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In many movies, Los Angeles itself is as important as any of the main characters. In a way, L.A. is a character in the film. Here’s a look at some of the most iconic L.A. movies.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The tagline for the iconic film noir is “A Hollywood Story.” The movie captures Hollywood in the ’50s. It’s about the would-be comeback for faded, demented silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). The tragic tale of hack writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) and his entanglement with her is one of the most iconic L.A.-movies.
Another classic film noir, Chinatown tells the story of private investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). Gittes is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), who suspects her husband Hollis is having an affair. Gittes investigates, but quickly gets entangled in a complex tale of murder, incest, municipal corruption and the Los Angeles water supply.
This is a satiric look at the sexual revolution focuses on the escapades and attitudes of a Beverly Hills hairdresser, set around the election of Richard Nixon in ’68. George Roundy (Warren Beatty) dreams of setting up his own salon and being a star hairstylist, but his desire to bed every woman in sight proves his undoing.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
The movie follows the lives of a group of high school students in Southern California. While many of their adventures may not linger long in your mind, it’s certain that Sean Penn’s breakout performance as stoner/surfer Jeff Spicoli will. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, based on a book he wrote.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
This classic “fish out of water” tale takes gritty, freewheeling Detroit cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) and plunks him in the tony atmosphere of Beverly Hills as he investigates the murder of his friend. The film is a refreshing mix of comedy and action, showcasing Murphy’s charisma, wit and chops – and classic, 1980s-era Los Angeles.
Less Than Zero (1987)
The cautionary tale of wealthy Angelenos focuses on a group of young people trying to deal with their friend Julian’s (Robert Downey Jr.) out-of-control drug habit and huge debts. It’s a window in time back to the late ’80s, although its depiction of addiction and the devastation drug abuse can leave resonates to this day.
Pretty Woman (1990)
Julia Roberts stars as Vivian Ward, a prostitute on Hollywood Boulevard. Out-of-town big shot businessman Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) is in need of an escort to show up as arm candy at various events during his weeklong stay. What starts as a business relationship quickly blossoms into something much more than either expected.
Boyz N The Hood (1991)
This movie takes place in South Central Los Angeles, and chronicles the lives of childhood friends. All are reacting to the tough lives they have to endure, and seek escape through sports, education or drugs and alcohol. Some ultimately succumb to the violence that plagues those dangerous streets.
The Player (1992)
Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is the ultimate Hollywood insider, being threatened by both an up-and-coming professional challenger and a dangerous screenwriter whose script he rejected. The movie is chock full of industry jokes and captures the cutthroat world of Hollywood politics.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
A look at the lives of hit men, thieves, a mob boss, drug dealer and a boxer along with other folks living along the margins of civilized society in Los Angeles. Their stories at first seem unrelated but we learn they are interwoven.
This Los Angeles crime saga focuses on professional crooks and the cops who hunt them. Heat’s epic scope and tale of the mirrored lives of hunter and prey features a terrifying running gun battle through the streets of downtown L.A. Unfortunately, the scene may have been a bit too realistic: it is rumored to have inspired the gunmen who attempted to knock over a bank in North Hollywood in 1997. Both suspects were killed, and a dozen police officers and seven civilians were wounded in the wild shootout that followed.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
What can be said about The Big Lebowski that hasn’t been said before? Jeff Bridges plays Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, perhaps the most iconic L.A. slacker ever portrayed on film. Considering the hurdle put up by Sean Penn in Fast Times, mentioned above, that’s really saying something. The movie is a satire of the hardboiled detective picture, with all the usual plot elements (embezzlement, kidnapping and an attempted frame job) made hilarious by the remarkable portrayals of the characters. It is a send-up of over-the-top L.A. types, and even features a shout-out to In N Out Burger.
By Jesse Zanger