After Quentin Tarantino revolutionized the American crime film in the ‘90s by bringing the French New Wave’s subversions of Hollywood conventions back to Hollywood, the 2000s brought a bunch of imitators. A lot of these imitators were, as one would imagine, pretty poor.
But the decade wasn’t all bad for fans of crime films. For example, Martin Scorsese finally won an Academy Award for Best Director for helming a crime movie in the ‘00s after decades of being snubbed for masterpieces he contributed to the genre.
10 Best: City Of God (2002)
One of the defining cinematic portraits of the treachery of a life of crime, City of God tells the story of a street war between a drug dealer and an ex-vigilante in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro.
Director Fernando Meirelles and his uncredited co-director Kátia Lund went to painstaking lengths to ensure that the movie’s violence wasn’t glamorous in any way, while the plot, inspired by real events, has an air of authenticity to it.
9 Worst: Be Cool (2005)
Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty was adapted into a hilarious crime caper in 1995, with John Travolta playing the role of mobster Chili Palmer as he entered the film industry. Leonard wrote a sequel to the novel in 1999 called Be Cool, which was adapted into this star-studded travesty in 2005.
Travolta reprised his role as Chili Palmer, this time entering the music industry. But while the first film’s take on the film industry was sharp and satirical, the second film’s take on the music business is ham-fisted and misguided.
8 Best: Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher grew up in California at the time of the Zodiac murders, so he brought a personal touch to his dramatization of the ultimately unsuccessful search for the titular serial killer. The director used the fact that the case remains unsolved to make Zodiac a beautifully ambiguous mystery thriller.
Future Marvel stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr. make for a compelling trio in the lead roles as a cartoonist, a cop, and a journalist, respectively.
7 Worst: The Black Dahlia (2006)
After the success of L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy fans were excited for Brian De Palma’s adaptation of another one of his neo-noir novels, The Black Dahlia, inspired by the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short.
De Palma’s original cut was three hours long, but the producers forced him to cut out an hour. According to Ellroy, the three-hour cut was much better. The released cut is ambitious, but falls flat.
6 Best: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
After years of writing action classics like Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight, Shane Black tried his hand at directing with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a brilliant combination of pitch-black comedy and film noir.
Val Kilmer and a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. are perfectly matched in the lead roles, while Black’s script is typically fantastic, setting a unique tone and building lovable characters.
5 Worst: 15 Minutes (2001)
Inspired by Andy Warhol’s quote about everyone having 15 minutes of fame, 15 Minutes stars Robert De Niro as a cop on the trail of two Eastern European murderers who are filming their crimes in an attempt to become famous.
Somewhere buried in John Herzfeld’s film is a sharp satire of the nature of fame and the perversions of society, but the director’s script isn’t smart enough to find it.
4 Best: Training Day (2001)
Denzel Washington stars as a veteran cop taking a rookie, played by Ethan Hawke, out for his first day on the job. It slowly becomes apparent to the rookie that the veteran taking him around town is crooked, but finds himself powerless to stop the corruption.
3 Worst: The Man (2005)
Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy are both awesome, and with the right script, they could star in a great buddy comedy. Unfortunately, The Man didn’t have the right script, and the pair’s chemistry was squandered.
All the script’s jokes have been told before (and much more effectively), while the plot fails to even make sense, let alone grip the audience.
2 Best: The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese joked that The Departed, his English-language remake of Infernal Affairs, was the first movie he made that actually had a plot after years of helming character studies. And as far as plots go, it’s delightfully complex.
Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio star as a mob informant in the police and an undercover cop in the mob, respectively, each trying to figure out each other’s identities in a riveting cat-and-mouse thriller.
1 Worst: Gigli (2003)
Martin Brest apparently wrote Gigli as a darkly comic crime thriller, but the studio forced him to turn it into a schmaltzy Hollywood romance when the main publicity it was receiving was due to its stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez hooking up on the set.
One wonders what beautiful dark comedy the director of Midnight Run would’ve cooked up if he wasn’t forced to turn it into a muddled, genre-switching, incoherent mess in the middle of production.