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16th October 2017

Top Five: Neo-Noir Films

With the sequel to Blade Runner, a modern film noir first, science-fiction second, released this month, Lucas counts down his favourite neo-noirs

5. Bugsy Malone (1976)

A surprising entry, yes, but this neo-noir ditches the nihilism of more traditional detective features in favour of an erratic, immature and charming gangster musical with a cast of brilliant kids. Bugsy Malone has to be the best noir comedy readily available, and though Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is arguably funnier, the authentic setting, costumes and accents of Prohibition-era are just too picture perfect to ignore.

Featuring iconic songs that encapsulate the sleazy jazz of speakeasies, gangsters with peculiar quirks (who could forget Fat Sam or Knuckles?) and female characters that somehow embody the femme fatales of the best noirs without it ever becoming creepy.

4. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Bugsy Malone tributes the texture and setting of noirs, while Pulp Fiction perfects the style of its dialogue, whilst adapting the innuendos and verbal jousting for a modern tone. Though Jackie Brown may be more traditionally noir, taking the Blaxploitation genre so maligned in the 1970s and legitimising it, Tarantino has yet to top his acerbic, narratively complex and darkly hilarious love letter to, well, pulp fiction.

Samuel L Jackson truly emerges as a star during the infamous breakfast scene, but it is Uma Thurman who shines through as a deconstruction of the self-destructive femme fatale. Its direct references to Kiss Me Deadly and classic Hollywood in Jack Rabbit Slim’s only further cement Pulp Fiction as the ideal modern counterpart to traditional film noir.

3. Blue Velvet (1986)

David Lynch loves Hollywood just as much as Tarantino, and, while this is never more obvious in the forever debated Mulholland Drive, it’s hard to argue with Kyle Machlachlan and Laura Dern playing kid detectives (undoubtedly an influence on Rian Johnson’s Brick), a sultry, tragic performance from Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper’s career-defining performance as the chilling, psycho-sexual Frank Booth.

Whilst other films in the genre manage to emulate the noir style authentically, Lynch manages to bring neo-noir back to its German Expressionist roots. Mad lighting and eccentric colour make for challenging viewing, and Lynch’s signature surrealism is at its best and most restrained.

David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 5th December 2017.

2. Se7en (1995)

David Fincher has become the king of the modern noir. Though Zodiac and Gone Girl’s places on the list would be well-earned, they lose points for their glossiness and the fact that they’re based on previously existing material. Though I can’t help but notice a similarity between it and The Abominable Dr Phibes, Se7en is wholly original and still just as shocking now as it was 22 years ago.

Despite it leaning less heavily on traditional noir tropes, it’s all the more brave for abandoning its reliance on a conventional Hollywood narrative, taking the classic detectives of the seedy 30s and 40s into an even more bleak modern setting. A neo-noir for sure, but also an evolution of the genre.

The David Fincher produced Mindhunter is now available on Netflix.

1. Oldboy (2003)

If Se7en is the evolution of noir, Oldboy is the culmination. In stark contrast to Bugsy Malone, Park Chan-Wook embraces the nihilism central to the post-war film noir movement and spins it into a twisting and enthralling mystery. Oh Dae-Su becomes a reluctant detective thrust into hopeless entanglement and violence, revealing dark secrets and horrific crime.

Playing out like a deeply cynical and disturbed hardboiled mystery novel, Oldboy features all the elements a noir film should yet relies solely on its own vision, only subtly referring back to the aesthetic, dialogue and tropes of the classic genre. Solidifying South Korea as a hot property for darkly subversive and disturbing cinema, Oldboy defined its era by dragging it through the mud. Troubling and unrelenting, it feels only natural that noir would come to this.

Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Lucas Hill-Paul

Lucas Hill-Paul

Fuse FM’s Head of Podcasting, Co-Host of the Take Three Podcast, Mancunion Film Contributor

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