5. Memories of Murder (2003)
Memories of Murder is a South Korean crime-drama film, based on the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer in the 1980s. The film follows two detectives in a rural town as they investigate a series of brutal murders. Bong Joon-ho is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, especially after the runaway success of the magnificent Parasite. But, for me, his second feature is his magnum opus.
The film’s strength lies in its richly drawn characters and the stellar performances of its ensemble cast. The detectives, played by Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung, are flawed and complex individuals, struggling to solve a case that seems to defy logic and reason. Bong Joon-ho makes the film as much a character study as it is a mystery. His direction is both stylish and restrained, capturing the oppressive atmosphere of the small town and heightening the tension during the film’s numerous suspenseful sequences.
While it is often a difficult watch due to its subject matter, its exploration of the human condition and its masterful direction make it one of the best detective thrillers ever – a must-see for fans of the genre. Its final shot is chilling and something that I often find myself thinking about.
Recommended for you: Bong Joon-ho Films Ranked
4. The Godfather (1972)
A film that needs no introduction – Francis Ford Coppola’s first instalment in the epic crime drama follows the Corleone family, an Italian-American mafia clan, and their patriarch, Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando.
Perhaps the only film on this list to be a cultural touchstone, its influence on popular culture and the crime genre cannot be overstated. The themes of power, family, and betrayal feel Shakespearian, Coppola using a deliberate pacing and quiet tension to build a sense of danger throughout the film which bubbles to the surface in thrilling moments such as the famous restaurant and baptism scenes.
Brando is on another level, but Al Pacino as Michael Corleone is the standout. At the start of the film, Pacino’s performance is notably restrained and quiet, presenting Michael as a reluctant outsider to the family business. However, as Michael is gradually pulled into the violent world of organised crime, Pacino’s performance shifts, and he transforms from an innocent civilian into a calculating and ruthless Mafia boss. The subtle shifts in body language and facial expressions show an understated intensity which makes for one of the best performances ever. And to think the studio didn’t even want Pacino in the role!
I would be a fool not to mention Gordon Willis’ foreboding cinematography which is often replicated but never as magical. The Godfather is still worthy of the hype 50 years on.
3. Children of Men (2007)
Children of Men takes place in the year 2027, where global human infertility has led to a bleak and hopeless future. The story follows a former activist named Theo, played by Clive Owen, who is approached by a group seeking his help to transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary. Owen perfectly conveys the weariness and desperation of his character, while also showing moments of surprising strength and determination.
Director Alfonso Cuarón crafted a visually stunning film that expertly draws the viewer into its dystopian world. The film’s action sequences are nothing short of breathtaking, with Cuarón expertly utilising long takes to create a sense of urgency and severity. From the exhilarating car chase to the harrowing final stand at the refugee camp, Children of Men never fails to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Each time I watch it I am in disbelief at the technical perfection on display. I come away feeling inspired despite having spent two hours in a bleak dystopia. Children of Men is hope in the face of despair, a film that lingers long after the final frame, leaving an indelible impression.
Recommended for you: Children of Men: Dropping Us Into Crisis