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The 20 Best Neo-Noir Films Of The 1990s

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

14. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

Screenplay by Mann

movie-crews-heat

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

brad-pitt-se7en

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

Fudoh

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

black-angel-original

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

insomnia_1997

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

HEAVEN

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

Twilight 1998

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/.

 

 

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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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