Ten Crime Gems

Last week during Bouchercon, I was lucky enough to be part of a panel discussion about great crime movies in film history. It was a rowdy good time, and the audience really seemed to be having fun. Toward the end of the panel, we opened it up to audience questions and one of them — Tell us an underrated, overlooked gem — had me stumped. It’s not that I didn’t know of any. I just couldn’t think of one at that exact moment. My eventual answer was the 1991 thriller Dead Again. It’s a great movie but, judging from the applause in the audience, one that’s fairly well known.

Later that night, several movies popped into my head. Of course. So, in an effort to redeem myself, here are ten standout crime movies you might not have seen but that you should definitely check out.

Cache (2005)

French director Michael Haneke’s cerebral thriller follows a Parisian couple as they try to figure out who is secretly videotaping their home. The director — a pro at impishly pushing audience’s buttons — blurs the lines between what is actually happening and what has already been videotaped. The movie doesn’t provide easy answers, but it’s worth watching for one of the most gory, shocking scenes ever put to film. (You’ll definitely know it when you see it.)

Bound (1996)

Before the Wachowski brothers entered the Matrix, they gave us this sultry film noir about a money launderer’s girlfriend who crosses paths with a lesbian ex-con. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon burn up the screen as this unlikely couple, but the film rises above titillating exploitation with crackerjack plotting and smart dialogue.

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

And before Peter Jackson dragged us all to Mordor and back in The Lord of the Rings films, he made this standout film based on the true story of two imaginative girls who kill one of their mothers. (After being released from prison, one of them became a well-known mystery writer using the pen name Anne Perry.) An exhausting, exhilarating whirling dervish of a film, Heavenly Creatures doesn’t ask the audience whodunit. Instead, it shows us why they did it.

The Vanishing (1988)

A young couple, Rex and Saskia, pull into a bustling rest stop during a road trip. Saskia goes inside to buy some food. She never returns. Toggling through time, director George Sluizer shows us not only the impact of the disappearance three years later but the events leading up to it. It all comes together in a stunning climax, in which we — and Rex — learn what really happened. Don’t waste your time on the 1993 U.S. remake. The Dutch original is the real deal.

Red Eye (2005)

Wes Craven took a break from horror to make this breakneck thriller about a woman in an airplane, the assassin she meets in the airport bar and the plot to kill a government official staying at the hotel where she works. No, it doesn’t make much sense, but Craven doesn’t give the audience time to think about that. Clocking in at a brisk 85 minutes, Red Eye is a master class in pacing, brevity and messing with an audience’s expectations.

Raising Caine (1992)

Pure insanity from Brian De Palma.Like most of his films, logic takes a backseat to all the usual bells and whistles. We’ve got split screens, a bombastic score and tracking shots that seem to go on for miles. What makes this one stand out is John Lithgow’s utter commitment to his many, many roles. The final image of him leaves the audience both giggling and gasping.

Niagara (1953)

Marilyn Monroe goes femme fatale in this thriller about two honeymooning couples in Niagara Falls. Monroe vamps it up as a newlywed already plotting to kill her husband. Joseph Cotten is all war-ravaged cluelessness as her cuckolded spouse. And plucky Jean Peters is the good-hearted married gal who pieces everything together.

Shallow Grave (1994)

Before hitting it big with Trainspotting, Danny Boyle made this thriller about three flatmates who find their new tenant dead but loaded with ill-gotten cash. Instead of telling the police, they bury his body and agree to share the money. But plans like this never work out and Boyle revels in the way these friends slowly but surely turn on each other.

The Last Seduction (1994)

Linda Fiorentino plays Bridget, a bad, bad girl who finds herself in a small town after fleeing her no-good husband with a million dollars of his money. Luckily she finds an innocent lug to bed while fending off all the hapless detectives sent by her livid spouse. Bridget has no redeeming qualities, which makes her fascinating to watch and, ironically, easy to root for. Fiorentino’s performance, fearless and sardonic, deserves a place in the Cinematic Bad Girl Hall of Fame.

The Spanish Prisoner (1998)

David Mamet was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright before turning to film. His first movie, House of Games, was a twisty delight. In The Spanish Prisoner,  he raises the bar. Campbell Scott plays a corporate fall guy with access to a secret formula that everyone, including the Feds, wants a piece of. The formula, a Hitchcockian MacGuffin if ever there was one, is simply an excuse to watch Scott being pulled in every direction, set to the tune of Mamet’s mind-spinning dialogue.

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings

4 Responses to Ten Crime Gems

  1. slamdunk

    Neat list–many of those I have not seen.

    It will give me some ideas in a few years when I am not surrounded by Disney shows and kids wanting attention.

    Enjoy your day.

  2. Pop Culture Nerd

    Oh my gosh, we are the same person! I’ve seen all of these and agree that all are gems. Well, except for CACHE, which confused me a bit.

    I wish Fiorentino were still making movies. I can’t think of anyone quite like her working today.

  3. Todd

    We’re the same person? Does that mean I’m really the person behind the ninja mask? Trippy!

    The ending of Cache is very polarizing in that you have to look really, really carefully at that final shot to get an idea of what’s going on. The rest of the film, though, is amazing. And I love Fiorentino and wish she still had a career. She had such a retro, film noir aura about her, even when doing comedies. She would have been right at home on the big screen in the forties and fifties. But in the nineties, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with her.

  4. Jeremy

    For me, it would be BRICK. 500k budget and they used that limitation to make the film better.

    Regarding Linda Fiorentino,
    I think she also struggled from having as rep as being difficult to work with.

    I remember first seeing her in Gotcha!