The Movies of L.A.

Continuing our “summer vacation” in the movies that we’ll do every Thursday, this week’s list is the best Los Angeles movies. That doesn’t mean the best overall movies that happen to be set in L.A. but the best portrayals of the city in film.



10. What’s Cooking? (2000)

Set in one of the most multi-cultural parts of L.A. on the most American of all days, Thanksgiving, we get a glimpse into what it means to be American for several neighboring families, each from a different cultural background. We’re taken into the heart of the lives and families of a location that is truly a melting pot.

9. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Another set of intertwining stories combined into one perfect film, we follow the complex web of organized crime throughout many parts of the city, especially the San Fernando Valley. The sun and the palm trees almost make you feel like you’re there and all the sites of L.A. helped to make this groundbreaking masterpiece more palatable as it majorly pushed the limits of storytelling and how violence is depicted in film in 1994.


8. A Star Is Born (1954)

Judy Garland’s character first comes to Hollywood because she’s told by a former star that he can make her a star. Her first arrival at the studio gives us a small tour into the movie studios of 1954 Hollywood.


7. Double Indemnity (1944)

Almost all great noir is set in L.A. You’d never be able to tell that L.A. is one of the sunniest cities in the world with very little rain from the way it’s portrayed in noir. According to 1970s music, it never rains in southern California, but according to film noir, it always rains there. Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity is one of the darkest of all the noir visions of L.A.


6. Magnolia (1999)

Set in various parts of the city all on the very long Magnolia Blvd., Paul Thomas Anderson gives a tour of what he seems to think is the city’s greatest demon, a lack of fatherhood. With many references to the biblical passage “The sins of the father are passed on from generation to generation” and even an odd retelling of the plagues that result from that, we see the hurt of the city told in an extremely compassionate way that somehow manages to leave us with much hope.


5. Anchors Aweigh (1945)

We tour the TV and movie studies, get a great dance sequence with Gene Kelly and the animated mouse that would later be known as Jerry (though this scene has nothing to do with L.A., it’s just too great not to mention), and a chase sequence through the Hollywood Bowl.  Anchors Aweigh gives as an inside look into many different aspects of the arts at work in L.A.


4. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

In an old mansion on the iconic street lives Norma Desmond, former silent film star, now a has been obsessed with the unrealistic idea of returning to the movies. The idolatry of fame and the devastating effects (to self and others) of the grief over the loss of fame are shown with dark, though often hilarious sharpness.


3. Blade Runner (1982)

It always rains in future noir L.A. too. Ridley Scott’s vision of L.A. in the future is a bleak reflection of the problems it dealt with in reality in 1982. Many traces of L.A. as it is can be seen in Blade Runner but only through the very bleak lens that shows the expected results of police corruption and the media’s exploitation of those perceived to be weak.


2. Rebel without a Cause (1955)

The famous knife fight at Griffith Observatory and the confusion at the planetarium are two of the most iconic scenes in film history both at iconic spots of L.A.


1. La La Land (2016)

Last year’s musical gem goes to the same places as Rebel with a Cause since Rebel plays a major role in the Mia/Sebastian romance. We also see the Hollywood hills. And it all starts with a musical number on the 405. I bet everyone in L.A. wishes that driving the 405 had that much joy and excitement!


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