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L.A. Confidential’ at 25:One Of The Best Films That Should Have Sunk ‘Titanic’

Oscar-winning films are one method to identify years in everything from time-capsule radio contests to greeting cards, even if movies are about more than just winning prizes. 

So, 25 years after its release, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate “L.A. Confidential,” the film noir adaptation of James Ellroy’s story of corruption in the City of Angels that did everything right but was ultimately eclipsed by the understandable fervor surrounding James Cameron’s blockbuster hit “Titanic.” 

The late Curtis Hanson’s film “L.A. Confidential” received awards for its adapted script and co-star Kim Basinger’s portrayal of the stereotypical call girl with a heart of gold and a remarkable similarity to Veronica Lake. 

But even that doesn’t really do justice to a movie that made Kevin Spacey a star (before other off-screen problems intervened), made Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce into household names, was the best adaptation of James Ellroy’s eccentric books, and shed light on historical racial and policing issues in Los Angeles. 

The core plot involves real-life mobster Mickey Cohen’s heroin being stolen, a string of homicides connected to the crime, and a battle to unseat Cohen within the local underworld. Three officers were eventually involved in the investigation, and they didn’t seem like they would work well together to find out the truth. 

In his review, the late film critic Roger Ebert referred to the picture as “one of the best films of the year,” comparing its subject matter and tone to another timeless classic of the genre, “Chinatown.” 

However, in his review, Ebert also noted a number of additional resonant themes, such as the fascination with celebrity and tabloid culture (see Hush-Hush magazine) and a policing philosophy that “can be seen, perhaps, as the road to Rodney King”—a reference to the black motorist whose beating by police, who were later found not guilty—sparked the Los Angeles riots in 1992. 

He became “the king of the world” on Oscar night thanks to Cameron’s movie, which has also woven fiction around a fact-based structure. The film, which was lengthy and artistically stunning, attracted a diverse audience, including teen girls who went to see it week after week. 

Even yet, “L.A. Confidential” continues to be a picture with hardly a wasted scene, one that accomplished its goal so well that it served as a template for innumerable others that have imitated it without matching it. Despite years of chatter about a sequel or TV series, those plans have never come to fruition. But since people want titles that are easy to remember, that happy accident won’t last forever. 

Oscar selections don’t usually hold up over time, and given the Academy’s lengthy history of puzzling decisions, “Titanic” is most likely not in the top 10. The winner of the vote, however, did not lessen the quality of the film it defeated. 

According to Pearce’s stern Ed Exley, being a cop is not easy. “Justice is supposed to be the focus.” 

The Titanic “earned recognition,” but if the 1998 Oscars had truly been about fairness, they would have given at least two awards for best picture. 

Warner Bros., a division of Warner Bros. Discovery, released “L.A. Confidential,” just like CNN.

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