The 20 Best Neo-Noir Films Of The 1990s
14. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
Screenplay by Mann
Screenwriter/director Mann remade his 1989 television film L.A. Takedown and improved on the original in every way. Al Pacino plays a police detective in pursuit of a deadly gang of bank robbers led by Robert DeNiro’s criminal mastermind character.
Most of the focus is directed at Pacino and DeNiro when the film’s acting is discussed but there are also very solid performances by Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer and especially Kevin Gage that deserve more credit than they typically get.
15. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
Screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker
Seven is a perfect example of a screenwriter’s vision making it to the screen and the result is a dark classic about a pair of detectives searching for a murderer whose grotesque crimes are inspired by the seven deadly sins of Christianity.
While co-star Brad Pitt’s performance may be mediocre, Morgan Freeman’s screen presence and subtle power are undeniable in one of the revered actor’s best performances.
Screenwriter Walker’s work would get far less favorable treatment courtesy of Joel Schumacher’s rewrites on 1999’s 8MM. Seven’s incredibly atmospheric cinematography by Darius Khondji was highly influential.
16. Fudoh (Takashi Miike, 1996)
Screenplay by Toshiyuki Morioka based on the Hitoshi Tanimura graphic novel
This film was prolific and notorious Japanese director Miike’s introduction to the international cinema scene.
Fudoh is the story of a mob boss’ son who gathers a team of teenaged killers in his quest to avenge the death of his brother. The typically outrageous Miike approach permeates the film including scenes of death by vaginally expelled darts and a pair of very young assassins.
Too often overlooked in favor of focus on the horror film Audition (1999), the ultraviolent Yakuza film Ichi the Killer (2001), the samurai film Thirteen Assassins (2010) and other movies, Fudoh is an underrated entry in the Miike filmography.
17. Black Angel (Takashi Ishii, 1997)
Screenplay by Ishii
A woman who witnessed the murder of her parents as a child seeks revenge as an adult in screenwriter/director Ishii’s atmospheric film. Actor Jinpachi Nezu, brilliant as one of the protagonists in Ishii’s crime film masterpiece Gonin, plays the villain here.
The film features a masterful and disturbing long take sequence wherein the heroine is captured and tortured by Nezu’s character. Black Angel may fail to reach the heights of Ishii’s Gonin, but if you want to know which of the director’s films to watch after his masterwork, it’s this one. Sadly, Ishii made the inferior sequel Black Angel 2 in 1999.
18. Insomnia (Erik Skjoldbjaerg, 1997)
Screenplay by Skjoldbjaerg and Nikolaj Frobenius
Easily eclipsing the softened American remake directed by Christopher Nolan in 2002, the original Insomnia features a fabulous performance by international screen actor Stellan Skarsgard as a corrupt cop stricken with the malady of the film’s title who becomes involved in an unusual relationship with a murderer.
Films that have become known as “Scandinavian Noir” or “Nordic Noir” are well known today in the wake of the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (2009) and Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters (2011) but this was not the case in 1997.
Insomnia, set apart by the fact it was not adapted from a novel as most films in the Scandinavian Noir category are, is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in the dark crime films from that part of world or neo-noir films in general.
19. Heaven (Scott Reynolds, 1998)
Screenplay by Reynolds based on the Chad Taylor novel
This is a criminally underrated gem about a struggling architect’s friendship with a transsexual stripper whose violent visions appear to predict the future.
Martin Donovan, best known before this film for his highly memorable performances in the films of Hal Hartley, stars as the architect and Karl Urban, little known at the time, appears in a small but unforgettable role.
Obviously talented New Zealander Reynolds followed this genuinely clever film with the far less satisfying suspense thriller When Strangers Appear in 2001.
20. Twilight (Robert Benton, 1998)
Screenplay by Benton and Richard Russo
Director Benton, best known for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984) as well as his co-screenwriting work on Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde (1967), tries to bring the feel of 1970s neo-noir to the late 1990s and succeeds with Twilight.
Paul Newman delivers an underrated performance as a private detective who becomes entangled in a murder connected to a 20 year old missing persons case. Newman is surrounded by a great cast in the film including Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon and James Garner.
Other Notable Neo-Noir Films of the 1990s
These are films that missed the cut for the main list for various reasons but are still very much worth seeking out or revisiting:
Stone Cold (Craig R. Baxley, 1991), One False Move (Carl Franklin, 1992), True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993), Heaven’s Prisoners (Phil Joanou, 1996), Nobody (Shundo Ohkawa & Toshimichi Ookawa, 1999)
Author Bio: Terek Puckett is an actor, screenwriter and film writer based in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Wright State University in Ohio and his areas of film expertise include horror cinema and neo-film noir. More of his film writing can be seen here: http://www.soundonsight.org/author/terek-puckett/.