Los Angeles is one of the most famous cities in the world, but its true nature and the glamorous version often thought of by those who don’t live here are often wildly different. As a lifelong Angelino, I’ve seen all sides of the city and Southern California. It’s a beautiful, strange, shallow, violent, vibrant, surprising, diverse, and meaningful city that shifts from block to block and moment to moment. While no single film can encapsulate every part of L.A., movies can reveal new pieces of the city and capture its essence in ways that are impossible in reality.
While New York is most likely the most featured city on film, Los Angeles has provided a stellar background for classic film across the decades. Not only that, but the world of L.A. provides a vibrant backdrop to romance, crime, comedy, drama, and every other genre. Best of all, the many different styles and the countless approaches from writers and directors each reveal something different about Los Angeles and its residents.
The following 10 films are excellent and unique movies that not only show many different sides of The City of Angels, but feature the city in a crucial role. Best of all, the eschew the shallow and so-called glamorous side of the city for something far more real and meaningful.
Lonely lives collide in both crime and love on the streets of Los Angeles. Heat follows bank robber Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) and Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), who is hot on his heels. With high stakes bank heists and intense shootouts, writer and director Michael Mann’s Heat has action to spare, but it’s the human elements and wonderful dialogue that really elevate this film to the level of classic. This is a through and through L.A. movie as its characters navigate its streets in both night and day in search of meaning. Really, Heat is just as much about the loneliness of its central characters and how the two men who find themselves as enemies are truly kindred spirits. Mann’s direction makes L.A. look beautiful and cold at the same time, much like the real life city.
Quintessential L.A. Moment: McCauley takes Eady (Amy Brenneman), the woman he’s falling for, into the hills for a look at the L.A. lights at night. It’s a bit of romance and peace within a lonely and desperate city as these two lonely individuals find warmth between them.