Saturday, October 08, 2011

B'Con Pt. 2: So many films, so little time

For me, one of the highlights of BoucherCon 2011 in St. Louis was my Friday panel "Shadows Rising: Films for Crime Fiction Readers." With my stellar panelmates Megan Abbott, David Corbett, Todd Ritter and Russel McLean, and ably moderated by Crimespree Magazine's Jeremy Lynch, we talked about some of the crime films we found most essential and interesting (and in some cases, overrated) broken down into eras.
The discussion sometimes grew heated, and at least one audience member roundly - and loudly - booed one of my choices. Time ran short though, and we barely got through half of our picks before the hour-long panel came to a close. Some of my panelmates have already posted their personal lists elsewhere. Here's my complete list, divided by era, with top choices first, and annotated where appropriate. Feel free to boo me.

THE CLASSICS (Pre-1945):

Crime in a social context: Prohibition and the Depression, and how American gangsters are made. Career-making performances for James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, respectively.
THE MALTESE FALCON (1941): Dashiell Hammett’s world view invades popular culture. An obvious pick, but any film you can easily name multiple characters from 70 years after its release deserves to be included.

COLD WAR CRIME (1946-1965):
THE KILLING (1956): The heist as a complex machine, slowly breaking down. Stanley Kubrick plays with time, directing a cast of noir veterans in a script co-written by Jim Thompson, based on a novel ("Clean Break") by Lionel White.
RIFIFI (1955): Influenced by American gangster dramas, this brilliant French heist film (directed by a blacklisted American from a French novel) went on to influence a generation of crime novelists (Donald E. Westlake, etc.) and filmmakers (Stanley Kubrick), who in turn influenced more French films, etc., etc.
KISS ME, DEADLY (1955): Atom-age noir: Thuggish detective Mike Hammer chases the “Great Whatsit” and nearly unleashes the Apocalypse. The best Mickey Spillane adaptation ever, and the one he disliked the most.

REVOLUTION (1965-1980):

GET CARTER (1971): Brit gangster Jack Carter (Michael Caine’s greatest performance) comes home to Newcastle to avenge his brother’s death. An almost perfect film, without a single false note.
MEAN STREETS (1973): DEAD END, ‘70s style. Smalltime hoods in Little Italy make choices that seal their fates.
ROLLING THUNDER (1977): Vietnam vet returns to a world he doesn’t understand, hits the vengeance trail with a sawed-off shotgun and a sharpened hook for a right hand. Half arthouse, half grindhouse.

REACTION: Reagan, Glasnost and the Tech Boom (1980s & 1990s):

GOODFELLAS (1990): The greatest film about workaday gangsters ever made. Brutal, funny, invigorating, exhausting.
AT CLOSE RANGE (1986): Crime as a family affair. Sean Penn and Christopher Walken give two of their best performances as father and son criminals who come to a violent parting of the ways.
THIEF (1981): Michael Mann’s first look at the inner life of the high-end professional criminal, vastly superior to his later HEAT.

THE REIGN OF TERROR (2000 to present):
ZODIAC (2007): Real-life noir, scrupulously faithful to the facts of the case. It gets under your skin in a way few movies do, not immediately, but stealthily and insidiously. A puzzle without an answer, a door without a key, an obsession with no release.
THE PUSHER Trilogy (1996-2005): Three films about the Danish drug trade, following different characters in the same environment, hot-wired and supercharged by “Drive” director Nicholas Winding Refn.
GOMORRAH (2008): The real Godfathers. A multi-storyline crime epic, based on a nonfiction book, about how organized crime corrupts nearly every strata of Italian society.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995): Half-smart, and nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Doesn’t play fair narratively. A piffle of a film, hanging on a single fine performance by Kevin Spacey (this is what got me booed).

ONE FALSE MOVE (1992): Flawless blend of character and action in Arkansas-set crime story about a trio of killers coming home one last time, and a local sheriff who’s in way over his head.

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