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Top 10 Movies Set in L.A. April 2, 2009

It’s an odd thing but even though Los Angeles is the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’ there’s relatively few movies actually set here. Here’s the 10 that I think help define this mad city-with-no-centre. Dude.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The first ‘live-action-slash-animated-kiddies-film-but-really-made-for-adults-murder-mystery-noir’ (I think that’s a genre in and of itself). Its main plot is from the true story of city corruption which took place when dismantling the LA cable car system and the subsequent building of freeways – the route Judge Doom describes in the film that will go through Toon Town is the 10 Freeway from Santa Monica to Pasadena. The screenwriters took the plot from a proposed ‘Chinatown’ sequel they had been writing and slotted it into this Depression-era flick. High-caliber for a supposed ‘children’s movie’. There’s no question mark on the end because of the Hollywood superstition that films with a ‘?’ in the title don’t do well at the box office. *Interesting cameo alert – that’s infamous producer Joel Silver as the cartoon director, Raoul.


Pulp Fiction – Apart from being the seminal flick of the ‘90’s (was there a college dorm that didn’t have this poster up on the wall?), ‘Pulp Fiction’ is fun to watch when you know LA because it doesn’t feature the usual neighbourhoods like Venice or Santa Monica or the obvious landmarks like Mann’s Chinese Theatre or the Hollywood sign. It concentrates more on places like The Valley and Compton, making use of the urban sprawl. It makes a point of mentioning a little-known fact about the LA car culture too; even though they drive a lot, Angelinos don’t actually LIKE to drive and are perpetually in fear of getting caught in traffic, as referenced by The Wolf when he tells Jules and Vincent, “I see…I see a cab in your future. Move outta the sticks, boys”.

Ed Wood – There are easier ways to make a living than making movies so you have to be a little off-kilter in the first place to pursue this line of work. The great thing is, so are a whole bunch of other people in this town and somehow, they all find each other – like Ed Wood and his gang of misfit malcontents. They really believe in the films they’re making (and you have to for all the time you put in) and in lots of ways, ‘Glen or Glenda’, ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ and ‘The Sinister Urge’ are true classics. They wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable if there had been any winking at the camera. Nobody gave Wood the chance to become a legend (“Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!”), so he created it for himself.

Singin’ In The Rain – Rain is rare in LA and it’s used well in this movie because the only time it rains is when Gene Kelly realizes he’s in love with Debbie Reynolds. Set during the time when films went from silent to ‘talkie’, it showcases the length directors and studios will go to trick the audience, visually and aurally. Body-doubles, voice dubbing, false credits; all part and parcel of ‘movie magic’. It keeps a lot of people whose names we’ll never know employed in this part of the world.

Someone very clever came up with this – what George Lucas might do with this classic if he got his hands on it…

Death Becomes Her – The States isn’t the world capital of plastic surgery. That’s Brazil, gotta look good on those beaches! Even in the US, Miami has more elective surgery than LA but as it’s so associated to the film industry, it makes sense that this comedy about the price of youth and living forever takes place here. Botox is the current thing and now there’s a load of women walking around with a ‘surprised’ look fixed on their face, like someone put a cold hand up their skirt. There are even huge ads in the local papers for discount procedures (yeah, that’s where you want to save some money – when you’re going to have your face or boobs or stomach sliced open and operated on.) Be grateful you’re not any of these women.

Boogie Nights – LA is also home to the porn industry; the San Fernando Valley is ‘Hollywood’ for adult entertainment. This take on ‘A Star Is Born’ features a young fella named Eddie who has a God-given talent. A big one. He becomes Dirk Diggler (you gotta love it!) and porn’s new golden boy. But once you reach the top, the only way is down and he ends up with an erection-deflating cocaine habit and hustling on the street. It’s a strange thing – people say, “It’s not show-friends, its show-business” but that’s not exactly accurate. So many people who live in LA aren’t from LA, so you make your own extended family. Your friends WILL help you out with contacts and jobs and rally for you and help you out, so it’s fairly true to form when Dirk is forgiven and gets another chance from his ‘show-family’, an opportunity he doesn’t get from his real one.

(I picked the one with French subtitles. You know, to make it classy for y’all)

Friends With Money – There’s not a lot of cities where you can find yourself at a loss to pay the rent during the day but go to a party that Tom Hanks is also at the very same night. Or work as a maid to make ends meet but have friends who can, without blinking an eye, donate 2 million dollars to their kids’ school. Or chose to live in squalor so you can drive a Jag and look sharp at the valet. Or go to a charity function (for a disease nobody’s really sure what it is, exactly) where, for the top bid, Reese Witherspoon will personally knit you a sweater. But LA is one of them! It can be fun (and funny) if you don’t take it too seriously.

The Slums of Beverly Hills – 90210 is not the only zip code in Beverly Hills and not every house looks like a castle. But most homes DO look like castles and most people who live there ARE rich so imagine going to school with a girl whose parents own one of only three pairs of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers. Tamara Jenkins doesn’t have to because she did. ‘Slums’ is sort of based on her and her family’s nomadic quest to give her the best education they could, living in crappy apartment buildings with false fancy names, trying to keep within the city limits so she could attend Beverly Hills High (the one with an oil rig on it. I’m not joking).

Bowfinger – The longer people spend chasing their dreams, the less lofty these dreams become. Bobby Bowfinger came to LA to be Orson Wells and now he just wants the FedEx truck to drop an industry related package off at his house. Doesn’t mean you should give up though – Michael Blake, who wrote ‘Dances With Wolves’ was 45 and crashing on a friend’s sofa when he wrote his Oscar winning screenplay. Apparently Heather Graham’s part was based on Steve Martin’s former girlfriend, Anne Heche. Ouch.

Swingers - No list of LA movies would be complete without ‘Swingers’. It says so much about the lifestyle and attitude of wannabes, especially actor wannabes. These boys are masters in their own minds, legends of the lounge and kings of the casting call – telling themselves and each other what they have to, to keep from running back home with their tails between their legs. Guys *thisclose* to being on the cusp, they can practically taste it. One wants the success to reconcile his own ego, one wants it for revenge against the girl who broke his heart and one of them seems to have a true vocation. Until they make it; there are parties, collecting chick’s phone numbers (and then ripping them up if she turns out to be ‘business class’), swing dancing with beautiful babies and Pink Dot beer delivery. Also contains the single most cringe-worthy phone call scene in cinema history. But it’ll be OK boys; you’re so money and you don’t even know it.

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Sam Tweedle April 3rd, 2009

Brilliant as always, but IMO the ultimate LA film is Sunset Boulevard. Most of the locations are still there today.

Howard April 5th, 2009

Once again, thoroughly entertaining. Couldn’t stop laughing at the George Lucas “Singing in the Rain” clip. I’m sure Simon Pegg approves too.

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