City of Angels (and Also Maybe Demons)
Glitterati Lobotomy has been based in LA since its inception, and as such, everyone on staff has their own opinions on the city.
Some of us think it’s a dull place, spread across far too many square miles of sprawling real estate. Some of us think it’s the land of opportunity. Some of us think it’s a horrible place and that no one should live here.
All of us are right.
This city is many different things to many different people. And this is pretty well reflected by how many different ways LA has been portrayed in movies.
We’ve watched dozens and dozens of LA movies to bring you this precious list, this list of the best movies about Los Angeles ever made.
And no, La La Land didn’t make the cut.
Repo Man – 1984
Alex Cox is an extremely talented British filmmaker who is probably best known for this movie or Sid and Nancy, released in 1986.
He’s inventive, wildly creative, and he has a very specific view of the United States.
Repo Man brings together a young Emilio Estevez and late/great indie darling Harry Dean Stanton.
Estevez plays a young, aimless punk whose parents have been zapped into submission by religious programming.
He falls backward into a job as a repo man, which for these guys involves stealing back cars from people who are not willing to give up their rides.
Which almost makes it sound like a serious drama, which it’s not. It’s a playful movie about Los Angeles, work, and also aliens.
Best of all, the movie manages to show a side of LA that never really comes up in movies, certainly not in Hollywood productions anyway.
Nightcrawler – 2014
Nightcrawler almost feels like a documentary thanks to how realistic the story feels.
A creep, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, wants to advance his career. He decides he wants to be a nightcrawler, which is a person who tries to shoot video of crash scenes and other violent crimes, just to sell the footage to news stations.
It’s a sleazy profession, and the movie is appropriately sleazy as well. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to take a shower afterward.
Once again, this is a movie that manages to give a believable depiction of the City of Angels, rather than dolling it up to make it seem like a lovely place filled with ambitious go-getters and helpful film directors.
Blade Runner – 1982
Ridley Scott and his crew did such a good job of creating an alternate future version of LA that it’s easy to forget it’s supposed to be LA at all.
After all, it’s not like the movie features any significant LA landmarks. Much more important is LA’s sprawling layout, which provides a rare opportunity for sweeping future cityscapes.
I’ve already mentioned that I personally prefer the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, mainly because it’s a better movie in just about every way possible.
But in terms of visuals, the original Blade Runner deserves serious props. (Was that a good pun? Rate below.)
It created a specific vision of the future that made use of 80s technology and cultural influence.
After flopping at the box office, Blade Runner found a second life with sci-fi and movie geeks like myself, and for good reason.
And you’re telling me that Rutger Hauer’s tears in rain speech may have been improvised? Come on, man, that’s just perfect.
Pulp Fiction – 1994
I once heard a legend that Quentin Tarantino wrote the screenplay for Pulp Fiction when he was 25. Orson Welles was 26 when he made Citizen Kane.
But don’t worry, not all of us are meant to be that freakishly talented.
I recently had the opportunity to see Pulp Fiction in a theater, on a 35mm print. It’s always interesting seeing older movies with a crowd, especially because larger crowds tend to laugh more.
It may have something to do with not wanting to feel uncomfortable in public, so the reflex during a tense or squeamish scene is to laugh rather than sinking into your seat and gritting your teeth.
Anyway, this is all just to say that the movie holds up. I get chills when the opening titles appear on the screen. Actually, I get chills during most of the movie.
The dialogue was the first of its kind. The narrative structure was inventive and challenging. And the acting is just … perfect? Absolutely perfect. Every single actor inhabits their character flawlessly.
Pulp Fiction finds a way to make LA feel like a magical place, one where characters from many different B-movies converge to have extremely violent adventures.
Mulholland Drive – 2001
The street this movie is named after is a very old LA street. It snakes through the Hollywood Hills, Brentwood, and a few other incredibly affluent neighborhoods, giving some great views of LA and the San Fernando Valley along the way.
There’s even a portion of this street that’s still just a dirt road, a carryover from the Wild West days of the city.
The movie starts on Mulholland Drive but has little to do with it after the opening.
What follows is a typically strange and confounding storyline from one of cinema’s most strange and confounding filmmakers.
It starts by showing the usual Hollywood version of LA then slowly undermines the shiny, idealistic image to reveal the nightmarish nature of pursuing your dreams in an indifferent universe.
Plenty of reviewers have broken their backs trying to analyze this movie and determine the exact symbolic significance of certain images and characters.
And that’s all fine and good, but I think that David Lynch movies are better viewed as an experience. You can judge them each based on how they affect you, intellectually and emotionally.
Oh, and also Lynch has himself stated throughout his career that many of his ideas are based on dreams, which means a lot of the imagery is essentially random and we shouldn’t assign all that much significance to the minor details.
Let’s not go making another Room 237 here.
Short Cuts – 1993
Basically, Robert Altman took a book of short stories by Raymond Carver and turned them into a series of interconnected vignettes in and around LA over the course of a couple days.
It’s not Altman’s first movie set in LA, far from it. But it is his best movie set in LA.
The stories range from comedic to heartbreaking to just plain confusing. And that’s a great way to try and describe LA. It’s many different things at once, and it switches mood and tone at will, almost once a block.
Short Cuts also served as a major influence on Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, which also attempted to follow several individuals in Los Angeles as their lives weave together in subtle ways.
Ok, so maybe it’s a bit more than just an influence.