Ah, Los Angeles! Home to Hollywood, once the mecca of all things movie-related. One of the most cinematic cities on the planet, L.A. has inspired great filmmakers across the globe for decades. From the dreamy Sunset Boulevard to the mysterious Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles has provided the perfect backdrop to some of the most iconic films in history. Today, the sun may be setting on Hollywood, but that doesn’t meant there aren’t still flashes of brilliance to be seen. Read our spoiler-free list with pleasure!
10 Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood (2019)
Writer and director, Quentin Tarantino, provides an original take on the altercation involving Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, and members of the infamous Manson Family.
The film follows famous Hollywood actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his longtime best friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Multiple storylines intersect in this modern fairy tale that pays tribute to the classic age of Hollywood, and nothing screams Tarantino like the epic climax of the film that will leave the viewer speechless.
The New Yorker film critic Richard Brody applauds Tarantino’s take on this important era. “The movie draws a very clear line regarding the end of that classic age: it’s set in 1969, at a time when the studios were in financial crisis owing to their trouble keeping up with the changing times, and its plot involves the event that’s widely cited as the end of an era, the Manson Family killings of Sharon Tate and four others at the house she shared with her husband, Roman Polanski.”
9 Nightcrawler (2014)
Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir thriller, Nightcrawler, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a narcissistic sociopath and loner who works as a stringer, recording violent events that take place late at night in Los Angeles. Louis sells these videos to news channels that pay top dollar for the most gruesome, graphic footage. Void of any ethics and morals, Louis will stop at nothing when he becomes obsessed with obtaining the “money shot.” Gilroy snagged an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
8 The Neon Demon (2016)
Another film from Nicolas Winding Refn, this 2016 psychological horror follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), a beautiful 16-year-old girl who moves to Los Angeles to pursue a modeling career. Jesse is quickly seen as the “next big thing” and proceeds to take the fashion world by storm. This positions her as a target for fellow members of the cutthroat industry who despise Jesse’s natural beauty and seek to destroy her at all costs. What happens next isn’t pretty.
Refn, who stated that he visualized the film as an “adult fairy tale,” shot The Neon Demon in L.A. because it’s the only city to which his wife was willing to accompany him “if we had to travel out of Copenhagen.”
7 Lost Highway (1997)
Two stories intertwine in this 1997 neo-noir film from David Lynch. Fred (Bill Pullman) is a jazz musician living in Los Angeles. He receives an ominous message over his home intercom one day saying, “Dick Laurant is dead.” The next day, Fred’s wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), finds a VHS tape on their porch. Fred and Renee play the tape to find that it is a video recording of their house. Over the next few days, they receive more tapes. Eventually, the footage is inside the house of the couple in bed.
The police arrive but are no help. To distract themselves, Fred and Renee attend a party being thrown by Renee’s friend, Andy, with whom Fred believes she is having an affair. Another tape arrives the following day, but Renee is nowhere to be found, so Fred watches it alone. To his horror, the tape shows Fred standing over Renee’s dead body.
Fred is sentenced to death for his wife’s murder. While on death row, he vanishes from his cell and is replaced by a young auto mechanic named Pete (Balthazar Getty) who falls in love with a mysterious woman named Alice also played by Patricia Arquette.
In her New York Times piece Eerie Visions With a Mood of Menace, film critic Janet Maslin writes, “[Lost Highway] constructs an intricate puzzle out of dream logic, lurid eroticism, violence, shifting identities, and fierce intimations of doom.”
6 Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Sunset Boulevard, the classic 1950 film noir from director Billy Wilder, does not disappoint. An aging silent film star, the iconic Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), hires a young screenwriter, Joe Gillis (William Holden), to write the screenplay for what she believes will be her cinematic comeback. Desperate for money and a place to stay, Joe takes the job and moves in with Norma at her Hollywood mansion. He underestimates, however, the fragile mental state and instability of the has-been actress who spirals into madness in a desperate attempt to grasp at any final straws that will allow her to remain relevant.
