Best: Chinatown (1974)
Moody noir. Jack Nicholson. Sumptuous visuals. Faye Dunaway. Cracking plotline. Killer ending. That’s the formula to Roman Polanski’s Oscar-grabber, a twisty, suffocating swirl of corrupt goings-ons and inter-personal affairs.
It remains one of the few films still standing at 100% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. As Jack would say, “How do you like them apples?”
Worst: Inspector Gadget (1999)
Far from the sly fun of the original cartoon series, this woeful big bucks movie interpretation suffers from terrible casting (Matthew Broderick as Gadget? Really? Where’s Christopher Lloyd when you need him?) and a plot as creaky and malfunction-y as Gadget’s mechanical body parts. Fail.
Best: Brick (2005)
Flitting from old school to high school, noir gets hip again with a lick of post-millennial paint that re-casts typical detective movie staples in the blush of teenworld. Somehow, Brick does it without lessening any of the emotional blows, drawing clever parallels between the confusing, isolated existence of teens and the noirscape it draws inspiration from.
After the frisky campery of his Third Rock From The Sun series, Gordon-Levitt here proved he was one to keep a beady eye on (he’s even got the Chinatown -nodding busted shnoz).
Worst: In The Cut (2003)
Meg Ryan strips off. For some reason, we’re still yawning. Straining for credibility after spending most of her career grinning and weeping through no end of throwaway romcoms, Ryan gets caught up in an affair with a detective who’s looking into a murder.
You can tell this is Ryan ‘going legit’ because she’s muddied her famous blonde locks up.
Best: L.A. Confidential (1997)
Never-bettered ensemble piece that lives and breathes the golden ‘50s, as three staggeringly different cops attempt to root out the slime responsible for killing the patrons of an all-night diner in Los Angeles.
Career best performances from Kim Basinger, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe, and director Curtis Hanson still hasn’t been able to surpass its opulent visuals and gritty, amorous charms.
Worst: Bone Collector (1999)
This Se7en -by-numbers effort takes its best asset – Denzel Washington – and traps him in a bed for the entire running time. It wants to be a slick, updated Rear Window , instead it's nasty without reason and anybody who was already a fan of a certain cult actor could see the denouement a mile off. Still, Angie’s not bad.
Best: The Conversation (1974)
Perhaps more relevant today than it was back in the ‘70s, director Francis Ford Coppola thinks decades ahead of his time as he examines the role of technology in our tech-heavy world.
Really, though, it’s a character driven drama that features a stellar performance by Gene Hackman – a role that earned him a BAFTA nomination.
Worst: Next Of Kin (1989)
Patrick Swayze puts on a hillbilly accent as a Chicago cop intent on tracking down his brother’s killer. It's got a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Adam Baldwin and Helen Hunt, meaning we should all left rolling in the aisles even before something funny's happened. Sadly it just boils down to undiluted stupidity. Watch The Beverly Hillbillies for your 'billie fix instead.
Best: Se7en (1995)
“What’s in the box?” Replete with one of the most famous final scenes in cinema history, Se7en is the kind of film that you can really feel – its grimed walls, misty streets and filthy brothels creep right under your skin and lay down roots.
Setting a standard for near every ‘90s detective thriller thereafter, Se7en ’s brilliance lies in its ability to take a high concept idea and keep it from running off the rails. Also, Morgan Freeman rules.
Worst: The Singing Detective (2003)
Whatever Robert Downey Jr. was smoking around this time, we want in. Pre- Iron Man blitz, post- Ally McBeal dismissal for drug-taking, Downey Jr. pitches up as the titular warbler, a hallucinating novelist who dreams he is a detective in the 1950s investigating a prostitute’s murder.
Not his worst (oh my Gothika !), but still an odd little misfire that Downey Jr.’s probably still attempting to forget. That’s if he can remember it in the first place.
Best: The French Connection (1971)
William Friedkin and Gene Hackman stir up exquisitely-formed mayhem with this ground-breaking thriller, which has a lead called Popeye and a surprisingly decent sequel.
For those left feeling short-changed by more recent thrillers, French Connection is the perfect antidote – a good, old-fashioned detective flick that’s aged surprisingly well. Go get the Blu-ray now.
Worst: Miami Vice (2006)
Michael Mann takes the original TV series and smashes it into a Collateral -style actioner. Some loved it, most hated it. What it boils down to is that old turkey: style over substance.
Though visually arresting, neither Colin Farrell nor Jamie Foxx are given the material they need to flesh their characters into charismatic coppers to challenge their small screen forbears. Wasted opportunity.
Best: Dial M For Murder (1954)
Ah, the old “let’s turn a play into a movie” routine. Looks easy enough (just add a cinematographer and some A-list stars), but many have fallen apart trying. Not Hitchcock, who here delivers one of the finest examples of stage-to-screen conversions.
A whodunit with grey matter by the barrel-load, Dial M not only plays its cards wisely, but features Hitch’s favourite heroine crush Grace Kelly. Beautious.
Worst: V. I. Warshawski (1991)
Kathleen Turner heads up this book adap, in what was hoped to be the first in a new series starring the titular super spy. Sadly, bad box office returns and a general critical response of “meh” meant that Turner never got the chance to play Warshawski again. No great loss.
Best: The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The greatest MacGuffin in cinematic history? Could just be. Featuring Humphrey Bogart in his most famous role, Falcon coils a devastatingly clever plot into a suspenseful ticking time bomb that’s ready to spring at any moment. Yes, it's so good it merits mixing metaphors. Bogart arguably never bettered this performance.
Worst: The Fiendish Plot Of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)
Yes, that blurry still is indeed Helen Mirren. The now national treasure has appeared in a fair few stinkers in her time, but Fu Manchu really takes the digestive biscuit. Just look at that get up.
Most tragically, this is the last film that the great Peter Sellers made before he died – at least we’ll always have The Return Of The Pink Panther .
Best: Murder On The Orient Express (1974)
Albert Finny and Lauren Bacall unite for a superlative production steered with infinite skill by Sidney Lumet. Finney’s the stand-out, of course, going for eccentric and nailing it with all the skill of a scholar. It's his presence as Poirot that saves the flick from its admittedly predictable climax.