Film & TV
Ever since the earliest days of the cinema, audiences have been enamored with crime movies. From the expressionist shadows of early crime noir films to the luridly-colored Italian giallo shockers that eventually gave rise to the modern slasher film, crime has always found a way into the heart of movies and moviegoers.
That’s no less true in the 21st century than it was in the century preceding it. So here are a few of the best crime films that have been released since 2001:
1. Infernal Affairs
Remade in America in 2006 as The Departed, the original is still the superior version of the tale; a lean, beautiful, and tense film about a cat-and-mouse game between a gangland mole within the police department and an undercover cop.
2. Layer Cake
3. A History of Violence
While arguably one of David Cronenberg’s more “approachable” movies, A History of Violence stands out by making the violence in question incredibly uncomfortable, even for viewers long jaded to movie violence. (See also some of the best uses of sex scenes to establish character you will ever see on film.)
What happens when you take a film noir detective story—complete with archaic dialogue and plenty of slang—and plop it into a modern-day high school? You get Rian Johnson’s spellbinding directorial debut.
5. Kiss Kiss Bang
Shane Black’s love letter to pulp detective novels also manages to be one of the most razor-sharp film noirs of the modern era and one of the funniest buddy comedies ever made.
David Fincher’s masterpiece and one of the finest true crime films ever made, Zodiac reminds us of the power of movies (and the price of obsession), while taking us on a mind-bending tour through the pursuit for one of the most famous uncaught killers in history. Zodiac is currently on Netflix.
7. No Country for Old Men
You can’t really make a crime movie list and not include at least one Coen Brothers title, right? It doesn’t hurt that Javier Bardem made his name playing Anton Chigurgh, one of the all-time great film villains, in this haunting tale. This modern classic is also available on Netflix.
8. In Bruges
By turns hilarious and tragic, Martin McDonagh’s film about two hitmen lying low in Bruges, Belgium isn’t to be missed, featuring fantastic performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and a particularly foul-mouthed Ralph Fiennes.
9. The Raid 2
10. Cold in July
This isn’t Jake Gyllenhaal’s first appearance on this list, but it might be his best work, as he turns in one of the eeriest performances you’re likely to find outside of a horror flick, helped along by Dan Gilroy’s portrait of the nighttime world of the City of Angels. You can stream Nightcrawler on Netflix.
Before Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve directed this searing tale about the war on drugs, which feels just one supernatural occurrence short of being a Laird Barron story put on film.
13. The Nice Guys
Shane Black gets the distinction of being the only director to make this list twice, and while The Nice Guys may not be quite as successful as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s a lot more ambitious to make up for it.
14. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore
This Netflix original about a woman and her eccentric neighbor who track down the burglars who broke into her home feels like the orphaned sibling of a Coen Brothers classic.
15. Baby Driver
A musical in which the characters listen to the songs rather than sing them may not seem the most likely candidate for one of the best crime movies of 2017, but that’s just because you may not have seen Edgar Wright’s infectious caper flick yet.
The list could go on and on. The 21st century has already proven a fertile ground for the crime film, as various directors take the reins of the film noir and run with it in just about every direction you can imagine, from the humor of Shane Black to almost elegiac tales like No Country for Old Men.
If I hadn’t been restricted to 15 entries, I might have mentioned Nicolas Winding Refn’s oddly stylized cult hit Drive, horror superstar James Wan dabbling his toe into the Death Wish remake pool with Death Sentence a decade before Eli Roth would make it official, or Ben Wheatley’s 1970s-style shoot-em-up Free Fire. (For that matter, if you’re looking for a crime film that takes a decidedly more bizarre turn in its final reel, check out Wheatley’s Kill List.)
No matter how many movies I list, though, I’m bound to miss some, so tell us your favorite crime movies of the 21st century in the comments!
Featured still from "No Country for Old Men" via Paramount Vantage