As a nod to 2011's excellent The Lincoln Lawyer, I've put together a list of 10 good courtroom films. Maybe some of your favourites are missing, or maybe they should be higher up the list. Please feel free to let me know!
10. A Few Good Men (1992)
Despite a great script and cast, I have to admit that I mainly enjoyed the moments when Jack Nicholson was on the screen.... "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"
9. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
People will scream me down for putting this above A Few Good Men, but I don't care. Matthew McConaughey's performance is better than Tom Cruise's, the movie is much slicker, and I was far more entertained! So there! For more about the film, see my recent review (August 2011).
8. The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Keanu Reeves stars as a top defence attorney who is offered a large salary by a big law firm owned by Al Pacino. As it turns out, Pacino's character John Milton isn't quite who he says he is and the film takes some very interesting turns... some of which are a little bit head-spinning.
7. The People vs Larry Flynt (1996)
Woody Harrelson stars as the owner of a controversial porn magazine that is being sued by the holiest of men. Harrelson, Edward Norton, and, in particular, Courtney Love are all excellent in another quality Milos Forman flick.
6. Sleepers (1996)
An all-star cast appear in Barry Levinson's emotional revenge film.
5. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Who said that courtroom movies have to be serious all the time? My Cousin Vinny, starring Joe Pesci, is not only a laugh-a-minute but also a great film. It even earned Marisa Tomei an Academy Award.
4. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts gives a top draw performance in the title role of this Steve Soderbergh flick. She plays a single mother who takes on a gas company for compensation. Gripping stuff!
3. And Justice For All (1979)
A bit of a morality tale here as Al Pacino stars as Arthur Kirkland, a hotheaded lawyer trying to take on the system. Famous for the final scene, in which Pacino screams "You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!", this film received two Oscar nominations.
2. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Sidney Lumet, who went on to direct a number of top films (Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict), received an Oscar nomination for his directing of 12 Angry Men. The film is set in just one scene with a collection of jurors deciding on the fate of a teenage slum boy. The setting is a hot, sweaty day and the jurors are quite happy to condemn the boy guilty as charged without barely discussing the details. That is apart from one (played by Henry Fonda), who shows the rest the opposite side of the story. As the story unfolds, the acting is superb and the movie is absorbing. 12 Angry Men was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (as well as Lumet's directing nomination) but lost all three to Bridge on the River Kwai.
1. Philadelphia (1993)
This was one of the first big-budget movies to tackle the seemingly taboo topic of AIDS. Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), it starred a superb turn from Tom Hanks as a homosexual man, Andrew Beckett, who is HIV positive and then immediately fired by his law firm. Hanks performance was so engaging, so real, and just so damn good that it earned him his first Academy Award. Beckett turns to personal injury lawyer Joe Miller, portrayed with another fantastic performance from Denzel Washington. For me, this is the most gripping of courtroom dramas, with the tension between Washington and Hanks superb at times. The film also stars Antonio Banderas as Hanks' gay lover and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards (winning two).