Film critics agree that the film brilliantly illustrates the truth behind the glimmer of Hollywood:
“Sunset Boulevard isn’t only Billy Wilder at his finest, but the film is easily the best film ever made about Hollywood in cinematic history.” Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies
“Sunset Boulevard, the blackest of Hollywood’s self-portraits, is an old dark house of a ghost story inhabited by the living shadows of its discarded stars.” Sean Axmaker, Seanax.com
“Rarely is fiction shot through so glitteringly with real life.” Marc Lee, Daily Telegraph
“One of Wilder’s finest, and certainly the blackest, of all Hollywood’s scab-scratching accounts of itself.” Geoff Andrew, Time Out
“Still the best Hollywood movie ever made about Hollywood.” Andrew Sarris, Observer
5 La La Land (2016)
Somewhat overshadowed by the infamous mishap that occurred at the 2017 Academy Awards when it was mistakenly awarded the Oscar for Best Picture instead of Moonlight, La La Land still remains one of the most highly regarded movie musicals of the 21st century. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this romantic comedy features a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) who fall in love while pursuing their dreams in Los Angeles, known for making or breaking artists.
While it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, La La Land received a record-breaking number of awards and nominations. The film won all seven of its Golden Globes nominations, five British Academy Film Awards (including Best Film), and six of its fourteen Academy Awards nominations (including Best Director for Chazelle and Best Actress for Stone.)
4 Under The Silver Lake (2018)
Under The Silver Lake is a lot of things. It’s hard to pinpoint just one genre. This 2018 neo-noir, black comedy, conspiracy, mystery/crime thriller was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, following hot on the heels of his film It Follows, one of the best horror movie in decades. It stars Andrew Garfield as Sam, an unemployed, disenchanted young man living in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Sam spends his days smoking cigarettes, reading underground comic books, and spying on neighbors while they swim in the pool.
Sam finally introduces himself to one of his swimming neighbors, Sarah (Riley Keough), who invites him inside. The two hit it off and make plans to see each other again. But when Sam shows up to her apartment the next day, he finds that she has vanished. This sends him on a journey through the City of Angels, as he starts to put pieces together and discovers that all of this may have to do with the latest comic he has been reading, Under The Silver Lake.
In his review for Variety, Owen Gleiberman writes of the film’s “Old Los Angeles” view of the world, going back to masters of noir fiction Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, “to Chinatown and Altman’s The Long Goodbye, to Mulholland Drive and Kiss Me Deadly and Inherent Vice.”
3 Drive (2011)
Drive is one of writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn’s most acclaimed films. Based on the 2005 James Sallis novel, this neo-noir action drama from 2011 is set in Los Angeles. It follows an unnamed Hollywood stuntman (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. After getting close with his neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her son, the driver agrees to take part in a heist organized by the neighbor’s husband, who has just been released from jail.
The job goes horribly wrong, however, and the driver must risk his life to protect his neighbors. Rotten Tomatoes gives this R-rated flick a 92%, but buckle up: the violence is graphic!
2 Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Tom Ford has more than a brilliant fashion sense up his luxury-brand sleeve. In 2016, seven years after the designer made his brilliant directorial debut with A Single Man, Ford electrified audiences with neo-noir psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals.
Nocturnal Animals centers around Susan (Amy Adams), a successful Los Angeles art gallery owner who receives a manuscript written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she has not seen in years. The film then diverges into three parts, flashbacks of the past involving Susan’s relationship with her ex-husband; the present, which is Susan’s life now with her current husband; and the dark, twisted world of the story her ex-husband wrote that forces Susan to examine how it parallels her own life and past.
At Roger.Ebert.com, critic Glenn Kenny praises a sequence “that’s one of the most discomfortingly suspenseful in a Hollywood film since, maybe, Blue Velvet.” Adams and Gyllenhaal are outstanding, as usual, but Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson will blow your socks off.
1 Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. In 2016, a BBC poll of film critics worldwide named it the best film of the new millennium. In this surreal neo-noir mystery, we are introduced to a brunette amnesiac (Laura Harring) who takes refuge at an apartment on Sunset Boulevard after stumbling down from a car accident that occured on Mulholland Drive.
There, she meets the blond and wholesome Betty (Naomi Watts), who is staying at the apartment (her aunt’s) and seeking fame as an actress. The amnesiac introduces herself as Rita but doesn’t actually remember who she is. Together, the two women try to piece together the mystery of her identity and what happened that night. The plot is otherwise impossible to summarize, as narrative twists leave it open to interpretation as to what is a dream and what is reality.
“Like a lot of critics who adore the movie, none of us got it the first time,” said Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang. “Any person who says they did is lying.” Of the film’s timeless quality, Chang says, “It very lovingly recreates the grand old Hollywood of yesteryear and yet it’s a movie about the evils underlying the industry and particularly what it does to actresses and to women who dream of working in the business. It’s about the allure and also the toxic underbelly of the dream factory.”