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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

The plating game: The film is filled with several references to George Lucas' films, including a license plate that reads THX 1138 -- a reference to Lucas' "THX 1138" as well as "American Graffiti," which featured a similar plate.

-- Patrick Day

15 "Devil in a Blue Dress" (1995)

It says something about the nature of things that the time and place of this superb crime drama -- the circa 1948 streets surrounding Los Angeles' vibrant Central Avenue -- are as remote as Burkina Faso for mainstream movie audiences. A gripping piece of work by director Carl Franklin, "Devil" brings to life an era in L.A. when it was risky for black men to venture north of Wilshire Boulevard at night. Graced with a persuasive performance by Denzel Washington and some career-making work by Don Cheadle, this adaptation of the first of Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels gives off the kind of excitement that never grows old.

Clip job: A love scene between Washington's Rawlins and the missing white woman he was hired to find (played by Jennifer Beals) was left on the cutting-room floor.

-- Kenneth Turan

16 "Friday" (1995)

Although rapper-actor Ice Cube and South-Central L.A. factor inextricably into both movies, don't mistake "Friday" for "Boyz N the Hood Redux." Shot in 20 days on a block of 126th Street between Normandie and Halldale avenues, "Friday" plays like Cheech & Chong for the khakis-and-Chucks set. It follows 16 hours in the life of characters played by Cube and Chris Tucker as they sit on the porch smoking weed, suffering various indignities (mostly involving sex, bodily ablutions and nosy neighbors) and dodging bullets from drive-by shootings. It's a narrow slice of SoCal life in which a panoply of 'hood archetypes -- the lovable crackhead, the O.G., the hoochie mama -- pass before the protagonists in tableau vivant. Considered another way, the 'hood is actually the star: Its ice cream truck-driving drug dealer, trash-talking cholos, snicker-inducing beat-downs and bursts of automatic gunfire wouldn't make much sense set outside the Southland.

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.

House party: The director, South-Central native F. Gary Gray, set the film's action on the same street where he grew up; his friends' houses were used for exterior shots and Gray's childhood home backdrops a scene in which Deebo (Tiny "Zeus" Lister Jr.) punches Red (the film's co-writer DJ Pooh) so hard he flies into the air.

-- C.L.

17 "Speed" (1994)

A race against time? No, far worse, it's a race against traffic. One out of every 31 Americans lives in Los Angeles County and, right now, somewhere in town, there's a freeway that looks like a parking lot. This truly ingenious popcorn film by director Jan De Bont and screenwriter Graham Yost takes that traffic and makes it part of a mad bomber's evil plot. Brave but boring cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves doing his best "Adam-12") jumps onboard a bus that is wired to explode if it slows to less than 50 mph. Then-newcomer Sandra Bullock is wildly likable as Annie, the passenger-turned-hero on the bus, and Dennis Hopper is the ticktock nut-job named Payne. Looking for a modern commuting metaphor? In the end, it's mass transit (the Red Line!) that saves the day by offing the bad guy and delivering Keanu and Bullock safely to their final destination: A curbside kiss.

Dodger blues: In early scripts, the bus is driven to Chavez Ravine to use Dodger Stadium's parking lots to avoid traffic. In the final version, of course, Traven comes up with idea of going to LAX and using its miles of runway.

-- G.B.

18 "Valley Girl" (1983)

The era of the Valley girl has passed. The Sherman Oaks Galleria, ground zero for all things "tubular" and "gnarly," has been razed and rebuilt. But the heart of "Valley Girl" -- a time capsule of teenage dating rituals and Reagan-era L.A. night life -- still beats true on DVD. This romantic comedy of star-crossed lovers was a launching pad for Nicolas Cage, the Hollywood punk, and a career high for Deborah Foreman, the Valley princess. Many of the clubs and hangouts have changed, but this film, inspired in part by Frank and Moon Unit Zappa's hit song of the same name, heralded the cultural arrival of an archetype that spread from Southern California and quickly conquered all of suburban America. The fashions may have changed, but we are still entrenched in Valley speak. Don't believe me? OMG, you have got to be kidding. LOL!

Whatever!: Producers approached Frank Zappa about using his song as the basis for a movie. When he refused, they made the film anyway. A musical remake using '80s New Wave songs is in the works, meaning the Zappas' single and a movie might finally meet up one day. The way it was meant to be.

-- P.D.

19 "To Live and Die in L.A." (1985)

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