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Best Crime Films: Our Favourite Movies About Sins On Screen

9 November 21 words: LeftLion Screen Team

To tie in with the Seven Deadly Sins issue of LeftLion, our Screen Team run through their favourite crime flicks... 

Ashley Carter (Editor) - The Naked Gun (1988)

I know there are a million well-crafted, perfectly-cast crime masterpieces to choose from, but I’d gladly lose them all to keep this trilogy of idiotic perfection. As well as being the second-best thing OJ Simpson ever did, the Naked Gun films beautifully showcase the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker and Leslie Nielsen dream team that started with Airplane! and fully came into its own with the character of hapless police detective Frank Drebin. With an average of about three thousand jokes per minute, the comedy might not be the most subtle, but for every miss there are at least a dozen hits. 

George White (Screen Co-Editor) - Knives Out (2019) 

Sure, exquisitely well-made masterpieces like The Godfather and Goodfellas probably lead the way in terms of crime films, but you know what they say – Screen Co-Editors just wanna have fun. And Knives Out is a lot of fun. Admittedly, it is self-indulgent, but it also has enough self-awareness and tongue-in-cheek charm to get away with it. 

Daniel Craig fully commits to Rian Johnson’s script, helping to create an utterly unique, utterly ridiculous character – typified by the name Detective Benoit Blanc – that gives the likes of Columbo and Sherlock a run for their money. The leading man is joined by a stellar cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette and a scene-stealing (and, in that jumper, a heart-stealing) Chris Evans. Throw on top of that a genuinely moving performance from Ana De Armas and you have yourself an unpredictable, unforgettable crime comedy for the ages.

Jamie Morris (Screen Co-Editor) - Pulp Fiction (1994)

It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino isn’t exactly the most original director in the world – pick a scene from any of his films, and chances are it has its roots in a Western or noir flick from days gone by. But that’s precisely what makes Pulp Fiction so endlessly watchable.

Presented as three interconnected, non-linear episodes, Tarantino’s masterpiece is a smorgasbord of all the things we love about crime movies: the slick suits, the scenery-chewing dialogue, the gratuitous violence and all of the thrilling twists and turns that occur along the way.

With the assistance of an incredible cast and a peerless soundtrack, QT pulls us into a wild world of loyalty and betrayal that you’ll find yourself yearning to return to as soon as the needle drops on Surf Rider and the credits roll. Cinematic self-indulgence at its very finest.

Kieran Burt - Joker (2019)

Joker is not traditionally thought of as a crime film, though it contains various elements that would categorise it as such. The story itself tells the origin of The Clown Prince of Crime, and provides a meditative introspection of the effects from a society that not only doesn’t care about its citizens, but actively bullies them. It shows how this bullying can make someone turn to violence.

Joaquin Phoenix expertly plays the titular Joker, rightfully winning an Oscar for his nail-biting performance. The plot keeps the audience on edge for the whole two hours with its slow pace, allowing them to take in what is happening. The direction from Todd Phillips is what makes this film stand a cut above traditional comic book films, transcending into a horrifying yet thought-provoking piece. 

Katie Green - Legend (2015)

Legend tells the story of the famous criminal twins of East London, Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Tom Hardy portrays both in the 2015 film, showcasing their rise through the criminal world as they take over the capital. Hardy carries this film through his impressive ability to play two characters who, although identical, have very different personalities. It is definitely a standout of past films where the Krays have been depicted. For the fans of serial criminals out there, Legend is definitely one to add to the must-see list.

Sue Barsby - The Ladykillers (1955)

“It was a great plan,” muses Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus near the end of this Ealing comedy classic, “...except for the Human Element. So many plans fail to take into account the Human Element.” For me, many crime stories fall victim to the human element but none with such dark edged joy as The Ladykillers. The lady in question, Mrs Wilberforce, played with scene stealing brilliance by Katie Johnson, is an old-fashioned widow who rents out her top floor to a gang of thieves and unwittingly helps them in their heist. But her sense of duty and knack of causing chaos wherever she goes means that the gang are left with no choice but to bump her off and escape with their ill-gotten gains. As you may expect from the quote above, this is not an easy task. 

Aaron Roe - Hardcore (1979)

The Holy Spirit is about the only thing that the conservative businessman Jake VanDorn hasn’t rejected, enveloped in the strictly religious, Midwestern cocoon of the Calvanist Church, until his daughter Kristen goes missing. Being the ultimate square, VanDorn’s faith is shattered when Kristen turns up in a cheap porno flick, made somewhere in LA - and like John Wayne in The Searchers, he takes the plunge to save her from the clutches of sin. George C Scott’s expression fixed in painful confusion, a pearl clutcher blinded by the red lights, says it all. When he’s combing the seedy boulevards and liaising with pimps and porn moguls, VanDorn might as well be the first person to touch down on Mars.

When anything has the name ‘Paul Schrader’, you know it’s going to be morally grey affair. VanDoorn isn’t some just valiant saviour, no matter how much he thinks he is; the lines are often blurred and we see the worst of what masculine entitlement can offer. Schrader’s Hardcore is one of the key explorations of themes that have haunted the filmmaker throughout his whole career.

Lizzy O'Riordan - Hell or High Water (2016)

Starring Chris Pine and Ben Foster, Hell or High Water follows two Texas brothers as they rob a series of banks together. The film intertwines moral ambiguity and class commentary among car chases and action scenes, using violence sparingly to build tension throughout the story. Full of skilful character building and visual storytelling, the project serves as an investigation into why people commit crimes. Described as a neo-Western, the movie utilises tropes from the Western tradition to comment on modern poverty in the American south. Both gripping and insightful, Hell or High Water is a sophisticated crime flick.

Jake Leonard - (1931) 

Fritz Lang's is a genuine masterpiece. Beginning with a series of tense scenes charting the abduction of a child, before going into a police procedural drama, and finishing with a biting social thriller, it features a complex and pitiful depiction of a paedophilic serial killer. It seems hard to believe it was made in 1931. 
But it has certainly stood the test of time. Everything about it feels urgent and modern - in the very real sense that the story feels time-sensitive, the stakes are high, the characters are believable, and their actions and consequences have an uncomfortable truthfulness to them. Peter Lorre's desperate performance is the chilling cherry on a dark cake. It fits so well in a film that argues that it takes a village to lose a child, and a village to feel that loss.  

Fancy weighing in on the debate? Join our Screen writers list by emailing [email protected].

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