14. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959)
One of the earliest examples of the French New Wave, Bresson’s tale introduces a minimalist style here, aesthetically executed flawlessly. Uruguayan Martin LaSalle portrays Michel as he succumbs into a passion of thieving and pickpocketing. We are later introduced to a society of pickpocketing petty criminals, and the training of Michel into a professional criminal. You’ll follow him on his misadventures through a world of crime, shot in black and white, with little dialogue or music.
The highlight here (as in Rififi was the heist scene) are the pickpocketing scenes. These scenes are filmed in the most naturalist way, and most be seen to be believed. Not only presenting us a new perspective on narrative, more than an exercise in style, Pickpocket is one of the greatest crime films to have come of the French New Wave.
13. Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002)
A cyberpunk thriller, this criminally underrated film blends different genres with a postmodern style, including a soundtrack performed by American Indie Rock band Sonic Youth. Animations and 3D visuals are combined at the flow of the narrative, while aspiring at higher themes and concepts, such as multinational corporations, violence on the media and political espionage.
All of the actors displayed on this film play a character with always a meaner, darker side to them. Comes to the point you never know who is who, and a sense of dreading suspense emerges as we mainly follow Diane (Connie Nielsen) as she infiltrates the Volf Corporation to sabotage a deal with an American Internet site called Demonlover, working for Mangatronics a rival company.
The film even goes as far as exploring Hentai, pornography industry and Snuff S&M within the web, and the desensitization these cause to violence on the viewer. Gritty and intellectual techno-noir, that makes you feel like you need a bath after you watch it. Highly recommended.
12. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
Set on the Sunny Southern California right after the pyschedelic hippie haze of the 60’s, Inherent Vice is not only a comedic masterpiece, but one of the best films in recent memory.
Nominated at the Academy Awards last year and praised for its amazing cast and performances, Doc Sportello (on a restrained, amazing performance by Joaquin Phoenix) is a PI who becomes involved on a downward spiral of events after the visit of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (rivetingly played on the big screen by Katherine Waterston), all while solving other cases that somehow all conect.
The film’s psychedelic, sometimes incoherent narrative can put your patience to the test, but will reward you with a satirical noir story so complex and brilliant its waiting to mess with your head.
The film features an eclectic soundtrack, and more great performances including Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Shore and Eric Roberts. Stylish original, the film marks a new hybrid of crime film, and a faithful adaption to Thomas Pynchon’s detective story novel. Full of clever lines and making a critique at modern America.
11. La Mala Educacion (Pedro Almodovar, 2004)
Gael Garcia Bernal has proven to be one of the best Mexican actors of his generation, but in Almodovar’s film La Mala Educacion he takes thing on a whole new level. Playing multiple roles as Juan/Ignacio and drag artist Zahara, Gael delivers career defining performance.
The film’s melodramatic elements, use of metaficiton and allusions to film noir, specifically Double Indemnity (1944) create a sense of mystery and suspense until the very end of the film, where the credits start rolling. The traditional femme fatale is replaced here by a homme fatale, a risky but great move by the director.
Typical themes seen in crime films such as: murder, guilt and identity are well handled here, never ruining the film’s predominant overall dramatic nature. One of the darkest dramas to come out in the past 12 years.
10. Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)
Alain Delon is one of the greatest French actors of all time, working with the likes of Godard and Malle. This is one of his most influential and iconic performances as hitman Jef Costello, a character that has influenced stylistically other films, such as George Clooney’s character in The American, amongst many others.
Jef follows an ancient Bushido code, ritualistic modus operandi, alibis with his lover and some gamblers and many other traditions. But when he fails to maintain discreet after the assassination of a nightclub owner, and his alibis drop, and web of intrigue and brooding atmospheric suspense initiate.
Delon’s character exists only on his very own plane, tried to be mimicked by many, but never matched his flawless performance. The Detective (played by actor Francois Perier) is your typical hard boiled detective, trying to do the right thing, no matter the costs that have his version of justice gives us a morality tale like no other. A game of cat and mouse triggers one of the best crime thrillers ever created, gorgeously filmed and directed with a relentlessly, slow burning pace.
Arthouse atmosphere, slick camera angles, eerily beautiful music and a refreshing, brilliant technique rarely seen in the crime genre add to this film an artistic, naturalist vibe. Related to the French New Wave and the last batch of purist film noirs, Le Samouraï is a mesmerizing and colorfully bleak film.
9. Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990)
Many of the aforementioned films on this list have been clearly influenced and sometimes directly pay tribute to the works of David Lynch. Lynch has been one of the most prolific American directors in recent memory, but his work has been also very polarized. His films will either haunt or mesmerize you, or you wont have a single clue of whats going on.
Heavily surreal and with mystical allusions and references, his work is not for the avid viewer. When he won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival for his crime romance film Wild at Heart, it was clear Lynch had been the right thing all this time.
More of a romantic road movie, Lynch’s fairytale follows Nicolas Cage (in a gleefully performance modeled after the likes of Elvis Presley) as Sailor Ripley and his lover Lula (Laura Dern) as they cross across America escaping to California from Lula’s mom played fantastically by Diane Ladd, who ordered Sailor to be taken out by the mob. The film plays as a Southern Gothic satire of the “american dream” with director Lynch’s typical and well known weirdness.
Before Harmony Korine’s Gummo strikingly showed a darker side of the American Dream with all his white thrash, sordid array of characters, Lynch was already creating a parallel word of these individuals. Towards the end Sailor becomes involved in a botched robbery with a man that wants to kill him, and shows a light at the end of the tunnel for the couple. Fantastic, and truly wild masterpiece of the genre.
8. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
Like Fellini, American Director John Cassavetes is better recognized for creating very personal films, that both characters and dialogue represent the directors emotions or thoughts. Visually strikingly and extremely well directed, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a forgotten gem in the crime film genre, that shows all that could go wrong… and I mean all. Known for its extremely slow pacing and minimalistic near no plot, that as it progresses manages to lure you in and in.
Even every single gesture the characters make feel to have some relevance or accuracy to the story, everything is filmed in a glorious, improvisational and natural way that many future directors later on aspired. An emotional and bleak tribute to classic film noir, on an arthouse pace. With a breathtaking and fresh performance by Ben Gazzara as club owner Cosmo Vittelli, this film truly represents the meaning of an offbeat crime film.