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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

"I'm Chevy Chase and you're not." Well, these days he's not really Chevy Chase either, but he was when he made this 1985 farce. The film adapts novelist Gregory MacDonald's character Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher, an investigative reporter with a loopy, tape-delayed brand of humor and a penchant for awful disguises. With the relentless one-liners and odd get-ups, it's almost as if Peter Sellers was a passenger on "Airplane" -- or maybe Jerry Lewis stumbling through "All the President's Men."

Fletch is on the trail of two stories: The hidden forces at work behind the drug trade on the sands of Santa Monica beach and the mystery of why a businessman named Alan Stanwyk would ask a homeless man to kill him. The bad guys include George Wendt as a scabby dope merchant, Joe Don Baker as the sinister LAPD chief and Tim Matheson in the Stanwyk role. Director Michael Ritchie ("The Candidate," "Semi-Tough") was adept at keeping Chase at the right level of snarky and subversive and, with that Lakers dream sequence Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and yes, even Chick Hearn!), "Fletch" feels like a hometown spoof for the ages. Buy the DVD -- and a steak sandwich -- and put it on the Underhill account.

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.

Role play: As Hollywood sized up the "Fletch" novels in the 1970s, producers came to author MacDonald with a number of very different casting choices for the title role, Burt Reynolds and Mick Jagger among them.

-- G.B.

24 "Mi Vida Loca" (1993)

Rather than the overheated drama one might expect of a story revolving around gang kids and drug dealers in Echo Park, writer-director Allison Anders' "Mi Vida Loca" is a surprisingly sweet romance, cannily pitched somewhere between rose-tinted melodrama and wide-eyed realism. The love story is not only between people, but also between people and their neighborhood, the tight-knit affections many Angelenos feel for the specifics of wherever their enclave may be within the larger fabric of the city.

The film is also a snapshot of a neighborhood pre-gentrification, before the coffee shops, boutiques and hip nightspots move in, forever changing the local feel and sense of place. Anders cast her film with a combination of actors and actual kids from the neighborhood, and so there is a tangy authenticity to its dreamy world of low-riders and dances, drive-bys and deals gone wrong. With its emphasis on female friendship and the bonds of a shared sense of place, "Mi Vida Loca" carves a small-town tale out of the urban diaspora.

Cool cameos: The white kids trying to buy dope are played by a young Jason Lee and Spike Jonze, as well as the director's daughter, Tiffany Anders. Salma Hayek also appears briefly in one of her earliest English-language roles.

-- M.O.

25 "Crash" (2004)

Opening with a monologue that declares Los Angeles unlike a "real city" because people spend too much time behind the "metal and glass" of their cars, "Crash" announces itself right from the start as a Big Statement about L.A., which it views as a roiling caldron of racial mistrust and enmity. Directed and co-written by Paul Haggis with all the subtlety of a freeway pile-up, the film may be, notoriously, the winner of Academy Awards for best picture and original screenplay, but you have never seen such a sea of blank faces as when "Crash" was mentioned in the meeting that generated this very list -- the love it/hate it conversation-starter cache the film had when it was in theaters has since collapsed. Nevertheless, the film has had an influence. So we are not being willfully perverse or purposefully contrarian by placing it here at the bottom -- the other pictures on the list genuinely generated more conversation, passion, excitement and insight in our room full of Angelenos.

Jacked up: The idea for the film was sparked from a real-life incident; Haggis had his Porsche carjacked outside a video store on Wilshire Boulevard in 1991. How L.A. is that?

-- M.O.

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