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The 20 Best Neo-Noir Films Of The 1990s

24 April 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Terek Puckett

7. Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992)

Screenplay by Woo and Barry Wong

hardboiled

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

Jennifer Eight

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

Reservoir Dogs

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”

Carlito's Way (1993)

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

MALICE

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

leon-the-professional

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

gonin

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).

 

 

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  • tooelecommuter_2011

    No L.A. Confidential? Are you kidding me???!?!

    • Andrew lowry

      did you not read the introduction to the list?

      • tooelecommuter_2011

        I sure as hell didn’t. I have now, and I’m curious what the rationale is for excluding period pieces. Perhaps explaining that decision in the intro would have been called for.

  • This is a very good list. I found some of my favorite movies here but there are some that I need to check them out!

  • Ted Wolf

    I have always liked Twilight and am so glad you included it here. There’s quite a few intriguing entries I’m dying to see now.

  • Tabby Bane

    13th Floor?

  • Leon Horka

    I saw you put “Screenplay by” instead of the typical “Directed by”. Good job. Screenwriters deserve more credit for their creations, much more credit.

  • Just watched Q and A off the back off this list and great pick
    I’d never seen it and is a solid film.

  • Dris

    Great list. I’m glad you chose the original Insomnia over the Nolan remake, it’s much better, but people tend to idealise Nolan nowadays.
    About Besson: The Fifth Element is an excellent film too, just in a very different genre. As a sci-fi, it is now a classic.

  • JRQ699

    Where is Red Rock West? The Grifters? After Dark My Sweet? Lost Highway? Zero Effect? Hard Eight?

    Like the previous decade lists, this one features many that are not really noir, and misses a bunch that clearly are.

    • Klaus Dannick

      Some of the films listed are merely ganster films, action movies, or serial killer movies, not really neo-noir. You definitely named true neo-noir that should be here.

  • agreysiren

    ‘Silence of the lambs’ is a masterpiece. To say Jodie Foster’s performance is overrated is to miss the masterstroke of the director. The camera only pleases/prefers her when taking on the perspective of the hunter. Its loss of steam when the villains aren’t on screen is an intentional visual manipulation by the director and once considered only shows how measured and strong JF’s performance is. Given the films camera was not preferring the protagonist in the traditional sense.

  • marton

    Brad Pitt in Seven mediocre? Are you kiding?

  • Drew Morton

    This is a mess.

    “Excluded from consideration were films that take place in a period setting such as The Coen Brothers’ entertaining Miller’s Crossing (1990), Carl Franklin’s excellent Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) and Curtis Hanson’s superb L.A. Confidential (1997).”

    That’s the most arbitrary criteria I’ve ever seen. What’s your justification for it? Have you ever read any work on neo-noir?

    Also:

    “Also excluded were films that despite the presence of modern noir elements actually fall firmly into the suspense thriller category such as Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive (1993) and Wolfgang Petersen’s In the Line of Fire (1993).”

    But SE7EN isn’t?

    I second HARD EIGHT, RED ROCK WEST, LOST HIGHWAY. I’d also add THE LAST SEDUCTION and BOUND.

  • Yiannis Zachopoulos

    THE LAST SEDUCTION ??!!!

  • Nga BuiHoang

    most importantly MEMENTO

  • DrLearnALot

    Where is LA Confidential??? Seriously, I’m with Tooelecommuter.

  • David Jonathan Mühlbrö

    forgot copland

  • ScorpiusMaximus

    No mention of L.A.Confidential which was one of the best in that genre??—Ratnakar

  • giffey

    Jodie Foster is not overrated in Silence of the Lambs. Anthony Hopkins is SO over the top, I can’t watch him. He is better in quiet dramas. 84 Charing Cross Road is his best performances IMO

    • John W. Thackery

      Jodie Foster’s performance is one of the most iconic in film history. This writer is a douche incapable of taking notice of great understated acting. Hopkins feels over the top on first viewing. On subsequent viewings, the nuances of the performance stand out and it’s quite masterful.

  • Aron

    Lost highway deserves a shout

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  • Josh Stanley

    No mention of ‘The Game’ (David Fincher, 1997)???

  • Richard McLin

    True Romance

  • Ivan M

    How about Mamet’s Homicide? That’s one criminally overlooked noir film with a post-modern twist.

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    Last Man Standing. That soundtrack by Ry Cooder. The relentless violence. Christopher Walken… And yes, in the whole film only one woman. And she’s a whore. Walter Hill at his nihilistic best.

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  • garden variety

    Yeah you really missed up (yes missed) much of those you mentioned don’t belong and what about “Romeo is bleeding”?? and “Bound”?? “Lost Hwy”??

  • simon_crompton_reid

    Kiss of death?

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