Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Favorite Films: Cop Films

There’s never a cop film around when you need one. Anyway, here are my favorite cop films:

1. Dirty Harry (1971): The first three in the series are fantastic films: Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973) and The Enforcer (1976). Perfectly shot, well acted with compelling characters, and a strongly conservative message, these film speak to the eternal struggle of stopping idiots from surrendering the public to thugs and terrorists and gave us super-cop Harry Callahan.

2. L.A. Confidential (1997): The definitive 1950’s L.A. cop film, this one was perfect... perfect sets, perfect props, perfect costumes, perfect script. It’s just a joy to watch this one twist and turn as the characters each play their own angles.

3. The Gauntlet (1977): This should have been the fourth Dirty Harry but it wasn’t. This is the tale of a washed up, drunken cop who must transport a supposedly meaningless eye witness from Las Vegas to Phoenix. The only problem, everyone wants them dead.

4. Cop Land (1997): A forgotten movie with a stellar cast that is anything but a normal cop movie, this tale of corruption in New Jersey/New York City contains some amazing performances and a really unpredictable plot.

5. Lethal Weapons (1992): The original (1987) and the sequel (1989) are both excellent films which did the formula for the cop film so well that every cop film to follow copied these films. Plus. they’re really enjoyable with great chemistry.

6. The French Connection (1971): You know, I can’t tell you why I like this one. Popeye Doyle is an ass. NYC looks like it had been hit by the apocalypse. The plot isn’t all that amazing. Still, this is an interesting and oddly compelling film.

7. Bullitt (1968): Starring the always fantastic Steve McQueen, this film contains the greatest car chase ever. It’s never been topped.



shawn said...

1. Die Hard- how could you forget it?
2. The Untouchables - it's the Chicago way!
3. Manhunter- the movie about criminal profiling.
3. The Silence of the Lambs- Manhunter part 2
4. Heat- DeNiro vs. Pachino
5. Seven- Man, I'm this close to retiring.
6. Blade Runner- a little tale of illegal immigration gone wrong.

shawn said...

I ought to throw Robocop in for good measure.
And the Bond flicks.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I've tried many times to like Heat and I just can't. That movie needs to be about half as long as it is. I debated whether Die Hard fit on the list or if it was more of an action movie that just happened to involve a cop.

Anonymous said...

Shawn beat me to it with my suggestions: Heat, Die Hard (and its first two sequels), Se7en, and The Untouchables!

I haven't seen Heat in years, even though I have it on Blu-Ray, but it was on HBO yesterday and I had it on. The word "epic" definitely comes to mind, but I don't remember enough of it to say what could be cut.

No love for the fourth Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact? When I watched all the DH films for the first time a few years ago, this one I found most memorable and effective.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, You could pretty much cut out anything after the bank robbery without anyone noticing. And you could cut out the whole subplot involving Ashley Judd. It's just a bloated, meandering film that has three good moments (armored car, the dock and the downtown shootout) and the rest is a waste.

By the time of Sudden Impact, the series had changed. It had run out of things to say and Harry had become a cliche.

Jason said...

I can’t say Die Hard is a cop film. The movie is built upon a premise – guy gets trapped in a building with terrorists – that doesn’t require the presence of a policeman or any actual police work. The fact that John McClaine is a policeman helps him in fighting Gruber and company, but he could be any number of things, a security guard, an ex-SEAL, a federal agent, and so on. However, the other Die Hard movies could qualify, as they all don’t have McClaine confined to one location and make better use of law enforcement abilities.

Outlaw13 said...

To Live and Die in LA. It captured the feel of the 80's pretty well, and had a great cast.

48 Hours. I doubt very seriously you could make that film today using the same dialog that Eddie Murphy and Nike Nolte used in this one, and I tend to think that's a bad thing.

Super Troopers. One of the funniest movies I have seen in the last decade. It's about Highway Patrolmen, so I think it counts. See it right meow!

Mad Max.

Anonymous said...

(Not to go off-topic before 11 in the morning, but I saw this article on movie computer hacking and had a laugh.) :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I don't see it as a cop movie either. I thought about it, but it doesn't fit. To me, a cop movie is a movie about cops on the job.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, 48 Hours was very enjoyable. And yeah, I doubt they could do that today.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Hackers was the worst by far. They turned hacking into a virtual reality video game.

Unknown said...

They don't make 'em like they used to. Struggling to come up with more recent examples, Denzel Washington came to mind: how about Man on Fire, Deja vu and Training Day?

AndrewPrice said...

John, I noticed that too. It looks like the mid-1970s and the late 1990s are the golden ages. I haven't seen a good cop movie in years. There have been some excellent television series, but no good films.

Anonymous said...

