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L.A.'s story is complicated, but they got it

The city has been a main character in many films of the last 25 years. Our film crew picks the best. It's a tough list to crash.

August 31, 2008|Geoff Boucher; Chris Lee; Mark Olsen; Rachel Abramowitz; Scott Timberg; Patrick Day; Kenneth Turan

Who can forget Eddie Murphy tooling down Beverly Drive in his "crappy blue Chevy Nova," flirting with a girl in a tan convertible? Or discussing art with a marbled-mouth gallerist (Bronson Pinchot)? Just listening to the soundtrack with the synth-tinged instrumental "Axel F" and "The Heat Is On" can bring back visions of Reagan and suits with giant shoulder pads. This Oscar-nominated film (yes, really) presents L.A. as glossy studio fantasy with a fish-out-of-water twist, where a street-wise hustling cop from the mean streets of Detroit can outsmart, outtalk and outmuscle the lily-livered cops of the Beverly Hills Police Department. And yes, Murphy's Foley can talk himself into a suite at the Beverly Hills Palm (actually, downtown's Biltmore Hotel) by claiming to be a reporter from Rolling Stone there to interview Michael Jackson. When rebuffed by officious staff, Murphy retorts, "I was gonna call the article 'Michael Jackson Is Sitting on Top of the World,' but now I think I might as well just call it 'Michael Jackson Can Sit on Top of the World Just as Long as He Doesn't Sit in the Beverly Palm Hotel 'Cause There's No . . . Allowed in There!' " (OK, so Murphy's R-rated diatribe is a little too spicy for this family-friendly paper. To hear his full speech, you'll have to rent the DVD.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 03, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Los Angeles movies: An article in Sunday's Calendar about the best films of the last 25 years set in the Los Angeles area said of "The Big Lebowski" that Lebowski's mansion was on the Westside. The movie locates it in Pasadena. Also, it said "Training Day" was released in 1991. It was released in 2001.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 07, 2008 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Los Angeles movies: An article last Sunday about the best films of the past 25 years set in the Los Angeles area said of "The Big Lebowski" that the millionaire Lebowski's mansion is on the Westside. The movie locates it in Pasadena. Also, "Training Day" was released in 2001, not 1991.

Foley artists: Murphy's career-making role was first offered to Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone.

-- Rachel Abramowitz

6 "The Player" (1992)

The eight-minute opening tracking shot pays homage to Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil," though now instead of focusing on a car carrying a bomb across the Mexican border, director Robert Altman highlights the banality of evil on an unnamed studio lot, as writers pitch witless ideas (including "The Graduate II") to bored studio executives. Altman had plumbed Los Angeles' amoral soul before, in 1973's "The Long Goodbye," and re-set an amazing collection of Raymond Carver stories there for 1993's "Short Cuts," but "The Player" gets the chilly Hollywood details right in this story of baby-faced empty husk of a studio executive Griffin Mills (Tim Robbins) who impulsively kills a writer and gets away with it. A platoon of celebrities, including Julia Roberts, Cher and Burt Reynolds, provide eye candy and often droll improvisation. Shows influenced by this film are plenty (think "Entourage"). Unfortunately, what's often left in the imitators is the opulence and ambition, not Altman's underlying theme -- that every day in Hollywood, art is casually murdered by commerce and careerism.

Water works: Altman riffs on L.A.'s predilection for the then-newfangled phenomenon of bottled water by having Mills order a different brand of designer H20 every time he enters a restaurant.

-- R.A.

7 "Clueless" (1995)

Filmmaker Amy Heckerling ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High") spent several years studying the genus -- rich L.A. teen -- to get all the slang and clothes right (or at least memorable) in this retelling of Jane Austen's "Emma," set in Beverly Hills, which she wrote and directed. Named, like her best friend, Dionne, after "great singers of the past who now do infomercials," Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) lives alone with her dad, a ferocious "$500 an hour" litigator, after her mother has died during a routine liposuction and devotes herself to misguided matchmaking attempts. The film was one of the first to show kids using cellphones (still a rarity for most of America in 1995), introduced terms like "Betty" (pretty girl) and "Baldwin" (hunk) into the wider pop culture lexicon and advocated a return to over-the-top designer fashion (including dozens of plaid outfits) right as grunge was hitting its apotheosis.

As if: Heckerling came up with the idea for "Clueless" while playing Barbies with her daughter.

-- R.A.

8 "Repo Man" (1984)

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