension, the film manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seat as the plot twists and turns to darker places. What ultimately holds the experience together is Humphrey Bogart’s terrific, jaw-dropping performance as Steele.
8 Double Indemnity (1944) – 4.2/5
Top-notch names have helmed this indisputable classic. Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder are writing a screenplay based on a novel by James M. Cain, with Fred MacMurray, who never falls into the cliché thanks to his acting background, Barbara Stanwyck in the best role of his career, and Edward G. Robinson, who is impeccable as usual. To top it off, an exceptional score by Miklos Rozsa.
The film was released in a crucial year for film noir, along with other classics such as Laura Where The woman at the window. Its plot would be rehashed multiple times (a femme fatale convinces an oblivious insurance salesman to kill her husband), and its long flashback structure is delightful. His visuals, inspired by German expressionism and the raw criminal news of the time, helped shape a style.
seven The Departed (2006) – 4.2/5
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson, the film focuses on two parallel stories of undercover cops: first, rookie soldier Billy (DiCaprio), who infiltrates the heart of the Irish mob in Boston, under dangerous boss Frank Costello (Nicholson); and on the other, Colin (Damon), a young spy inside the Massachusetts State Police…where he was planted by Costello himself.
The frenetic pace of the film makes its two and a half hour runtime go by in the blink of an eye. Fifteen years after the redesign Cape fear and a decade before giving chinmoku the same treatment with its The silenceMartin Scorsese brought this 21st-century epic from Hong Kong, with fast-paced editing techniques and world-class performances, which ranks among Scorsese’s finest gangster titles.
6 Vertigo (1958) – 4.2/5
James Stewart plays Scottie Fergusson, a San Francisco detective who suffers from a fear of heights. Gavin Elster (played by Tom Helmore), an old school friend, hires him for a seemingly simple matter: to watch over his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), a beautiful woman obsessed with her past.
Despite less than favorable reviews and box office numbers upon release, this Hitchcock thriller still holds up today, due to its beauty, mystery and obsessive attention to detail. The camera, like a fly on the wall, manages to capture the magic of James Stewart’s gestures, Kim Novak’s lips and Barbara Bel Geddes’ tears. The result? A biting philosophical exercise on love and self-deception. Everything is carefully calculated to convey an atmosphere of mystery and symbolism.
5 The Third Man (1949) – 4.2/5
The best of the Carol Reed/Graham Greene collaborations deserves to be on this list because of its brilliance staging. In 1947, a writer arrives in Vienna in search of his friend, but the latter is killed by a car. According to the police, two men intervened to help, but a witness speaks of a third.
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Greene adapts his own short story and pulls the right strings to respect its spirit. The oppressive atmosphere of post-war Vienna, shot by Robert Krasker with a strong expressionist influence, gives a surreal touch to the film. Although less sordid than other black masterpieces, the nihilistic tone, as well as themes of unresolved sexual tension and betrayal are present here. Icing on the cake, the excellent performances of Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in support.
4 Chinatown (1974) – 4.2/5
The most representative neo-noir film ever made follows Jack Nicholson as an unlucky detective investigating an extramarital affair for Faye Dunaway which, in turn, evokes the classic fatal Woman archetype. Soon the case will become more twisted, with local political ramifications.
Without renouncing the oppressive and sullen black atmosphere, Chinese district skilfully plays the color card, swapping shaded alleys for semi-deserted spaces under a blazing sun, while retaining the moral chiaroscuro of the early years. Chinese district is so large that, without losing its classic status, it updates the concerns of the time: while the noir of the 40s and 50s reflected the tension of the post-war period, in the 70s Roman Polanski made a film dripping with post-Vietnam and post-Watergate desperation, despite being set in 1930s Los Angeles.
3 Fargo (1996) – 4.2/5
In this indisputable classic, Frances McDormand plays police chief Marge Gunderson, who must solve a crime stemming from a staged kidnapping that didn’t go as planned. This instantly iconic character, seven months pregnant, follows a trail of violence through the snowy landscapes of Minnesota with charming glee and a quirky sense of humor. However, what many people don’t know is that much of that snow, which becomes a character itself, was man-made as location shoots in the US and Canada suffered this winter- there temperatures higher than usual.
McDormand won her first Best Actress Oscar for this role, which is arguably the most memorable of her career. It was just one of seven Oscars the film was nominated for, also winning Best Screenplay for brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.
2 Rear window (1954) – 4.3/5
Alfred Hitchcock directed what is considered the quintessential voyeur film, and he does it with a narrative style as ingenious and fast-paced as only a genius could. Likewise, only James Stewart could have played Jeff, a professional photographer whose world consists of staring at the building opposite through a pair of binoculars while recovering from an accident. That is until he begins to suspect one of his neighbors, played by Raymond Burr, of having done something horrible.
Stewart is accompanied by Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter as girlfriend and nurse, respectively. Hitchcock’s directing relies heavily on Stewart’s facial expressions and reactions in an impeccable exercise in suspense. In fact, Hitchcock himself described rear window as his “most cinematic” film as much of the story was told visually. Pure cinema.
1 Sunset Boulevard (1950) – 4.4/5
Depressed screenwriter Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) recounts, following the classic structure of flashback and voiceover, the events that lead to his body appearing floating in a swimming pool. Death and oblivion are fundamental themes here. Including faces from the silent film era such as Buster Keaton, Cecil B. de Mille, Hedda Hopper, Erich von Stroheim and Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond) is a great way to remind audiences of the fleeting nature of fame. .
With co-screenwriters Charles Brackett and DM Marshman, Billy Wilder has penned an Oscar-winning screenplay that shifts traditional film noir codes toward drama. This memorable hybrid critiques and pays homage to early Hollywood and its cruel treatment of aging stars.
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