Good Movies Set in Los Angeles

Friday, April 23, 2010 at 9:47 am

These good movies set in Los Angeles feature the various sights and sounds of the city, from the upscale Beverly Hills area to the less desirable parts. This is being posted while I’m in L.A. attending the TCM Classic Film Festival, so it seemed like perfect timing. If you’ve never had an opportunity to visit L.A., just pop one of the following into your DVD or Blu-ray player. Within moments, you’ll swear that you can see the smog.

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Pretty Woman (1990) – Julia Roberts became a star in the role of a hooker with a heart of gold who wins the love of a wealthy businessman (Richard Gere). Jason Alexander is excellent as the unlikable Stuckey, and Hector Elizondo plays a great straight man. A modern-day fairy tale that’s a must for romantics.

Reservoir Dogs (1992) – This powerhouse example of gripping dialogue marked the directorial debut of Quentin Tarantino. Filled with great tunes from the 1970s, meditations on Madonna and Pam Grier, and plenty of graphic violence, Reservoir Dogs deals with the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong. Starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and more. If you like your films extra gritty, then don’t miss this one.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) – Richard Chance (William Peterson) and John Vukovich (John Pankow) are two Secret Service agents who’ll go to any lengths to catch a master counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe). The highlight of the film is a tense car chase down the freeways and streets of Los Angeles. Directed by William Friedkin, you never know who’ll die next in this smart nail-biter.

Chinatown (1974) – Nominated for 11 Oscars (and winning one), Chinatown stars Jack Nicholson and was directed by Roman Polanski. Set in 1937 Los Angeles, Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is a private eye hired to follow an engineer for the city’s Department of Water and Power. When things turn sour, Jake must try to untangle a web of greed, murder and incest that goes all the way to the top of the L.A. power structure. A powerful film and one of the greatest scripts ever written (courtesy of Robert Towne), the movie co-stars Faye Dunaway and John Huston. It remains the last film Polanski would direct in the United States.

S.W.A.T. (2003) – Based on the TV show from the ‘70s, S.W.A.T. stars Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez as elite law enforcement officers working in Los Angeles. When an international drug lord (Olivier Martinez) is captured and offers one-hundred-million dollars to whoever breaks him out of jail, our heroes must fight off wave after wave of L.A. gang members, henchmen, and even corrupt members of the LAPD. With a catchy theme song and plenty of white-knuckle action, S.W.A.T. is a big budget Summer blockbuster that actually delivers.

Eating Raoul (1982) – Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel (who also wrote and directed) play a desperate Hollywood couple who dream of opening their own restaurant. But money is tight…at least until they discover that they can kill some of the swingers who frequent their apartment complex. Robert Beltran co-stars as Raoul, a cat burglar who assists the murderous duo. A great example of dark comedy from the early ‘80s.

Heat (1995) – Robert De Niro is a methodical burglar, and Al Pacino plays the volatile cop on his trail. Directed by Michael Mann (of Miami Vice), Heat features a number of subplots detailing the lives and loves of both cops and criminals, and the film’s climactic bank robbery and subsequent shootout still stands as one of the best. Co-starring Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and Ashley Judd. For a real-life imitation of the climax, Google the North Hollywood shootout.

Get Shorty (1995) – John Travolta scored a huge hit as Chili Palmer, a Miami loan shark who heads to Hollywood to collect a debt and gets embroiled with a vicious drug lord (Delroy Lindo), a B-movie producer (Gene Hackman), a scream queen (Rene Russo), and a diminutive star (Danny DeVito). Also starring Dennis Farina and James Gandolfini.

Falling Down (1993) – Unemployed and divorced, William Foster (Michael Douglas) is a disturbed L.A. resident trying to get home in time for his daughter’s birthday (never mind that his wife has a restraining order against him). As he sets off on foot across the city, he has encounters with racists, foreigners and gang members, each with increasingly shocking results. Meanwhile, a weak-willed cop who’s one day from retirement (Robert Duvall) tries to end his rampage. Co-starring Barbara Hershey and Rachel Ticotin.

The Player (1992) – Robert Altman set Hollywood on its ear with this satirical look at the inner workings of the industry. Tim Robbins stars as a studio exec who keeps getting threatening postcards, and he eventually kills the man he thinks is responsible. But the postcards keep coming, and now he must add the police to his list of worries. In addition to the regular cast, almost 60 celebrities appear in cameos as themselves (Malcolm McDowell’s is especially memorable).

Don’t forget that all these good movies set in Los Angeles can also be rented from Netflix. We do get a commission for sending you there, but any extra revenue goes back into keeping OGM up and running.

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