Michael Mann’s epic tale of cops and robbers, Heat weaves multiple stories into its Robert De Niro–Al Pacino “last of the hard men” struggle, but it is also very much an L.A. story; the city is captured in all its smoggy sprawl, glamour, economic disparity, freeway craziness, and industry. Likewise, Mann’s Collateral (2004) hits the same note (while driving around with Tom Cruise’s contract killer and Jamie Foxx’s cabbie), but with a difference: because it’s shot in digital video, you see the lit city at night, partially illuminated by smog-reflected neon, like never before. With Val Kilmer.
Though Michael Mann’s buckskin-sex, tomahawk-to-the-head take on James Fenimore Cooper isn’t about the Revolutionary War or national independence, it evokes, as few films do, the real wilderness of the time, a place at once homestead, battlefield, and frontier. Log cabins, cannon-stocked forts, gun smoke and mud, eating venison by candlelight—this may be the closest an American film will ever come to capturing the period. Plus it has Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe; as star-crossed lovers amid the warfare, they’re the most convincingly hot movie pair of the 1990s.