L.A. Confidential is, without a doubt, the best film of the 1990s, and quite possibly one of the best films ever made.
As with any great film, it all starts with the writing. The story is riveting, the dialogue is smart and quite funny, and the characters are written in three dimensions.
The acting is phenomenal. Perhaps a bigger tragedy than L.A. Confidential's loss to Titanic in the Best Picture race is that none of the three lead actors even garnered nominations. Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey are absolutely phenomenal; it is their characters that drive this fascinating story about police corruption in 1950s Los Angeles. We get to know these people, to understand who they are and why they do what they do, and to root for them to overcome their imperfections.
The directing is fantastic. Curtis Hanson doesn't shove anything in the audience's face; instead, he allows the audience to discover the film's nuances on their own. (That makes this an excellent film for repeat viewings, you truly catch something new every time). 1950s Los Angeles is reproduced beautifully. The editing is quick and seamless, the music is perfect for the film (Hanson should teach other directors how to do a montage effectively), and the cinematography is great.
I can't find a negative thing to say about this film. It's truly a masterpiece.