Los Angeles, California is the capital of movie-making. Some of the best stories from filmmakers often don’t show Hollywood’s glamour and glitz, but rather capture the culture and seedy side. As resident of the Los Angeles area, it’s always exciting to see this town on the silver screen – an experience made even greater when the filmmaker manages to peg our metropolis’ attitude.
While there are many, many films we could talk about, here are a few that impacted us a great deal.
Films featuring Los Angeles
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.: Director William Friedkin made an underrated masterpiece with this taut thriller. The entire ensemble is incredible – specifically stars Willem Dafoe and William Petersen. The script, co-written by Friedkin and Gerald Petievich, features one of the all-time-great shocking twists. Action sequences are thrilling – as are the camera techniques utilized by Friedkin in the quieter, dramatic scenes. Plus, Wang Chung’s compositions are absolutely brilliant as they complement Friedkin’s precise aesthetic. It’s the perfect pop-new-wave soundtrack to blast from your car stereo as you drive around this city (yes, even in 2016).
L.A. STORY: Steve Martin stars in the perfect – and much more accessible – companion piece to Robert Altman’s THE PLAYER. This satirizes early-90’s L.A. culture in a kooky, tongue-in-cheek manner, capturing all of this town’s idiosyncrasies and neuroses. It’s sweet, charming, witty and filled with lots of L.A. types who still exist today.
500 DAYS OF SUMMER: Sure, we fell head over heels in love with stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and it revitalized the flagging rom-com genre. However, it’s also a radiant love letter to downtown Los Angeles – an area that’s recently benefited from an influx of urban hipster gentrification.
SAFE: This tale about a San Fernando Valley housewife who becomes allergic to her environment – a.k.a. her own banality – is just as relevant today as it was back in 1995. Viewed through today’s lens, Todd Haynes’ unsettling drama feels strangely prescient, taking on a whole new, almost stingingly satirical tone – especially if you’re a RHOBH devotee.
HEAT/ COLLATERAL: Director Michael Mann gets L.A.’s criminal underbelly and photographs it with a distinctly cool filter. It’s one thing to show criminals on the streets of L.A., but it’s another to humanize them and that’s Mann’s milieu. The heist sequence in HEAT set downtown is this film’s biggest set piece. In fact, there’s a plaque near Flower Street and 6th Street (near the library) commemorating the shooting location. From downtown, to Koreatown, to Leimert Park, COLLATERAL drove us all over the streets of Los Angeles in Jamie Foxx’s taxicab. Both have an undeniable kinetic energy that’s deeply transfixing. It’s hard to stop watching either film when coming across them on cable.
BLADE RUNNER: Set in the future, Director Ridley Scott’s sci-fi tale utilizes many historic Los Angeles locales in order to tell its story: Downtown’s Bonaventure hotel makes a cameo. The Bradbury Building became a tourist destination after this film’s release. Other locations include Union Station, the Million Dollar Theater, and the Ennis-Brown House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
DRIVE: This is another film where the electro-cool soundtrack (featuring Kavinsky, The Chromatics, and composer Cliff Martinez) and gorgeous, visceral visuals from director Nicolas Winding-Refn mesh into the perfect package for cinephiles. The pink neon from the opening credits highlights the electric glow from this city’s gritty nightlife. It takes viewers all over LA – from downtown, to MacArthur Park, to Echo Park, to the L.A. River Basin, to the Valley. To visit the same sites Driver did, go here.
A BETTER LIFE: This little seen gem from Director Chris Weitz shines a light on the immigrant population in East Los Angeles in such a compassionate, thoughtful manner. Wherever you fall on this hot topic issue, the narrative is guaranteed to move you.
VOLCANO: Watch Hollywood burn! Perhaps the silliest entry on this list, but it’s a fun Emmerich-inspired disaster film that’s this town in all its 90’s glory. Plus, as I frequently joke, it solves racism (not really, but you’ll get a chuckle after seeing that story thread play out).
REPO MAN: Writer-Director Alex Cox’s film is punk rock cinema. This weird, wild and wacky film takes us down the back streets and alleyways of L.A.
BOYZ N THE HOOD/ STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON/ FRIDAY: These are three films that feel reflective of South Central and adjacent areas – good and bad. All embrace bold and ballsy storytelling. These cinematic triumphs don’t shy away from the harsh realities that community has faced. While these are fantastic representations, I think there are more stories to tell from that part of town – at least I hope so.
JACKIE BROWN: Not only did writer-director Quentin Tarantino create the perfect role for Pam Grier, this is his ode to the South Bay. We get to spend time in an area not often photographed, telling an unconventional story about characters we don’t often get to see. Locations play a big role in these characters’ worlds – the climax is set at the Del Amo Fashion Center. I also can’t not sing Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” when at LAX walking through the mosaic-backed hallway thanks to this movie.
FAST TIMES AT RIDEGMONT HIGH/ VALLEY GIRL: These tales may be of an era, but they also transcend their time. The San Fernando Valley in the 1980’s was the epicenter of all things hot and cool. The Valley Girl accent was a phenomenon that swept this country. Female-forward filmmakers Amy Heckerling (FAST TIMES) and Martha Coolidge (VALLEY GIRL) were plugged into the pop-culture zeitgeist and crafted time capsules that have become timeless.
BOOGIE NIGHTS/ MAGNOLIA/ PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE/ INHERENT VICE: This may sound like a cheat to include all in one, but no one captures L.A. quite like our very own indie auteur, Paul Thomas Anderson. INHERENT VICE, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE all showcase L.A. and its surrounding environs in particularly beautiful and off-kilter ways. If they haven’t already been written, entire think pieces could explore how L.A. locations influence Anderson and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Robert Elswit.
NIGHTCRAWLER: Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a sociopath determined to break into the news industry. There’s a certain shady energy Los Angeles emits when the sun goes down, and it’s showcased in this fascinating thriller . Not only does it spend time on Ventura Blvd., but we also travel through the canyon roads, which are surprisingly not explored enough cinematically. Director Dan Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit (again) wanted to utilize these wild and untamed locations as a way to echo the protagonist’s coyote-like character traits, prowling the Hollywood Hills at night in need of a story.
What are some of your favorites? Share with us below in the comments.