The 20 Best Neo-Noir Films Of The 1990s
7. Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992)
Screenplay by Woo and Barry Wong
Charismatic leading man Chow Yun-Fat plays a maverick cop gunning for a ruthless gangster in director Woo’s last Hong Kong film before starting his American film career. Viewers who would simply classify the classic Hard-Boiled as an “action movie” are missing the darkness at its heart. This quality is embodied by Tony Leung’s undercover cop character who becomes so lost that he commits mass murder during a brilliant sequence that captures the essence of neo-film noir.
Yes, the action scenes in Hard Boiled are amazing but there’s a lot more going on here that’s highlighted by the great acting of Leung and Philip Kwok as the lethal henchman Mad Dog.
8. Jennifer Eight (Bruce Robinson, 1992)
Screenplay by Robinson
A burned-out Los Angeles detective played by Andy Garcia moves to Northern California and begins investigating a series of murders involving blind women.
Jennifer Eight features incredibly atmospheric cinematography by the late great Conrad Hall, a superb and overlooked performance from legendary character actor Lance Henriksen and a brief but unforgettable appearance by John Malkovich as an FBI agent. A box-office failure in its day, this underrated film deserves a second look.
9. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
Screenplay by Tarantino
It’s no secret that the spine of Tarantino’s work is made up of bits and pieces of other films.
While that is certainly true of Tarantino’s debut feature about a diamond robbery gone wrong, Reservoir Dogs manages to integrate elements from many films including Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956), Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and Ringo Lam’s City on Fire (1987) and emerges as a satisfying film with its own life unlike the rest of the highly lauded screenwriter/director’s other work.
High praise goes to the film’s great ensemble cast including Harvey Keitel in one of his best performances, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen.
10. Carlito’s Way (Brian DePalma, 1993)
Screenplay by David Koepp based on the Edwin Torres novels “Carlito’s Way” and “After Hours”
The work of novelist Edwin Torres had previously been the basis for Sidney Lumet’s outstanding Q&A (1990). Carlito’s Way frequently draws comparisons to Al Pacino’s previous collaboration with director DePalma’s Scarface (1983) but the reality is that there is no comparison.
Scarface lacks Carlito’s Way’s excellent screenplay, great Pacino performance and characters that appear to be actual human beings. Both Pacino and Sean Penn deliver unforgettable performances as a gangster trying to leave the criminal life behind and his lawyer.
11. Malice (Harold Becker, 1993)
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, Jonas McCord and Scott Frank
In the wake of a medical emergency involving his wife, a college professor starts to question how well he knows her. The screenplay for Malice has some fascinating twists and the Gordon Willis cinematography is excellent but the film’s biggest draw is the finest performance of Alec Baldwin’s career as an arrogant surgeon. Baldwin deserved a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his acting here and his “I am God” speech is amazing.
12. Leon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994)
Screenplay by Besson
Centering on what still holds up as one of the best performances of the great French actor Jean Reno’s career, this film about a professional hitman who takes a young girl played by Natalie Portman under his wing remains screenwriter/director Besson’s finest work.
Previously best known for the hitwoman movie La Femme Nikita (1990), those expecting great things from Besson after Leon the Professional were no doubt disappointed by the wretched science fiction film The Fifth Element (1997) and his continuing producing/screenwriting work on the popular Transporter and Taken films which are clearly softened for wider audience appeal.
13. Gonin (Takashi Ishii, 1995)
Screenplay by Ishii
Five desperate men band together to rob the Yakuza with disastrous results in this overlooked and visually stunning masterpiece.
Manga writer and artist turned screenwriter and filmmaker Ishii may have stunted his own creative growth in subsequent work with his uniquely Japanese obsession with the depiction of rape but Gonin is an incredible film that deserves to be much more widely seen and discussed. Noted actor and film director Takeshi Kitano appears in the film as a hitman.
Among other achievements, Ishii had previously written the screenplay for the outstanding Toshiharu Ikeda horror film Evil Dead Trap (1988) and after making an inferior “sequel in spirit” to Gonin in 1996, made the highly atmospheric neo-noir Black Angel (1997) and the intense and disturbing rape revenge film Freeze Me (2000).