There are some categories Netflix seems to be known for more than others. TV shows is an area where Netflix has really excelled and its Netflix Streaming that has enabled the new “binge watching” of TV shows that networks and advertisers hate (and that made my sister get rid of Netflix for her kids because they were all wasting weekends watching every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Anime, foreign films, classic westerns, all areas where Netflix has an impressive catalog available. What I mean by impressive is not merely that they have a large number of, say, Anime titles (they have a large number of every kind of title), it is that they have the “right” Anime titles, the best Anime titles. That is not always they case. It made me happy to discover that there was another category where Netflix had a near perfect blend of quantity and quality, Crime Thrillers. These are the ten titles I couldn’t find room for in my top ten:
If that had been the top ten I would have thought Netflix had done a pretty good job. Instead Netflix has done a spectacular job. In fact if I were just doing my top 10 crime thrillers of all time, with no care as to whether or not they were available on Netflix, 5 or 6 of the top 10 stays the same and there may only be 1 movie that would knock my Netflix #1 down to #2 (its inclusion could be debated either way under the category). I’d say that constitutes getting the “right” crime thrillers.
10. The Crying Game (1992)
Plot Summary: A soldier in the IRA (Fergus) is assigned to guard a british soldier his group has taken hostage. When the soldier tries to escape and Fergus is forced to kill him Fergus travels to London to get away from the violence. Curiosity and guilt bring Fergus to the dead soldier’s world where he gets caught up not only in the world of the fallen soldier, but in his own past, that he cannot escape.
First, let’s get this out of the way. No one who saw the movie before word of the big reveal came out saw it coming. I’m sure you know plenty of people who say “oh man, I knew it right from the first time I saw him … her … whatever.” They are lying. Second, it is easy to forget sometimes, because Jaye Davidson’s member became most of what people know or seem to remember about the movie, that The Crying Game is a terrific movie. Watch it again and you’ll see what I mean.
9. No Way Out (1987)
Plot Summary: A coverup, a witch hunt and a lie are all tossed into play after a powerful politician accidentally murders his mistress. Lt. Cmdr. Tom Ferrel, recently appointed pentagon liaison to the Secretary of Defense is asked to oversee the investigation. Only problem for Tom is he was having an affair with the dead mistress too and the evidence he is working to uncover will expose him.
For a little while this movie kind of became known as the “limo sex scene” movie, until people realized that as sex scene’s go it really was pretty tame. This is a very taught thriller with a terrific twist in the end. Better to be known as that than the “limo sex scene” movie I think.
8. Witness For The Prosecution (1957)
Sir Wilfred Robarts is released from the hospital after a heart attack with strict orders to maintain a diet, quit smoking and most importantly limit himself to mundane civil cases. Robarts has every intent to do just that until the case of Leonard Vole, an inventor accused of murder, is brought to him, As Sir Robarts begins looking into his defense he finds that the accused’s wife will be a witness for the prosecution.
Billy Wilder adapting an Agatha Christie play was and is a dream team for this genre (maybe if they could have found a role for Hitchcock in there it would have really been like the 1992 Olympic team). Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and the too often forgotten Charles Laughton are all terrific as the twists and turn keep you guessing until the end.
7. Charade (1963)
Plot Summary: A young wife learns that her husband, whom she liked but did not love, has been murdered while she was away on holiday. She returns home to find a number of men who are all looking for a large sum of money they claim her late husband stole from them. Some approach her as friends, others as enemies and she has no idea who to trust or what is real.
This movie always got the backhanded complement of being the best Hitchcock movie that wasn’t made by Hitchcock. Sure, it had a lot of the earmarking of a Hitchcock thriller, even using one of old Alfred’s favorite leading men in Cary Grant, but this film is really good and can definitely stand on its own. Fun and light and I have never loved the closing credits, still the film just hums along and you realize that as long as you get to watch Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant interact they could be reading a phone book and you’d be entertained. Fortunately here they have a story that keeps you guessing.
6. Dial “M” for Murder
Plot Summary: An ex-tennis pro develops a plan to kill his wife. When things go wrong he comes up with a brilliant plan B.
Where does Dial “M” For Murder rank on Hitchcock’s filmography? Right there with Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest and To Catch A Thief at or near the top. A supremely clever story with characters who are smart, but not too smart.
5. Marathon Man (1976)
Plot Summary: After his brother is killed a grad student (Babe) learns that his brother was a spy and that there are parties who are fearful that the brother might have shared information with him. Soon Babe is thrust into a plot filled with killers, lost diamonds and Nazi war criminals.
“Is it safe?” Best torture scene ever. And it did it with no gore, but you are squirming in your seat when Lawrence Olivier goes to work on Dustin Hoffman. My only problem with this movie is that no one else in a grad class at NYU or Columbia (I can’t recall witch school he is supposed to be attending) one a really obvious Kipling quote. It was from If for heaven’s sake, everyone can quote that. It would be like quoting Hamlet and getting nothing but blank stairs back.
4. Snatch (2000)
Plot Summary: An underground boxing promoter finds himself in trouble with a gangster and needs help from a gypsy bare-knuckle fighter … OK, wait, that’s just part of it. There is also a diamond heist, a botched robbery, a pig farm, a stray dog, a crazy Russian, a jeweler who pretends he is Jewish and an Iron Eagle hand gun.
Guy Ritchie’s follow up to Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
takes Tarantino’s converging story lines style and puts it on steroids, and gives it a British accent. Bran Pitt is amazing and hysterically funny as the Gypsy and Jason Stathom shows why he will eventually become a big star.
3. Chinatown (1974)
Plot Summary: A Private Investigator looking into a case of adultery stumbles onto something that is much bigger and darker and involves water.
Want to write a screenplay that will sell in hollywood, write Chinatown. It is a genre that stays true to itself and provides unexpected twists. “She’s my sister and my daughter!” Noir at its absolute finest with multiple mysteries and the kind of hopeless message at the end that is the hallmark of the genre.“Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
2. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Plot Summary: Gangster’s hid in a warehouse after a robbery has gone wrong trying to figure out if they have a snitch in the group.
As blasphemous as this sounds, there are days when I think Reservoir Dogs may be my favorite Tarantino movie. Generally, upon further reflection, I go back to Pulp Fiction as his best, but man it is close. A terrific example of where dialogue and acting can make for a more exciting movie than special effects and action (or even a complex plot, which Reservoir Dogs is decidedly not).
What movies that aren’t on Netflix would make my top 10? That is hard because what would qualify as a Crime Thriller? Having said that Rear Window, To Catch A Thief and Vertigo all feel like they belong on here, as does The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo and To Have and Have Not, not to mention Double Indemnity and, if it were to qualify, LA Confidential is the one movie that you could make an argument for fitting into this category that may actually supplant my #1 …
1. Memento (2000)
Plot Summary: A man who suffers from short-term memory loss uses tattoos and notes to hunt for the person he thinks killed his wife.
You can take all of his Batman movies and The Prestige and Inception, this is my favorite Nolan movie. He brilliantly uses a device here (telling the entire movie backwards) but you never feel like you are just watching a well executed technical accomplishment. The intricate technique seems to flow from the story as opposed to a story as nothing more than an excuse to show off a technique. To his credit, that has become a hallmark of Nolan’s work as he has expanded into visually spectacular filmmaking. Inventive, interesting and above all a terrific story filled with great characters, what more could anyone want.
So there is my top 10, but, as always, what do I know? I’m fat.