The Set of 400: #27 – My Favorite Lana Turner Cameo

Today! Because this is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings –

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Directed by Curtis Hanson (x2)

Starring Guy Pearce (x3), Russell Crowe, James Cromwell (x3), Kevin Spacey (x3), Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito (x7), David Strathairn (x5), Ron Rifkin (x2), Matt McCoy, Graham Beckel, Amber Smith, Simon Baker, Paul Guilfoyle (x2), Darrell Sandeen, John Mahon

Man, they really did not know how to market this movie. Like, look at that poster! Besides just being a terrible composition of pictures, this – like most ads for the film – focuses on Kim Basinger, despite her being at best the fifth or sixth lead in the film. I went with this poster because most chose to spotlight Kevin Spacey – himself not remotely the star of the film, plus his subsequent reveal as a huge monster. I almost chose this poster instead:

Meh

But it doesn’t show anyone at all, and instead leans heavy on reviews and names – again getting Spacey first. Maybe due to its twisty, complicated plot, L.A. Confidential wasn’t a huge hit in its day, but the acclaim was deafening, so it would get its due at the Oscars at least, right?

Incorrect

As unfair as L.A. Confidential’s trouncing at the Academy Awards was, if you’ve been reading this space for any period of time you know I don’t harbor animosity toward Titanic (see #296!). It made sense as Best Picture/Best Director/Best Everything in ’97, such a massive achievement that it was. However, this did manage to keep the other truly great movies of that year solidly in check, some for years and years. L.A. Confidential – which did manage Best Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress for Basinger, of its nine nominations – would ultimately rise above all its guild awards and find an audience. Right? I mean, it’s in the top 125 on IMDB ratings, so people have seen this movie by now, right?

Because it really was the untelevised awards show darling in ’97. Winning Best Picture from the New York Critics, L.A. (obviously), Chicago, London, Boston, the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, critics across the land loved the gritty, noir-ish crime and corruption yarn. And it landed right in my sweet spot – beginning of college, finally had a driver’s license, dragging everyone I knew to the movies constantly. ’97-’99 is one of those stretches I often point to as a great heyday for cinema, even though only nine films and six films landed here from the first two of those years (’99 is well represented, with 14 movies). This is almost certainly due to the significance of those years in my life, so too bad, 1996! Ya ain’t nuthin’!

And this movie is totally holding up. Sure, it has Spacey, and that’s problematic for pretty much everything he appears in, but like the other Spacey films on this list (#126 Glengarry Glen Ross and #260 The Usual Suspects), he’s not the lead and thus is easier to swallow. Right? I know this is a sticky subject, and I think I was somewhat influenced in film selection here by his grotesque real life antics, but as I’ve mentioned many times (in regards to Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, etc.) I tried to keep these things separate, and I tried to be honest with myself. Does Spacey’s presence actually ruin my enjoyment of his films? No, not really. But his films that were fighting for a place on this list – your Se7ens and American Beautys and Horrible Bosses and The Negotiators – maybe suffered a bit in comparison with non-Spacey joints. Plus, I never have to bother catching up on House of Cards now, so that saves me a few dozen hours of screen watching.

Had it been this all along, maybe, but I’m certainly not jumping in at the end

No, let’s focus on the tremendous, career-making work of Crowe and Pearce as the opposing leads of the films, on Cromwell as their shifty police captain, on DeVito’s great narrator/tabloid huckster, and on Basinger – who probably won the Oscar because all the dudes cancelled each other out, and thus received no acting nods, but she is relatively effective, with the comparatively little she’s given to do.

And as much as I love this movie – it’s like 95% perfect – I can’t help but mention the ending, which works really hard to scuttle the whole effort. You’ve had two-plus decades to see it, so I don’t feel like I’d really be spoiling anything, but so as not to be too pedantic in recounting point-by-point choices, let’s just say the movie ends like five minutes too late, illogically slapping a happier ending onto an already satisfying conclusion.

If the credits rolled right here, this is a generational classic revered forever

Instead, we also had this

This is Hanson’s second film to make the list, a pretty long trip down the road from his first, Wonder Boys way back at #397, making him the 84th Two-Timer director, while Danny DeVito leads the way on the actor side, becoming the 24th Seven-Timer, following his roles in #205 Batman Returns, #182 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, #375 Romancing the Stone, #282 Johnny Dangerously, #310 Mars Attacks!, and #35 Get Shorty.

Coming tomorrow! Really? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better –

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