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Still from Drive, Ryan Gosling
Seeing as Ryan Gosling hardly utters a word in Nicolas Winding Refn’s artsy thriller Drive, it’s up to Los Angeles to step up to the challenge of leading the action

Films where LA is the star

As Inherent Vice stakes its claim in the City of Angels, we select our favourite LA-based flicks where the location becomes the focus

In the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, location is every bit as important as the cast. His latest – Inherent Vice – sees the writer/director once again working with a ensemble of actors, as he did in Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999). Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 shaggy-dog novel of crime and weed in 1970s Los Angeles, the city itself looms large throughout. With such a sprawling cast, Thomas Anderson grounds the movie in its sun-dappled settling, placing the city of Los Angeles front and centre. In many ways, the City of Angels is the star of the show here, and with good reason. We look at 10 more films in which LA is the star player – a city that’s as dramatic and iconic as any Oscar winner.


What LA type would like this best: Dive bar-dwelling Bukowski wannabes

Los Angeles comes into its own with a decidedly 1970s spin on film noir in The Long Goodbye. Elliott Gould’s ramshackle private dick Philip Marlowe resides in a stunning apartment at the top of a Hollywood Hills tower, which provides not only a view of the city, but of naked stoner girls in the apartment across the way practising their yoga moves. Evocative nighttime drives through the neon-lit city contrast with a chain-smoking Marlowe on a Malibu beach, showing off the light and dark that always run alongside each other in LA.


What LA type would like this best: Echo Park’s bedroom filmmakers

Against a cast of unknowns, the lesser-seen side of contemporary Los Angeles shines in this low budget mumblecore offering. After Scoot McNairy’s character uses Craigslist to get a date for New Year’s Eve, we travel by Los Angeles’ rarely documented subway system and visit the faded but beautiful interiors of downtown’s old movie palaces. The date tells us as much about the city as it does about these two people awkwardly falling for each other.

DRIVE (2011)

What LA type would like this best: Silver Lake stunt riders

Seeing as Ryan Gosling hardly utters a word in Nicolas Winding Refn’s artsy thriller, it’s up to Los Angeles to step up to the challenge of leading the action. Gosling’s role as a driver means we get to see the city at high speed, from the modernist hills of Echo Park, through to the concrete banks of the Los Angeles river and the slick, Bladerunner-esque new builds of downtown. Drive paints LA – perhaps falsely – as a city impossible to understand without a set of wheels.


What LA type would like this best: Martini-guzzling Los Feliz screenplay writer

Upon its release, this cult singles indie featured a cast of up-and-comers. Now its stars – Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and Heather Graham – are major league movie players, but at the time, the most famous character in the film was Los Angeles. A 1990s take on a city which still owes a heavy debt to Hollywood’s golden age, the film lingers on LA’s vestiges of classic Americana, from late-night diners to vintage cocktails bars such as The Dresden, where you can still see the movie’s eccentric lounge singers Marty and Elayne perform six nights a week.


What LA type would like this best: Sassy air stewardesses

Tarantino’s previous movies – Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) – were also set in LA, but it’s in Jackie Brown where the city comes shoulder to shoulder with the characters. Focusing on the working-class African-American areas usually skipped over by blockbusters, the film lingers around LAX and neighbouring Hawthorne. “I took her to my place in Compton and told her it was Hollywood – to her dumb country ass Compton is Hollywood,” says Samuel L. Jackson’s gun-runner of an out-of-towner he’s enlisted for his next job.


What LA type would like this best: Hysterical actresses

A terrifying depiction of the early days of the movie industry starring the delicious Karen Black and based on Nathanael West’s 1939 novella, The Day Of The Locust paints Los Angeles as an unrepentant, sinister force. A gaudy presence throughout, the oversaturated 1970s rendering of the 1930s adds to the feeling of suffocation and the city becomes a literal killer, as the final, chaotic scene outside the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre attests.


What LA type would like this best: Downtown loft-owning aesthetes

Thom Andersen’s stunning cut and paste ode to Los Angeles looks at the city’s multitude of cinematic identities. At almost three hours long and made up of clips from over 200 films, this documentary only recently received a proper release due to copyright concerns. Featuring snippets of The Music Box (1932), The French Connection (1971), LA Confidential (1997), The Public Enemy (1931), Repo Man (1984), LA Story (1991), Short Cuts (1993) and more, it is as exhaustive and magical as Christian Marclay’s 2010 24-hour installation The Clock, and tells you all you need to know about LA’s star power.

Catch a rare film screening at the Rio, Dalston on 1 February

SHAMPOO (1975)

What LA type would like this best: Blow-dried Beverly Hills babes

Set in 1968, Warren Beatty is the oversexed hairdresser shagging his way through his clientele, including Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn. Travelling through Los Angeles on his motorbike, in the moneyed canyons near to Beverly Hills we see the free love of the 1960s in full effect, but the parties and excess come with a price.


What LA type would like this best: Angry as hell teenagers from the Valley

Iconic for many reasons, including the death of James Dean a month before its release, the scenes shot outside the majestic Griffith Observatory make for the movie’s most memorable. The breathtaking views from the landmark location show a city as full of potential as the film’s angsty youths. One of the first films to deal with the troubles of teens, both LA and the on-edge kids in the cast put in some serious brooding.


What LA type would like this best: Hollywood Hills housewives with a murderous streak

Proof that Los Angeles is just as powerful in black and white as it is in colour, this deft film noir shows a stark side to the city. Here Los Angeles is the flawless, picket-fenced scene of domesticity, an un-supposing backdrop for the almost perfect crime. Inside Barbara Stanwyck’s idyllic Los Feliz home, we see the deviance behind the respectable public face the city can easily portray.