10. Point Break
If you don’t root for Keanu Reeves siding with criminals during this movie, then you don’t have a heart. In this action extravaganza, the great man plays a cop who infiltrates a surfer gang who’ve been dressing up as presidents and committing robberies. They’re addicted to the thrill of thievery as it gives them the same rush as riding the waves and jumping out of planes. Things get complicated when he develops a bromance with their leader and falls in love with a sweet surfer woman.
9. The Fast and the Furious
10 years after Point Break, this movie basically stole the same idea and replaced the surfing with street racing. Fortunately, this is a prime example of how to make a successful copycat movie with its own identity, as it paved the way for one of the most prosperous and fun franchises of all time.
Stating that movies about racism are topical in the modern age is too damn obvious. But that doesn’t dismiss the truthfulness of the statement. When it comes to addressing hot-button issues about race relations in America, though, few pack a punch as hard as Spike Lee‘s. BlacKkKlansman was inspired by the real-life true story of Ron Stallworth, a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs in the late 70’s. Lee uses this story to explore the contemporary socio-political divide as well. The film traverses American history — both past and present — and explores the country’s long-standing history with white supremacy. The movie is angry and provocative. It’s also funny and accessible. The closing moments are revelatory and necessary.
Sidney Lumet’s tale of police corruption follows Frank Serpico (Al Pacino), a whistleblowing cop out to expose the criminals in the NYPD. When he’s not rooting out the filth in the force, he hangs out with a shaggy dog. The movie is also based on a true story, which you can read all about in “Serpico: The Cop Who Defied the System” by Peter Maas.
The second John Woo movie to make this list is one of the only good Hollywood movies he’s made so far — but it’s very good. The story follows an FBI agent who undergoes facial transplant surgery and assumes the identity of a terrorist. He wants to stop a tragedy and is prepared to go above and beyond. But the plan turns from bad to worse when the same terrorist impersonates the FBI agent and sets about ruining his life. John Travolta and Nic Cage co-star as the identity-swapped rivals and ham it up spectacularly. Read all about it here.
5. Miss Congeniality
In this excellent fish-out-of-water comedy, a terrorist plot threatens a beauty pageant. A tomboy FBI agent must go undercover by posing as a contestant. The only trouble is that she’s not exactly a girly girl like the other contestants. She prides herself on being a tomboy, but if she’s going to save the day then she’s going to have to undergo a massive transformation.
This one is much more disturbing than the other entries on the list. The story focuses on a serial killer that’s targeting gay men. Al Pacino plays a cop who goes undercover in the underground S&M scene to flush the lunatic out. The film was controversial upon release and criticized for stigmatizing gay people and inciting hate crimes. Director William Friedkin has denied any anti-gay sentiments, but the film’s legacy is one of sheer divisiveness all the same.
3. Reservoir Dogs
As far as debut features by hotshot young directors go, Quentin Tarantino’s is arguably the most impressive. As our own Brian Salisbury notes, “QT didn’t simply hit the ground running with a smart, engaging neo-noir, he also helped jump-start an indie film revolution.” The story takes place during the aftermath of a heist gone wrong. The surviving criminals can smell a rat, and tensions get heated. This is also the movie that made black suits and shades cool again in the ’90s.
2. Prince of the City
Sidney Lumet’s thick but nonetheless compelling drama stars Treat Williams as a Manhattan detective who agrees to help the U.S. Department of Justice expose corruption in the NYPD. It’s also the perfect companion piece to Serpico in many ways, though it’s far more complex and rewarding. With Prince of the City, Lumet explored similar themes but on a much bigger and more sprawling canvas. And that’s a big compliment, I know, considering that Serpico is magnificent.
1. The Departed
Scorsese has been robbed of Oscars too many times to count, but he finally won the big one for this remake of Infernal Affairs. This is one movie that defies the opinion that all remakes are turds. Not only is The Departed a testament to how good they can be, it’s also a prime example of how great filmmakers don’t even make redos feel like a new version of someone else’s work. The Departed borrows the same premise as Infernal Affairs and pays tribute to it here and there. But the end product is an accessible and epic crime saga that ranks among Scorsese’s very best.
Related Topics: Drama