NOTE: Beneath the end of this list, you can find the posters and details of each film selected.
1) "KNIVES OUT" (2019) by Rian Johnson
In 2019, wrote and directed the first Knives Out murder mystery and added a modern twist on the classical cozy mystery, most often associated with the Golden Age of Detective Fiction that thrived during the Interwar period (1920-1939). Johnson assembled a group of distinguished professionals to comprise the creative team which is responsible for breathing life into a spotless screenplay, one that became a blueprint for the most aspiring filmmakers of the crime genre. The comedic aspect is ever-present, mainly through the quirkiness of the detective protagonist, Benoit Blanc -impeccably played by Daniel Craig- whose ferocious intellect is manifested through the amusing dialogue between him and the other characters. Knives Out featured an all-star cast including Christopher Plummer, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and others. Johnson's well-received film sets an example of how to synthesize two seemingly unattached genres in the most brilliant way.
2) "SEE HOW THEY RUN" (2022) by Tom George
Overflowing with self-referential connotations and a zestful, playful tone, Tom George's See How They Run is a postmodern whodunit which is based, in terms of plot, on the paradigm and structure of the genre's classic works while incorporating many hilarious sequence that are meant to provoke roaring laughter to the audience. Regardless of whether the film succeeds in its objectives, George's movie is saved by the grace of Sam Rockwell, who delivers an outstanding performance in the role of the world-weary detective Tom Stoppard. Stoppard is called to investigate a murder that took place in the backstage of a theater, the victim being one Leo Kopernick , an American expatriate who was involved in the production of an infamous play by Agatha Christie (The Mousetrap). The victim was despised by all the members of the production and the cast; thus there are plenty of suspects. See How They Run has great potential, but the obsession with deconstruction and the interpolation of the meta-level in every aspect of the film retracts from its overall comic tone, eventually leaving the audience with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.
3) "NINE QUEENS" (2000) by Fabián Bielinsky
Fabián Bielinsky's Nine Queens can be watched as the Argentinean version of the classic film by George Roy Hill, The Sting (1973), featuring a story about two professional con-men who join their forces to swindle a stamp collector by selling him a sheet of counterfeit rare stamps. The movie's backdrop is the Argentinean financial crisis during the years that marked the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, something that adds a different gravitas to the story which revolves around the relationship between the two grifters, astutely portrayed by Ricardo Darín and Gastón Pauls, and the burning question if any one of them is worthy of the other's trust permeating the totality of the film's runtime. The ending reserves a huge twist that upends the narrative and provides the best finale to one of the most delightful crime comedies originating from Latin America.
4) "FARGO" (1996) by Joel and Ethan Coen
Joel and Ethan Coen have proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they have a singular understanding of how a modern crime film should look like. Some of their most renowned works, such as their debut, Blood Simple became an international phenomenon, shining a light on the two creators who subsequently made their presence known to the wider audiences. With their 1996 Fargo, the Coen Brothers reached the most mature stage of their career, delivering a milestone achievement in the modern neo-noir phenomenon and forced many of their peers to copy, or steal if you prefer, some elements from this movie, especially regarding the bleak cinematography, the cruel storyline, and, finally, the latent humor looming behind the bloody plot. Fargo narrates a cynical story featuring largely immoral characters set in a small, seedy Texas town where moral virtue is a concept unknown to its inhabitants. Greed, sexual jealousy, and every kind of human pathos constitute the motives of the protagonists in the fictitious, though sometimes eerily resembling reality, universe created by the Coen brothers.
5) "UNDER THE TREE" (2017) by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
The surprise from Iceland, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson's Under the Tree (original title: Undir trénu) is a dark, character-based drama which flirts with other genres, especially comedy, to the point that one can justly label the film as a tragicomedy. The narrative revolves around an unfortunate neighbor adjacency between two families that begins with mutual expressions of concealed hostility but, as the story moves forward, evolves to a full-on, ruthless conflict that defies any sense of humanism and morality. The main characters range from problematic to plainly despicable, and the cast does a terrific job in their respective roles, serving the film's tone that is brimming with thinly veiled animosity. In the case of Under the Tree, the characterization takes priority over the story, which is schematic and concerns the dispute at hand and the brief moments of comic levity provide a safe haven for the audience who may feel a bit disturbed by the story. If you are a fan of Icelandic cinema, you are simply not allowed to miss Under the Tree.
6) "JACKPOT" by Magnus Martens
Jackpot (original title: Arme Riddere) Arme is a short in running time (85 minutes), but also fascinating and enticing cinematic experience that will appeal to the many Nordic Noir fans around the globe as it is based on a story by the Norwegian super-star crime writer, Jo Nesbo, author of the notorious Harry Hole series. This is a really dense film where the intricate as well as -in many parts- amusing plot unfolds at a brisk pace, leaving no room for pointless dialogue scenes that contribute nothing to the movie's central theme and plot line. Four friends win he Jackpot in the national lottery and, as you can easily imagine, each one wants the money all for themselves. The protagonist and narrator is Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), the most timid among the four and the one who finds himself in the toughest of predicaments as the story reaches its climax. The main question of the film is this: is Oscar a reliable narrator of the events that occurred after the lottery win, or is he lying to keep himself out of the prison? The riddle is solved in the last -intent- ten minutes of the film, where everything turns upside down, as it often does in Nesbo's stories.
7) "REYKJAVIK-ROTTERDAM" (2008) by Óskar Jónasson
Most cinema lovers will be aware of the American adaptation of this Icelandic film, the 2012 Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale. Only a selected few know the original source, the 2008 crime/comedy Reykjavik-Rotterdam which features a solid and well-woven crime plot adding many moments of relieving comic levity despite the desperation experienced by the protagonist, Kristofer, played by the eminent Icelandic auteur Baltasar Kormákur who was also the man behind the camera in the American adaptation. The story is centered around Kristofer, an ex-smuggler who accepts a job that will hopefully be the last as he wants to live a quiet life alongside his family. Kristofer accepts to make one last trip from his hometown Reykjavik to Rotterdam to carry contraband alcohol and drug substances that will help him face an imminent family financial crisis. Even though the American version puts the emphasis more on the action aspect, the original stands out due to its originality and great work by all the actors. Plus, the humorous aspect is more evident in the Icelandic version, and this is one of the foremost reasons to watch it first.
8) "JACKIE BROWN" (1997) by Quentin Tarantino
The simple fact that Jackie Brown is a movie directed by Quentin Tarantino and based on the namesake novel by the author, short story writer and screenwriter Elmore Leonard, is enough to make you eager to watch this rather undervalued work within the overall Tarantino's body of work. The story connects the lives of several characters, with most of them being initially unaware of the others' existence. The movie begins with Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), a flight attendant with a criminal past, being apprehended once again for drugs smuggling. The police are pressuring her to reveal the name of her supplier, thus bringing her face-to-face with the dilemma: Becoming a police informant or staying loyal to the unwritten rules of the underworld imposing Omertà? Jackie Brown is a lavish production, and you can understand that simply by taking a look at the cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton and many others. In my opinion, this is Tarantino's lightest film, in terms of tone, as the American director leaves room for the original source (the novel) to be voiced through the splendid, often lively and witty dialogue. If you haven't watched it, then do yourselves a favor and immerse in the fictional American underworld, created by the mind of Leonard and the eye of Tarantino.