Ridley Scott did a cop movie in the late 80s (in between hits) titled Someone to Watch Over Me, your typical "cop falls in love with a hot witness" story, with Tom Berenger and Mimi Rodgers.

It's... okay (but looks great with Ridley directing)... and today, it'd be done as a TV movie for Lifetime.

And how can we forget the classic 1977 TV series Future Cop with Ernest Borgnine?!?!

(The opening credits are a hoot!) :-)

Unknown said...

I just remembered two from the late eighties that I really like: The Big Easy and Mississippi Burning, the first for its atmosphere and chemistry, the second because, well, Gene Hackman walks on water, does he not?

Tennessee Jed said...

had to drive toD.C. this weekend for a funeral. I like your list. . . . most all of them would be on my list. Unfortunately though, I am beat and can't give this one the thought it deserves

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I remember Someone to Watch Over Me, but I don't recall if it was any good. I haven't seen it in forever.

"Future Cop" looks like a dog.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's ok. Sorry to hear about the funeral.

AndrewPrice said...

John, Hackman is pretty good in everything. It's the rare film of his that I don't like.

I enjoyed The Big Easy a lot for the mood.

Anonymous said...

What, no "Hot Fuzz?"

How about TV's "Sledge Hammer!"?

Backthrow said...

Excellent choices, Andrew... although I remember being sort of underwhelmed by The Gauntlet, but I haven't watched it in ages, and I didn't really like any of the Lethal Weapon sequels (the original was great).

Not mentioned, so far:

He Walked By Night (1948)
The Naked City (1948)
Stray Dog (1949)
Union Station (1950)
Detective Story (1951)
The Narrow Margin (1952)
On Dangerous Ground (1952)
Vice Squad (1953)
Dragnet (1954)
The Killer Is Loose (1956)
Coogan's Bluff (1968)
Madigan (1968)
The New Centurions (1972)
Badge 373 (1973)
The Seven-Ups (1973)
Serpico (1973)
The Laughing Policeman (1974)
Prince of the City (1980)
Witness (1985)
Fargo (1996)

Floyd R. Turbo said...

End of Watch is great.

The Choir Boys (based on Joseph Wambaugh's novel)

L.A. Confidential

The Naked City

The Minority Report

Donnie Brasco

The Naked Gun -- the first one is spot on satire of cop movies and cops

Hot Fuzz

Anonymous said...

Union Station and the original Narrow Margin are good, effective little thrillers. (I'm not counting Peter Hyams' remake of Narrow Margin since Hackman played a lawyer, not a cop.)

I'd love to see them make a movie today that takes place entirely in Grand Central Terminal. A great setting for a murder mystery!

I saw a clip of The Seven-Ups on TV years ago. It was a car chase, and a damn good one. It's been in my Netflix queue for probably 10 years - I should finally bite the bullet!

If The Naked Gun counts, then so should Police Academy (though I like the second and third films more than the first).

And The Naked City was quit good as well. Now Law & Order does that every week.

Anonymous said...

So many come to mind.
In The VonHoffman Brothers Big Damn Book Of Sheer Manliness Todd Von Hoffman says that Spartacus was the most manly movie ever made. It's a great book,and should be required reading for every American male before they can register to vote,but Todd was wrong. The most manly movie of all time was Lone Wolf McQuade,where the title character is a Texas Ranger.
I also like Code Of Silence,another Chuck Norris vehicle.It wasn't an Oscar contender but I liked a lot of things about it. It was set in Chicago and all the guys looked like midwestern cops. They didn't look like LA types flown in to play midwesterners. There was a quiet little scene where a young cop is getting ready for Grand Jury testimony involving an incident involving his partner. He doesn't know what to do and Norris,playing a veteran,says "Tell the truth." That little scene,just a young cop and an experienced one talking,with no dramatic lighting or music, sums up the whole thing. You realize that telling the truth is the right thing to do and you realize how hard it's going to be. That's good film making.

Anonymous said...

Lethal Weapon.
I don't know if Walking Tall counts as a cop movie or a revenge movie or a seventies drive in genre but Buford Pusser was the sheriff of McNairy County Tennessee. (I'm referring to the original with Joe Don Baker, which is the only one I acknowledge.)
Extreme Prejudice. Take the eighties,Nick Nolte,Powers Booth, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown and Walter Hill. Mix well and shake. Serve plain,no water, no ice, no chaser. Awesome.
Copland was the subject of a Friday Film review here last summer and we had an extended conversation about that. It deserves every compliment we gave it.

Anonymous said...

