In November, our house celebrates Noirvember, a celebration of the greatest film genre, film noir. Film noir refers to the stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and motivations. It's the genre that provides us the smooth talking detectives, the hard as nails femme fatales that get them in trouble, and the criminals we love to hate.
It's my favorite genre of film and of literature. I've spent the last couple of years reading through the works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain. I've poured over the film careers of Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Dick Powell, and Richard Widmark.
To me, film noir is best served in black and white, as only that setting can provide the dark enough shadows to make it so perfectly captured. This puts the best films in the 1940s and 1950s, which unsurprisingly, is the era I have logged the most film viewings in my Letterbox app.
This year, we've seen quite a few film noir new discoveries, some of which have quickly jumped to the top of my favorites list. We have a few more to go, so I reserve the right to update this list, but I've included a few of my favorites below in case anyone needs any recommendations. The first four films on this list are also on my top 10 favorite films of all time.
- The Thin Man - Endlessly quotable. Nick and Nora Charles are definitely couple goals, minus the alcoholism. Comedy with a touch of noir. The movie that defined gathering all the suspects in a room to identify the culprit. I love the book and I love this movie.
- Maltese Falcon - Noir at its finest. A wonderful collection of character actors. Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet, Astor. Truly the stuff that dreams are made of.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - I saw this at just the right time and it blew my mind. All those characters together at once. Interacting in inventive and appropriate fashions. A touch of noir, and a lot of cartoon greatness. Still technically impressive.
- Se7en - Again one that hit at the perfect time. Great performances by Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey. The seven deadly sins motif. It led me to following directors, particularly Fincher. Neo noir with an incredible hook.
- The Third Man - Has the coolest shot of any in film ever made with Orson Welles' introduction. The zither soundtrack, a great speech about German innovation versus Swiss innovation. One of the best films of all time.
- In a Lonely Place - Perhaps Humphrey Bogart's greatest performance (as well as Gloria Grahame's). The best trick that it plays is that you truly do not know what to believe until the very end. Heartbreaking and wonderful.
- Sunset Boulevard - If it's not evident with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and In a Lonely Place, some of my favorite noir films take place in Hollywood. This is no exception. An incredibly memorable opening where you start with the dead body and he explains how he got there. Probably the best film about Hollywood ever made.
- Nightmare Alley - A new discovery this year. Tyrone Power's darkest role as a con man who reaches the top and falls to the bottom. Haunting and deeply moving.
- Out of the Past - Quintessential Mitchum, who along with Bogart, was made for noir. Kirk Douglas, in only his second role, plays the heavy well. Perfectly lit by director Jacques Tourneur and his cameraman Nicholas Musuraca.
- Mildred Pierce - James M. Cain's seminal noir brought to the screen, with a tour de force performance by Joan Crawford, as the mother who will do anything to provide her daughter a better life. It goes wrong as only noir can. A true classic.
And a bonus recommendation
- Woman on the Run - A great B noir, that keeps you off balance for the entire film. Ann Sheridan provides a superb performance as a harried wife, seemingly unconcerned by the danger her husband is in as a witness to the central crime. The film follows her journey to find her husband and avoid the police at the same time.
One day, I will get to go to Noir City, the annual noir film festival. Until then, I'll settle for Noir Alley on TCM and our Noirvember celebration. Lost in the shadows, and enjoying every minute of it.