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USA - Top Ten California Movies

Updated on February 9, 2011

USA Top Ten Trilogy Part III

According to Tupac and Dr Dre, California knows how to party, and it shows in their movies. Party scenes feature in virtually every film on this list! It’s the land of Silicon Valley, the San Andreas Fault, the Golden Gate Bridge, Malibu and Venice Beach and … oh yeah… Hollywood! Here’s my top ten from the City of Angels.

Warning Mulholland Drive is not on my list… blame my ex-boyfriend and our mate who murdered it for me after we all went to see it together, and I enjoyed it, but then they began a debate that went on for decades, eons even, about what it all meant? Theory on theory on yawn theory! OMG even David Lynch wasn’t too sure!! Just let it go!!!

Again there's quite an adult theme to a lot of these films, but there are some fun ones in there as well, something for everybody!

A Young Gloria Swanson
A Young Gloria Swanson | Source

Sunset Boulevard (1950)(PG)
To begin with this vintage 1950 film that tells the Hollywood story - fortune acquired but fame too soon faded and forgotten. We hear the tale of the ageing actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) star of the golden age of silent films once upon a time, now locked away in her mansion on Sunset Boulevard formulating her grand come-back. A struggling screenwriter (William Holden) stumbles into her life and finds himself under the deluded diva's thumb and ensnared in her web of fantasy. With cameos by real Hollywood icons such as Director Cecil B Demille, a great cynical classic!

L.A. Confidential (1997)(18)
Kevin Spacey (slick socialite), Russell Crowe (gallant thug) and Guy Pearce (scrupulous striver) are all members of the LAPD in 1950s Los Angeles, with three very different approaches to the law. They separately become involved in an attempt to solve a shooting in the Nite Owl coffee shop, and end up unravelling a tangled mess of scandal in their midst and corruption at the highest levels. Prestine attention to period detail, thoughtfully developed characters and a complicated but cleverly structured storyline have made this film such a success.

The Player (1992)(15)
Director Robert Altman points the big accusatory finger directly at Hollywood in this fine satire. Tim Robbins plays the anti-hero Griffin Mill, a top producer under pressure. Firstly from new young-blood in the office. Secondly from threats from an unknown enemy in the form of malicious postcards, allegedly from a disgruntled writer whom Mill rejected,. His shattered nerves lead to a murder and cover up. You might think it gets worse for him from there, but strangely it doesn't. Appearances from a few Hollywood regulars such as John Cusack, as themselves, and a clever plot make this one of the tinseltown greats.

Bill and Ted
Bill and Ted

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)(PG)
And while the grown-ups are caught up in these serious tangles, what are their offspring up to? Well I like to think it's this... Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are Theodore Logan (Ted) and Bill S Preston Esquire, a couple of spaced out California Kids who are destined for greatness, but only if they manage to form the gnarly rock band ‘Wyld Stallyns’ which will pave the way towards a Utopian future for all. This however depends on them passing their high school history exams, and it’s not looking too good! Rufus, a dude from the future, is forced to intervene, coming back in a time travelling phone-booth, to take them on a mission into the past and help with their grasp of history. But it’s no easy task; things go wrong, and an excellent adventure occurs! With a plot like that this film was always destined for greatness in my books! Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey a great sequel too! Be excellent to each other and party on dudes!

Johns (1996)(18)
I have compromised here as I sorely want to recommend the film Hustler White by director Bruce Le Bruce from the same year, but it’s extremely extremely risqué and pretty much gay porn, it is however as hilarious as it’s meant to be… if you have that sort of sense of humour… which I do (I like a good Russ Meyer film as well). But I understand I may be in the minority, so it’s probably best avoided by most people, unfortunately. Instead I’m recommending a less in your face film about the modern day Sunset Boulevard, the seedy red-light district. Johns in comparison is more serious, but with a decent beginning, middle and end story to tell. It follows a hot Christmas Eve day in the life of John (David Arquette), a hustler on the strip, and his trials and troubles and run-ins with various Johns, and everybody seems to be called John too. A bit of a Midnight Cowboy tale and the film that has made me start paying attention to Arquette as an actor.

Less than Zero (1987)(18)
When I first saw this film I thought it was absolute dirge, because I‘d just finished reading the novel of the same name by Brett Easton Ellis. The book is amazing and utterly wrong and disturbing, and this sparkly Hollywood effort bears virtually no resemblance. It simply borrows a premise, and then heads off on its own morally righteous path. Drugs are Evil. So how has it made it to my top ten? Well, I watched it again the other day and realised that if you completely disassociate it from the novel, and also the real world, it’s a very decent eighties film. It’s just a lot more box office friendly John Hughes-ish, than the book it takes its name from. The stylised fashions, elaborate party sets and to-die-for houses do meticulously convey the eerie scarcity of emotion that seems to go hand in hand with excessive wealth. There is a raw sense of emptiness achieved particularly by Jami Gertz' portrayal of the stunning and sorrowful Blair. Also Robert Downey Junior as the drug addicted on the ropes Julian gives one of the performances of his life.

