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Thrillers and Epic Crime Movies to Stream This Month

From one of the most meticulous heist movies ever made to the most important true crime film.

From The Hitch-Hiker (courtesy Film Forum)

For this month’s roundup of streaming recommendations, I’ve decided to highlight a variety of crime films. They range from tight thrillers to sprawling epics to searing indictments of the system, featuring criminals, cops, double-crosses, elaborate schemes, gunfights, and much more.

The Hitch-Hiker

Ida Lupino was essentially Hollywood’s sole female director during the ’50s, and thus the only American woman to direct a classic noir. In this nerve-grating thriller, a murderous hitchhiker torments two hapless motorists who have the decency — and bad luck — to pick him up.

On various services.

Elevator to the Gallows

An improvised Miles Davis jazz score accompanies this twisty French New Wave movie about a plan for a perfect murder which goes awry in the most absurd manner possible. Louis Malle brings breezy direction to a frantic plot. Never has slapstick criminal ineptitude been so smooth.

On the Criterion Channel and other services.

From Branded to Kill (courtesy Criterion Collection)

Branded to Kill

This icon of the Japanese counterculture scene follows a hitman who becomes consumed by lust and paranoia after he’s marked for death for botching a job. Freewheeling in its editing and plotting and almost confrontationally unhinged, it’s a breathlessly inventive ride.

On various services.

Le Cercle Rouge

One of the most meticulous heist movies ever made, Jean-Pierre Melville charts every single step as his characters work through even the littlest of details of their plot, culminating in a wordless half-hour sequence in which they finally execute it. Absolute catnip for anyone who appreciates great process cinema.

On various services.

From Mikey and Nicky (courtesy Criterion Collection)

Mikey and Nicky

Two old friends spend a night on the run from guys who want one of them dead. One of them has to decide whether he’ll be turning the other in by daybreak. One of the sadly few films we have from great director Elaine May, who masterfully flips between humor and pathos, or more often blends the two.

On the Criterion Channel and other services.

Once Upon a Time in America

Revered director Sergio Leone made his bow with this epic, spanning from 1918 to 1968. Following a group of friends who start out as street thugs and progress to bootlegging, it evolves into a tragic meditation on the sacrifices and betrayal made in the pursuit of upward mobility.

On Netflix and other services.

From The Thin Blue Line (courtesy Criterion Collection)

The Thin Blue Line

The most important true crime film ever made, Errol Morris made his mark with this exposé of how Texas police and prosecutors set up an innocent man to take the fall for a murder. Controversial at the time for its use of reenactment, many of its formal innovations have since become standard documentary elements.

On MUBI and other services.

Miami Vice

Michael Mann is one of the greatest directors alive, and he lives and breathes the rhythms of good crime flicks like no one else. He’s also adapted to digital filmmaking like few directors of his age, using the format to bring beautiful tactility to his images. A feature-length adaptation of his own ’80s TV show, he updates the crime procedural with beautiful viciousness.

On Netflix and other services.

From A Touch of Sin (courtesy Criterion Collection)

A Touch of Sin

Jia Zhangke critiques the contradictions of modern Chinese society like few other filmmakers. Four real-life crimes committed by people pushed to the edge form the basis for four vignettes in this expansive look at the desperation that comes from living devoid of human connection.

On various services.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper

The “Grim Sleeper” serial killer terrorized South Los Angeles for decades. He didn’t avoid capture through any ingenuity on his part, but rather because the police were completely apathetic about catching him, since he mainly targeted sex workers. This incendiary documentary explores how activists pushed for authorities to do their jobs and finally put a stop to the killings.

On Hulu and other services.

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