L.A. Confidential (1997) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Some films lose their luster after Oscar day. Whatever trendy thinking caused them to gain nominations or statues seems to get revised and re-examined. Out of Africa, Titanic, The English Patient, Chariots of Fire. What the hell were we thinking of?

Sailing in the  open seas of record international box office receipts, Titanic won eleven Oscars out of fourteen nominations. It has since run aground on the cold iceberg of reality.

Current IMDb rankings. The highlighted films were nominated either for best picture or best director
1 L.A. Confidential (1997) 8.4
  Vita č bella, La (1997) 8.4
3 Mononoke-hime (1997) 8.2
4 Sweet Hereafter, The (1997) 7.9
5 Good Will Hunting (1997) 7.8
  Abre los ojos (1997) 7.8
7 As Good As It Gets (1997) 7.7
8 Boogie Nights (1997) 7.6
  Hana-bi (1997) 7.6
  Chasing Amy (1997) 7.6
11 Gattaca (1997) 7.5
  Donnie Brasco (1997) 7.5
  Ice Storm, The (1997) 7.5
  Game, The (1997) 7.5
  Karakter (1997) 7.5
16 Carne trémula (1997) 7.4
  Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) 7.4
  Ma vie en rose (1997) 7.4
  Knockin' On Heaven's Door (1997) 7.4
  Jackie Brown (1997) 7.4
  12 Angry Men (1997) (TV) 7.4
  Perfect Blue (1997/I) 7.4
  Lawn Dogs (1997) 7.4
  Contact (1997) 7.4
  Spanish Prisoner, The (1997) 7.4
26 Cube (1997) 7.3
  Mrs. Brown (1997) 7.3
  Cheun gwong tsa sit (1997) 7.3
  Castle, The (1997/I) 7.3
  Full Monty, The (1997) 7.3
  In the Company of Men (1997) 7.3
32 Henry Fool (1997) 7.2
  Eve's Bayou (1997) 7.2
  Insomnia (1997) 7.2
  Ulee's Gold (1997) 7.2
  Apostle, The (1997) 7.2
37 Butcher Boy, The (1997) 7.1
  Lost Highway (1997) 7.1
  Deconstructing Harry (1997) 7.1
  Funny Games (1997) 7.1
  Face/Off (1997) 7.1
42 Devil's Advocate, The (1997) 7.0
  Amistad (1997) 7.0
  Love and Death on Long Island (1997) 7.0
  Kundun (1997) 7.0
  Fifth Element, The (1997) 7.0
  Wilde (1997) 7.0
  Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) 7.0
49 Suicide Kings (1997) 6.9
  Wag the Dog (1997) 6.9
  Affliction (1997) 6.9
  Titanic (1997) 6.9
  Wings of the Dove, The (1997) 6.9

In some ways, the Academy did a good job with their selections. The top four English language films on the list above were all nominated either for best film or best director. With the other two nominations and most of the statuettes, however, the Academy was walking on quicksand that year. Titanic is no longer in the top four dozen pictures of the year in the IMDb rankings, and The Full Monty, a fairly entertaining film, obviously had no place on the Oscar nominations list in the first place. Films like Donnie Brasco and Boogie Nights and many others on the list above are obviously far, far better.

Although Titanic will get to keep the award season hardware, history's judgment is that the rightful winner was Curtis Hanson's brilliant entertainment picture, L.A. Confidential, a revisionist noir tale about crime and police corruption in L.A. in the 1950's, set against a backdrop of popular post-War cultural phenomena like the new scandal magazines, the demise of the Siegel/Cohen rackets, and the rise of an up-and-coming medium called television.

The story is fundamentally the story of three pretty good cops who are not necessarily good men. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a political animal, a straight arrow, but also a weasel, a smart college graduate with the ability to spin everything in his favor. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is the department tough guy, the kind of cop who gets people to confess, and who'll plant evidence on guilty guys. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) doesn't seem like a cop at all, but a movie star, a perception heightened by his job as the technical adviser on Dragnet. They start the film working on separate matters, but their cases all seem to wind together, and all seem to be related to the struggle to take over the territory of mobster Mickey Cohen after his federal bust of tax evasion.


  • Amber Smith - breasts, as a corpse
  • Shawnee Free Jones- breasts, in an interrupted sex scene
  • Marisol Padilla Sanchez - breasts, as a victim bound to a bed
  • Kim Basinger - only the very top of her rear cleavage, but she is as sexy as always

As usual with this type of film, the plot is so complicated that the details seem nearly impossible to follow, but that doesn't really matter. This is a character study, and the script gave all three actors a chance to shine. Spacey was already a star, but future superstars Guy Pearce (Memento) and Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind) were obscure before this film. Of the two Aussies, Crowe was the bigger star in his own country, having built something of a reputation in Australian cult hits like Romper Stomper, but he was not known internationally. I suppose you all know who he is now. Pearce was a virtual unknown except to the hard-core film buffs who recognized him from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. L.A. Confidential gave him a resumé, and Memento eventually made him a star, albeit on a less flamboyant media level than the feisty, ubiquitous Crowe. Crowe is a great talent, to be sure, but is famed as much for his contentious and colorful off-screen antics as for his acting abilities.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1.

  • Behind-the-scenes material

  • 3 behind-the-scenes documentary features: Off the Record, including cast-creator interviews; director Curtis Hanson's Photo Pitch; and The L.A. of L.A. Confidential interactive map tour

Director Curtis Hanson did a magnificent job on this film in many more ways than just the good casting and characterization mentioned above. Although the script is quite similar to the classic 40's noir films, Hanson deliberately eschewed the stylistic approaches of those films. He did not take advantage of those characteristic opportunities for long shadows in lamplit scenes. The nighttime scenes are colorful and illuminated. Much of the action takes place in natural light, often in the hazy daylight that L.A. is famous for, and the sets concentrate on the things that were new in L.A. in the 50s, not the elements that reflected the glory of the 30s and 40s. Although the action takes place 44 years before the film was made, the cinematography leaves the viewer with the "we live in a brave new world now" feeling that California embodied for post-war America. Hanson didn't try to remake Chinatown. Instead, he envisioned and created a unique new world in which his characters could breathe.

Great stuff.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: four stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4.

  • The film was nominated for nine Oscars, winning two (supporting actress and adapted screenplay).

  • Metacritic.com. 95/100. That's about as good as it gets. #17 of all time.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.4/10.  #41 of all time. Yahoo voters score it 4.8/5


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is at least a  B+, perhaps an A. It can be argued that it rivals "Raiders" as the best pure entertainment picture of the past 30 years, and it was universally acclaimed. Rated in the all-time top 50 by many.

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