Los Angeles has symbolized the end of civilization in a long list of films but rarely as memorably as in this sci-fi-inflected portrait of punk-era dead-enders. Using dirty, dingy locations in East L.A. and downtown, and under freeway overpasses, the film tells the story of Otto (Emilio Estevez), a self-proclaimed "white suburban punk" who repossesses cars after his career shelving generic foodstuffs -- labeled FOOD, BEER and DRINK -- doesn't pan out. Not only does this premise offer us a deadpan-comic tour of the seamy underside of L.A.'s car culture, it allows director-writer Alex Cox to fold in a story about alien invaders, the CIA and the invention of the neutron bomb (all with a nifty nod to the '50s noir classic "Kiss Me Deadly.") This is the City of Angels in the wealthy '80s, but it's far from glitzy: L.A. is filled with guns and almost no vegetation, a huge swath of the population seems to be unemployed, racial tension is high, buildings and lots are abandoned, and every convenience store we visit is in the process of being knocked over. Instead of responsible adults we have homeless savants, televangelists and blissed-out ex-hippies. Years later, the film -- a kind of hinge between "Taxi Driver" and "Pulp Fiction" -- shows an L.A. that doesn't seem that far from where we're heading.
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.
Bookend: Cox, who grew up near Liverpool and now lives in Oregon, worked briefly as an L.A. repo man. He's got a memoir coming in September called "X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker."
-- Scott Timberg
9 "Collateral" (2004)
Michael Mann's cameras, and the director's famously sleek shooting style, could probably make any city look good. Here he transforms Los Angeles into a beautiful and otherworldly place, shot mostly at night in a color treatment very close to black and white, which includes both the sophisticated and the rustic -- the shimmering skin of Disney Hall as well as a sphinx-like coyote crossing the street. It's not the first movie to make L.A. look wildly urban, but here we're shown places we don't always see -- a Leimert Park jazz bar, a Koreatown club and, before a lot of people knew they even existed, subway cars. The early scenes in the movie take place in downtown, before it became fashionable for filmmakers. You might not want to live here -- L.A. seems to be where criminals go to die, and the violence is fast, dispassionate and casual. But the movie's city, overall, is more distinctive than the seedy world of Mann's heist thriller "Heat," and nothing like the "sprawled out, disjointed" place Tom Cruise's whacked-out killer describes to Jamie Foxx's bewildered cabby.
City swap: For all the force and glamour of its treatment of L.A., "Collateral" was originally to have taken place in New York.
10 "The Big
According to Coen brothers lore, the writer-directors' rationale for setting their surrealistic comedy "The Big Lebowski" in Los Angeles was disappointingly simple: real-life friends who inspired its most vivid characters -- the White Russian-swigging slacker protagonist "the Dude" (Jeff Bridges) and his Vietnam veteran bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) -- lived in the city at the time; it was reason enough for the understated filmmakers to shoot what has been called "the first cult film of the Internet age" here. Its basic premise centers around mistaken identity and a kidnapping gone cartoonishly awry. But by encompassing a wide swath of L.A.'s crazy quilt of social milieus -- porn stars and German nihilists, a trash-talking Latino pederast and the titular "millionaire" in his coddled Westside mansion -- "Lebowski's" narrative structure pays implicit homage to the detective fiction of local lit hero Raymond Chandler.
Changing lanes: Although Hollywood Star Lanes, site of several of "Lebowski's" most delirious comic scenes, was torn down and replaced by an elementary school in 2002, some of its neon signs and retro decor wound up at Lucky Strikes, the bowling alley at the Hollywood & Highland Center, home of the Oscars.
11 "Mulholland Drive" (2001)