10. Killer Joe
A black comedy in every sense of the term, Killer Joe was initially given an NC-17 rating due to its lurid content. William Friedkin deftly handles the material with style that renders the story both disturbing and comic. Matthew McConaughey is cast perfectly in the title role, playing a corrupt sheriff who operates as a hitman on the side.
The blending of corrupt law enforcement and hit jobs are established themes in the crime genre but rarely are they illustrated as uniquely as in Killer Joe. Between the acting and the brilliantly handled tone balance, Killer Joe is a must-see movie for fans of the crime genre. It will be far from many people’s tastes but the talent both behind the camera and in front of it make it well worth the viewing.
9. Killing Them Softly
Made some noise with the independent crowds when it was released but has since gone on to be somewhat overlooked, Andrew Dominik’s star-studded Killing Them Softly deserves to be revisited as one of the definitive crime movies of the 2010s. Brad Pitt plays the ruthless hitman tasked with restoring order in the mob scene when three amateurs shake things up.
Making broader statements on economics and politics as a whole, Killing Them Softly is a unique crime thriller that boosts its gritty exterior with content that is subtler than what audiences are used to seeing from the genre. Well received by critics and generally divided by the main public, Killing Them Softly is a gem that crime genre fans should seek out.
8. Brawl in Cell Block 99
After a striking debut in Bone Tomahawk, director/writer S. Craig Zahler moved more into the convention crime territory with Brawl in Cell Block 99. Vince Vaughn is cast out of type as an intimidating, strong-willed man trying to provide for his family. In traditional crime genre fashion, he turns to crime to come up with more money. He is ultimately caught and thrown in a prison run by ruthless authorities.
On the surface, the movie seems like your conventional crime flick but what rises Brawl in Cell Block 99 above other genre pieces is its grungy style created using a high contrast color scheme and grisly, realistic violence. It’s a unique movie that proves Zahler is a directing force to be reckoned with.
7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia takes a unique approach by progressing at a slower pace. Audiences are used to seeing high-octane action and hyper-stylized violence coming at a rapid pace. This movie slows the pace down and results in a product that is far more introspective than other crime movies. The plot is simple: a group of men set out to find a dead body buried in the desert.
The premise, at first glance, seems too simple to sustain the over 2.5 hour run time but it uses its time to take a more existential look at the circumstance. The movie becomes an allegory for each character’s search for something in their life that they will never find the answer to. It’s a poignant, introspective movie that more patient audiences seeking an intelligent crime film will enjoy.
6. Blue Ruin
A feature that took the independent stage by storm when it was released, Blue Ruin is another stylized crime thriller that deals intelligently with themes of revenge, justice, and retribution. Circumventing genre clichés by making the main character a flawed hero, Blue Ruin focuses on developing greater humanity for its characters over giant, action set pieces and shoot outs. It’s a slow burn that builds to a fever pitch with hard-hitting violence and, ultimately, a great example of independent crime cinema done right.
5. Gone Girl
Director David Fincher is no stranger to avid filmgoers and one of his many fortes is working within the crime genre. Fincher’s singular style works perfectly for Gone Girl as the movie maintains a nihilistic tone and perspective throughout. As with a number of other movies on this list, the plotline is deceptively simple: a man’s wife has disappeared and the media begins to suspect him. However, the movie focuses heavily on the characters and their motivations for doing the things that they do. The confusing decision-making and unwillingness to compromise make Gone Girl among the best crime films of the 2010s.
4. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s 3-hour long epic finds him revisiting familiar territory with an approach that is more poignant and reflective than gritty and violent. Teaming back up with a classic cast including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel, The Irishman is a marvel to behold. Using state-of-the-art de-ageing technology and following a story that holds the audience’s attention for its full run time, The Irishman will not disappoint fans of the gangster genre.
The movie is more comedic than the other Scorsese movies that it’s reminiscent of but there’s a moving self-awareness. In the final moments, the audience gets the sensation that these classic Hollywood figures recognize that they only have so much time left in their lives and careers and want to have one last bang before they go out. The Irishman delivers just that.
Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming one of the most critically-acclaimed and popular directors working today. Perhaps his most critically acclaimed film to date though is his cartel movie Sicario. Emily Blunt leads an all-star cast as an FBI agent sent to help with the growing drug war. People aren’t what they seem with moles and backstabbers abound.
Both the movie’s story and its style reflect the true nature of the war on drugs and the confusing, convoluted mess that it’s become. This is largely where the movie’s strength comes from, is how realistically it portrays the situation at hand. Add to that top-notch performances, realistic scripting, and unrelentingly tense set pieces and audiences will find themselves entirely rewarded by this crime drama.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
Instant controversy surrounding this Martin Scorsese crime dramedy upon release. The movie’s focus on sheer debauchery led many audiences to denounce it as a glorification of obscene behavior. Full of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, The Wolf of Wall Street is a truly crazy movie like no other and earns Scorsese his second movie on this list.
While most of the other movies on this list have been brooding, nihilistic crime films, The Wolf of Wall Street flips the genre on its head in being a laugh-out-loud, often slapstick comedy. Leonardo DiCaprio is the entitled stock broker and eponymous title character and the movie follows him for 3 hours as the party-style bombast continues to escalate. Witty, sharp, and irreverent, The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most entertaining and skillfully crafted crime movies of its generation.
Drive propelled director Nicolas Winding Refn into the mainstream and remains his highest achievement. Using neon lighting to create a brooding atmosphere and entrancing color scheme, everything about Drive makes it a brilliant crime movie. The synthesized soundtrack, Ryan Gosling’s nuanced central performance, and brutal violence all add to the intense experience that makes Drive so great. Never ceasing to be entertaining even on multiple viewings, Drive makes a strong case that it may be the best crime movie of its generation.