Thursday, May 28, 2020
By Benina Stern
Hello! It’s your Skirball Cinema Tuesdays programmer, Benina, back at it again with another round of film recommendations—this time, with a theme!
To quote Randy Newman after a Dodgers’ home game win, “I love LA.” After two months of social distancing, my love of Los Angeles has only grown—from drives on an empty 405, to the jacaranda trees (and their sticky flower menaces) in full bloom, to becoming friendly with my neighborhood’s restaurants through curbside pickup, I’m constantly discovering new ways to appreciate my city. Lately, I’ve even found myself sighing longingly at street shots of Los Angeles when it appears in something I’m watching.
There’s no shortage of LA films to choose from. Hollywood loves bending Los Angeles to fit its stories: disaster movies where LA is the victim of volcanoes, glitzy Beverly Hills shopping montages, slacker parties in the San Fernando Valley, and so on. As we continue to experience the city from home, I present to you a list of films that love Los Angeles so much, the city is like a character all its own.
Real Women Have Curves
Featuring a heartfelt performance by America Ferrera, Real Women Have Curves is a touching film about the complexities of a mother/daughter relationship set against the backdrop of East Los Angeles.
Directed by Patricia Cardoso. (2002, 90 min. Rated PG-13.)
Available on HBO Go, HBO Max
As explored in the 2014 Skirball exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, Los Angeles and film noir go hand in hand. In this classic (and possibly best) entry into the genre, we find a disgruntled housewife who wishes her husband dead. Between all the intrigue, Double Indemnity features Hollywood apartment complexes, Beachwood Canyon Spanish revival houses, and train stations in Burbank that no longer exist.
Directed by Billy Wilder. (1944, 107 min. No MPAA rating.)
Available to rent across platforms
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
A cartoon rabbit framed for murder must prove his innocence in this live-action/animated comedy. Not only is Who Framed Roger Rabbit a hilarious take on the noir genre, but it also provides a great primer about what happened to Los Angeles’s Red Cars in the 1940s!
Directed by Robert Zemeckis. (1988, 104 min. Rated PG.)
Available on Disney+
While this movie does not overtly take place in Los Angeles (aside from a few shots on Olvera Street), Charlie Chaplin’s imprint on the city cannot be ignored. In The Kid, The Tramp (Chaplin) cares for an abandoned child in a story that promises to be “a picture with a smile—and perhaps, a tear.”
Directed by Charlie Chaplin. (1921, 68 min. No MPAA rating.)
Available on Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Kanopy
City of Gold
To quote Los Angeles Times Food Editor Peter Meehan, “[Jonathan Gold] was the city and the city was him.” This documentary film explores the impact of the Pulitzer Prize–winning food critic on Los Angeles’s culinary scene, and on the city at large. Through his writing, Gold helped me understand my love of the “great, glittering mosaic” in which we live—every part of Los Angeles has a story to tell.
Directed by Laura Gabbert. (2015, 96 min. Rated R.)
Available to rent across platforms
Too often we see the future of Los Angeles as a smoggy, claustrophobic tangle of buildings. Her envisions a future of high rises, clean open spaces, and (gasp!) a well-networked Metro system. Mirroring Theodore’s relationship with his operating system, Samantha, I’m starting to feel like my friends are now “one” with my electronic devices.
Directed by Spike Jonze. (2013, 126 min. Rated R.)
Available on Netflix
Los Angeles Plays Itself
More of a sprawling video essay than a documentary, this essential film asserts that Los Angeles’s depiction in the movies is limited by what Hollywood thinks the city is.
Directed by Thom Andersen. (2003, 169 min. No MPAA rating.)
Available on Kanopy
Benina Stern joined the Skirball’s Public Programs department in 2019. She has a BA in American studies from Stanford University. Since her last movie roundup, she’s become a guardian to a sourdough starter and has been watching a lot of dystopic sci-fi involving teenagers, which she finds oddly comforting.