Valley Girls from Nowhere
Valley Girls from Nowhere

Nowhere (1997)(18)
If you want to watch the film version of Brett Easton Ellis’ Less than Zero, then skip that one and watch this! In contrast to the other it borrows nothing from the story, but takes a scene from the book and quotes it almost word for word, and it takes the mood of the novel, that deep lost depression splashed with bright colours and parties but never very well masked, that pervades this vacuous sexuality obsessed empty California existence. The third in Greg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, which I’ve discussed before here, this one finds James Duval still seeking true love but coping with a flighty bisexual girlfriend, a mysterious beautiful boy and some alien abductions. His tale, and those of his friends and others (loads of big names eg. Ryan Phillippe, Denise Richards, John Ritter, Heather Graham, Christina Applegate etc.) make up this weird and the opposite to wonderful world.

P.S. I haven’t done a section on the first of the trilogy Totally F**ked Up, but it’s actually almost quite close to being my favourite of the three (I can’t really choose). It’s a far less complex plot, with a simple gay love story gone wrong. Less colourful and quirky than the other two, so doesn't have a universal appeal, (in the over eighteen and not squeamish universe that is) but well worth watching.

Clueless (1995)(12)
OMG this film is like way cool! I toootally talked in Valspeak for some time after seeing this film....I’m from Dublin, Ireland..…talking like that there wasn’t way cool… it was ridiculous. But that’s the infectiousness of this movie. A modern slant on Jane Austen’s Emma, set in the uber-chic environment of Beverly Hills. Alicia Silverstone is adorable as the sweet and dodo-brained Cher, with her bffl (bestfriendforlife) Dionne (Stacey Dash) trying to mould the new girl, ditsy Tai (Brittney Murphy), to fit into their popular clique. The dialogue is so clever in its mockery of itself, that I can pretend I’m intelligent and still champion this film. One of those films that you could have a quotathon with, eg.... “Isn’t my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972”

Alpha Dog (2006)(15)
Another film that captures the split-personality of California – wildly high, thrilled with itself and grinning out of its mind, whilst tottering close to the brink. Based on a true story, a fifteen year old boy, Zack (Anton Yelchin), is accidentally kidnapped by the young and successful drug-dealer Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsh) and his gang. They come across Zack on the road unexpectedly and take the opportunity to grab the boy because of a rift between Truelove and the kid’s junkie psychotic brother Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), who owes Truelove money. Not your average kidnap scenario, as Zack "Stolen Boy"has the time of his life mingling with the young, wealthy and wild California set. Some fabulous acting throughout, most notably Ben Foster and Justin Timberlake (I was pleasantly surprised). This film left me shocked - truly chilling.

Lords of Dogtown (2005)(12A)
Is an account of how Tony Alva, Stacey Peralta and Jay Adams (the "Z-Boys") brought up on the streets of Dogtown, Venice Beach, became the legendary founders of the skateboarding phenomenon that exploded in the early seventies, inspiring a multi-million dollar industry. Their friendship suffers as their distinct individual philosophies are soon exposed once people begin to take notice of their talents, and this leads them each down a separate path. The real Z-Boys all have cameos roles and there is actual footage of them in the end credits. I love everything about this film - the music, style, ethos, the skating in empty pools to pink floyds 'wish you were here' (it's a cover version, but i forgive them)... i certainly wish i was there. ...and able to skate. This film personifies the side of California that has that magical eternal appeal, for me at least!


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    • Clare-Louise profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Birmingham UK

      Ah, thought I'd got away with that with the Lords of Dogtown, there's a bit of surfing in there at the start. I've never seen Big Wednesday, but yeah, Point Break is one of the greats! thanks for reading!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      10 years ago from Manchester, England

      What no surfing movies Clare? I'm shocked! Big Wednesday? Point Break is a must isn't it? [wink]

      Loved LA Confidential, never heard of Johns or Nowhere, Alpha Dog was good too. Sunset Boulevard is a weird classic, weird because it's narrated by someone who's dead. I think American Beauty did it too.

      An enjoyable hub, cheers.

    • Clare-Louise profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Birmingham UK

      hi toknowinfo, thanks for reading!

    • toknowinfo profile image


      10 years ago

      Very interesting hub. Thanks for compiling this and sharing such great info.

    • Clare-Louise profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Birmingham UK

      Thanks Cogerson!! Yeah I really expected Alpha Dog to be a Justin Timberlake vehicle, but there's no inflated ego there, he's totally in character. cheers for the comment!

    • Cogerson profile image


      10 years ago from Virginia

      Good list...I really agree with you about Justin Timberlake in Alpha Dog....that is when I thought he could pull off this whole singer can act trick.....The Player and LA Confidential are two of my favorites....great hub as always

    • Clare-Louise profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Birmingham UK

      Thanks for the comment Mentalist acer, and I agree! my friends who are into skateboarding who i tried to tell about it after i saw it, looked at me as if i was preaching to christians about this book i'd just heard of called the bible. :)

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      10 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      If you need a history lesson on the quite delightfully eccentric evolution of skateboarding,then "Lords of Dogtown" is a required film.;)


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