1—"Chinatown" (1974). The Secretariat of crime movies, and my personal favorite. It's worth a once or twice a year viewing, if only for the look on Jack Nicholson's face when he's caught unawares by Faye Dunaway doing the Chinaman joke.
"Look pal, I make an honest living ..."
Polanski's use of background silence and the quiet score and the judicious use of gunshots give the corruption and killing more impact.
2—"Heat" (1995). A Los Angeles film noir with heavyweights Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino having a cup of coffee and one great set piece of a downtown shootout after a bank robbery. I dig Michael Mann's style and his use of music and mood and, well, the little things, like Ashley Judd's gesture from the balcony to warn Val Kilmer about danger.
Try William Friedkin's "To Live and Die in L.A." if you want an L.A. fix and you don't like Mann. If you like Mann, also put "Manhunter" in the machine.
3—"Bullitt" (1968). Young people who don't know much about Steve McQueen need only to watch this Peter Yates cops-and-robbers movie to get a clue of why he was 1960s and '70s cool. Again, not much noise in the background, just nuts and bolts police work and, of course, the great 11-minute car chase.
Think you saw the airport scene in "Heat" before? It was here. I've always liked the way McQueen tells Robert Vaughn off.
4—"Out of Sight" (1998). I'll pretty much stop whatever I'm doing when the Steven Soderbergh duel of wits and bits between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez comes on the tube. Elmore Leonard must have been very pleased. What a wonderful sense of humor and a cast of characters to die for, certainly, with (Don) Cheadle and (Steve) Zahn and (Albert) Brooks and (Catherine) Keener and (Michael) Keaton and (Dennis) Farina and (Ving) Rhames.
Top bits? Cocktail lounge, car trunk, wherever Snoop was at.
5—"Body Heat" (1981). Great movie for January when the snow is deep and you just want to get a little steamy. I mean, with all respect to "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity," has there ever been a film that makes you feel more hot and sweaty and guilty and want the nightmare to end? William Hurt may have seen what was coming but he never had a chance when confronted with Kathleen Turner at her peak. Ted Danson's best work. Director Lawrence Kasdan as well.
Second tier—Next five are "Fargo," "GoodFellas," "Strangers on a Train," "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Verdict."
Thank me later and pick up the French film "Le Petit Lieutenant" (2005) when it makes DVD. Women cops in lead roles are rare, but French actress Nathalie Baye, 58, is nearly perfect in director Xavier Beauvois' "Bullitt"-like Paris cop procedural.