One of the things you said about Copland was that it was so well written. That reminded me of my next choice,LA Confidential.
LA Confidential is probably the best written cop movie ever made.
It's a pyramid. It starts off with a wide base and narrows down to a point as characters peel off. The brilliance of it is that it keeps track of all the characters amd folds them into the main story with no cracks or gaps.The theme of the movie is intelligence. Every character has intelligence but each of them has a different kind of intelligence and each of them has a blind spot in his intelligence that feeds the story.On my list it is technically the best cop film ever made. I said technically. It is tied with my next movie as best cop film ever because there are different kinds of greatness. Kit once said that a great movie needs a F--k YEAH! moment. LA Confidential doesn't have a F--k YEAH! moment. Dirty Harry is one big F--K YEAH! moment
From the opening to the end it is just iconic. LA Confidential is a symphony. Dirty Harry is a rock concert.Both great, each in their own way.

Anonymous said...

Dirty Harry leads me to my next choice, Magnum Force. The problem with iconic movies is that the sequels often just get lumped together, Magnum Force is a serious film in it's own right. In fact, Magnum Force could have been a stand alone film even if Dirty Harry hadn't been made. What do you do when the law fails. Do you go through the motions and just spend a career as a bureaucrat,enforcing little pissy ordinances while real crime goes on all around you? Or do you break the law to enforce it's spirit? How far is too far? Is a just thing always a legal thing and vice versa.
I think Magnum Force is a great film in it's own right,overshadowed by it's illustrious predecessor.
As far as Dirty Harry sequels go Sudden Impact was a dumb movie but "Go ahead,make my day" is an all time great line,especially given the circumstances of it's delivery,so we owe it that.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

I agree re DH/MF. DH is a response to Miranda and the Due Process "revolution" of the 1960s.

MF is genius because it is a response to the premise of the first movie. Yeah... often "the law is an ass" as Dickens wrote, but there are limits to what one should do.

Anonymous said...

on a less philosophical note, Cobra was a hell of a lot of fun. Trivial note - Reni Santoni was Clint Eastwood's partner in Dirty Harry and Sylvester Stallone's partner in Cobra. His character was wounded and survived in both films. Andy Robinson was, of course, the psycho in Dirty Harry and the bureaucratic pain in the ass supervisor in Cobra.
And God help me, I love Point Break.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to monopolize the thread but once I started writing things just kind of unspooled!
I'll wrap this up with one more choice. The great 48 hours. Nick Nolte,James Remar,Sonny Landham,Eddie Murphy and Walter Hill.
The action, the story,all of it. Just so much to love.
48 hours stands out in my mind as a landmark of the old way of movie making. What I mean by that is that when the skill of screenwriters,actors and directors used to be measure by how realistically they were able to portray the characters. The racial slurs used by Nolte and the crude sexual references by Murphy were exactly the way these guys would have behaved and exactly the language they would have used. Since the 90s the purpose of filmmaking is to create an artificially politically correct world and sell it as the real one.
The only flaw in that great film is that it's set in the San Francisco Police Department and nobody makes a reference to Harry Callahan.It would have been so easy to work in.When Nolte goes to sign out Murphy somebody could have said something like"Be careful Jack. Harry Callahan almost got fired for this same thing and he had a helluva lot more friends than you do."
To which Nolte could have growled "I know all about Harry Callahan. Are you gonna fu--ing help me or not?" Or when the captain is screaming at them he could have yelled, I haven't seen this much damage in just two days since Harry fu--ing Callahan!" Just a little tribute would have been nice. Other than that 48 hours is perfection.'ve gotten it all off my chest now.
Thanks to all you guys for your time.

KRS said...

I think Seven Ups car chase edges out Bullitt's for the way it ends.

Also, the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) deserves a little love. Nobody could have closed that last scene as well as Walter Matthau!

Anonymous said...

Great call! The original Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a great film by any standard and a classic of the police genre.
I've never seen the Seven Ups at all and I've never seen Bullit all the way through,two oversights I need to remedy.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I enjoyed Hot Fuzz, but not enough to watch it again.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, LOL! Fargo never occurred to me as a police movie. I guess it is though.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I should have added The Naked Gun to the list. :D

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Police Academy probably should be here too. I enjoyed 1-3.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, An excellent list indeed! :D

This quote: LA Confidential is a symphony. Dirty Harry is a rock concert. is absolutely perfect too. Both are amazing movies, but with a very different feel. I love them both, though Dirty Harry is the one I ultimately prefer.

And I agree about Magnum Force. Magnum Force is a fantastic movie in its own right and would be viewed with the same power as Dirty Harry if Dirty Harry hadn't come first.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, What's brilliant about MF is that it keeps DH from becoming a caricature of itself because it shows that Harry does believe in the Rule of Law, i.e. he's not really a vigilante. It keeps DH focused on the stupidity of liberalism rather than letting it become an anthem for people shooting each other.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I love the original Taking of Pelham. That's one of my favorite 1970s films. :)

Voz said...

I agree with all your film choices...

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