Top 10 Noir Films of the 21st Century (Video Edition)
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR opens in theaters today and harkens back to the classic noir films of the 1940s and 1950s, but even in recent history we have a ton of movies that evoke the mood, style, and plots that made those movies great. While the term neo-noir is typically assigned to these films, these movies are just like their predecessors, full of violence, mystery, and femme fatales. Here is our ranking of the ten best noir films released since the year 2000. If your favorite didn't make the cut, feel free to add it in the talk backs below.
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller teamed up back in 2005 to provide us the epitome of neo-noir. Filmed in stark black and white, SIN CITY is a comic book page come to life. The characters speak the way our fedora and suit-clad private eyes did in the Hollywood noir films of the 1950s. The violence is hyper and brutal and the cast is amazingly diverse.
Director Sidney Lumet's final film before his death, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD has multiple noir aspects to it but also owes a lot to non-linear films like PULP FICTION. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play brothers whose lives spin out of control in a web of murder and drugs. Also features some great nudity from Marisa Tomei and a nice role for Michael Shannon.
David Mamet is best known for his fast-talking character pieces like GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, but he also has made some damn good crime thrillers as well. THE SPANISH PRISONER is a classic example but the 2001 movie HEIST gives us Danny DeVito and Gene Hackman in a crime movie with all the trappings of a noir film. Good action scenes are punctuated by some of the best dialogue put to screen in the last twenty years. Plus, you can never go wrong with Gene Hackman in a lead role. The final twists have to be seen to be believed.
The Coens have always been heavily influenced by the noir genre and this movie is their direct ode to those movies. Shot in color then transferred to black and white and featuring a stunningly perfect performance from Billy Bob Thornton, THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE could have been made sixty years ago and you wouldn't have known the difference. Roger Deakins cinematography is perfection.
An underseen gem, THE COOLER stars William H. Macy as an incredibly unlucky guy whose job is to sit next to people in casinos to make them lose. Through the film, Macy's luck changes and we see the consequences of his success. Maria Bello gives a nice performance as Macy's love interest, but Alec Baldwin steals the film as the casino boss Shelly. There are more than a few shocking scenes in the movie but it is definitely worth a watch.
Val Kilmer provides one of the most underrated performances of all time in the drug thriller THE SALTON SEA. A film full of twists and turns and the classic voice-over narration from so many noir films, this is one of the movies that even movie fans may not have seen. Kilmer is phenomenal as the lead but it is the batshit crazy Vincent D'Onofrio as Pooh Bear that steals the show.
Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling blew audiences away with DRIVE. Many were expecting, based on title alone, for this to be something akin to FAST AND FURIOUS, but instead what they got was a lyrical and somber thriller with a deliberate pace and extreme violence. Love it or hate it, you have to admit DRIVE is unlike most movies released these days. With a stirring soundtrack and great turns by Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Carey Mulligan, and the phenomenal Albert Brooks, DRIVE is an instant classic.
One of the twistiest and most unique movies of all time, Christopher Nolan's MEMENTO has all of the elements of a noir plus the plot device to end all plot devices. Guy Pearce is great as Leonard and Carrie Ann Moss is one of the most duplicitous femme fatales of all time. Throw in some classic Joe Pantoliano and you have yourself a noir for people who need an introduction to the genre.
If you haven't seen KISS KISS BANG BANG, you really should. Before they teamed on IRON MAN 3, Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr delivered one of the best neo-noir movies of all time. Dark, brutal, and most of all hilarious, this movie doesn't partner two stereotypical cops but rather a criminal and a gay private eye. The chemistry between Downey and Val Kilmer makes this movie incredibly enjoyable. KISS KISS BANG BANG remains an underseen classic.
Inspired by the novels of Dashiell Hammett, BRICK is the best noir film of the last twenty years and ranks alongside the best films of all time. Rian Johnson made his directorial debut with this phenomenal crime thriller that transplants the standard noir roster of characters into a high school setting. It is visually stunning with a great Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. This is the noir film current filmmakers need to hold themselves against as the gold standard.