After months of positive buzz, Rian Johnson’s mystery Knives Out is finally being released. It features an all-star cast with Daniel Craig playing the detective, and Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, and Jamie Lee Curtis among the suspects. In case this new release whets your appetite for a good mystery, here’s my list of top five whodunnits.
1. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
This list would not be complete without a good Agatha Christie adaptation. I wanted to to include one of the versions of Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None but I’ve
never seen any of them. I can highly recommend the novel, however. Back to The Orient Express: Detective Hercule Poirot is one of Albert Finney’s best roles. And this is one of Christie’s greatest puzzles. When a murder is committed aboard a train, a famous detective has until the train reaches its destination to solve the impossible mystery. It’s such an irresistible story; it’s been adapted countless times, including as an American TV movie, starring Alfred Molina. Most recently, Kenneth Branagh directed a 2017 adaptation, starring himself as Poirot. It’s a quality production with some great performances, and it spawned an upcoming sequel I’m looking forward to. If you’ve managed to never have this mystery spoiled for you, please seek it out at once.
2. Gosford Park
In Robert Altman’s 2001 film, a murder occurs after a dinner party at a wealthy British estate. Like most of Altman’s films, there is a huge ensemble cast. The investigation is shown from both the guests’ and the servants’ perspectives. The delightful comedian Stephen Fry plays the detective. Julian Fellowes wrote the script. He later created the TV show Downton Abbey, which was inspired by the film, and at one point was meant to be a sequel to it. The movie received seven Oscar nominations.
Rian Johnson’s own debut film is a neo-noir, set in a high school. After receiving a frantic phone call begging for help from his ex-girlfriend, and then finding her dead body soon afterwards, a teenage loner vows to solve her murder. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the detective this time, in one of my favorite performances of his. This film has a twisty plot and hip dialogue full of invented slang. The podcast Filmspotting named their annual Golden Brick award for Best Film by a new voice after this movie.
Yes, Clue is based on the board game. I watched this movie endlessly throughout my childhood on Showtime. Six strangers are invited to a mansion for dinner. When the host is killed, they have to work together to solve the murder. Tim Curry is brilliant as the butler. There’s a lot of fun humor in this one. How can you resist a comic mystery, with a cast that includes Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn, Susan Sarandon, Michael McKean, and Martin Mull? One of my favorite things about this movie is that it has three endings. When the movie was released theatrically, what part of the country you lived in/watched it in determined which ending you saw.
5. The Thin Man
If you’ve never seen The Thin Man series, you’re in for a treat. William Powell and Myrna Loy trade barbs and imbibe alcohol as retired detective Nick Charles and his wife Norah. They are accompanied by their faithful pooch Asta. These comic mysteries are a joy. The chemistry between Powell and Loy is amazing. They made several other pictures together. The Thin Man movies always end with an old school round-up of the suspects, where they build up the suspense before finally revealing who the killer is.
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