Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top 10 films noir

Inspired by this post on the intellectual history of commentary on noir films (how is that for meta?), here are my ten+ favorite films noir:

Classic Noir
There are a lot of debates about what makes a film noir, and whether in fact it is a genre unto itself, or simply a style. My own sense of it is that noir began as a particular genre, growing out of interwar German expressionist filmmaking (M is often named as the originator of the genre), but evolved into a "style," that is a set of "noirish" elements -- including character types (grifters and conmen, cynical cops, private eyes, femmes fatales); stylistic points (urban nightscapes, rain or fetid heat, rotating fans, voice-overs); plot elements (heists gone wrong, adultery, double-crosses); settings and locations (from anonymous small towns and seedy hotels to Los Angeles and Central European cities) -- that can be introduced or remixed into any other genre. Thus it is possible to have "Sci-fi noir" (e.g. Blade Runner), "Western noir" (e.g., 3:10 to Yuma), "Comedy noir" (e.g. Fargo), "Horror noir" (e.g., The Brute Man), and so on.

Ultimately, what makes a film noir is less any of the above elements than a certain sensibility of what one might call alienated fatalism: a sense that the world as a whole is ultimately defined by corruption in every sense of that word (moral, financial, physical). Some critics have naturally chosen to label that attitude as a "cynical" but I would reject that; as always, the word "cynical" is just a scare word that foolish optimists use to malign realists. With that said, I should admit that my interest in deviant globalization is closely related to my predilection for film noir.


eekim said...

Excellent lists! Add L.A. Confidential to the latter list, and I'd be proud to forward it to anyone.

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