Top 10 Gangster Flicks
The release of Public Enemies this week sent my mind racing. What are the best gangster themed films in the history of cinema? There are staples of the genre that have never thrilled me, while there are others that are consistently omitted that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
I like my badasses to come in all shapes and sizes, creed, colors and nastiness. I like slick looking flicks as well as gritty, poorly lit films, but most of all I love the rush. Living through the outlaw’s eyes.
Be honest, when you were a kid playing cops and robbers, how often did you choose to be the cops? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Top 10 Gangster flicks
10. Sexy Beast This is Ben Kingsley at perhaps his finest. Snarling and dangerous, Kingsley gives a powerful performance as Don Logan that earned him an Academy Award nod. Anytime you get to see an actor this good be that bad — cherish it.
9. Angels with Dirty Faces James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart star in this film about two friends at opposite ends of the spectrum. Rocky (Cagney) and Jerry (Pat O’Brien) have been friends since childhood, with Rocky growing up to be a gangster and Jerry a priest. The most intense moments of the movie come at the end when Jerry pleads with Rocky to die like a screaming, sniveling coward so the boys won’t idolize him. He refuses and then ultimately relents as he is walked to the electric chair.
8. Pulp Fiction The film that resurrected John Travolta’s career. Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus starring Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman exploded on the scene in ’94. Tarantino’s use of the nonlinear storyline is superb. It also has one of the best lines in the history of cinema. “What you say? Say what again... “ well you know how it goes.
7. Casino The first of four appearances by Martin Scorsese, Casino has his usual cast of characters. Robert De NIro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone are in top form, with Stone receiving both a Golden Globe, as well as an Academy Award nomination. It also had the distinction of the most uses of the F-word in a feature film up to that point.
6. The Untouchables Brian De Palma’s Academy Award winning flick about Eliot Ness and his group of G-Men and their relentless pursuit of Al Capone during Prohibition. The best Prohibition-era flick, period. Kevin Coster and Sean Connery deliver knock out performances.
5. Mean Streets Scorsese’s second offering is brilliant due to its sheer grittiness. It's the story of Charlie (Harvey Keitel) who is trying to move his way up in the Mafia and the hindrance of his friend Johnny Boy (De Niro) along the way. The film is raw and gritty and was a great calling card for a young up and coming director.
4. Reservoir Dogs Every director hopes to make an impact with their debut film; Tarantino didn’t make an impact — he made a crater. Reservoir Dogs introduced Tarantino’s style to the world involving graphic violence, nonlinear storylines and seamless dialog. It also showed that the world was ready for new voices in Hollywood and Tarantino was one that answered the call.
3. The Godfather: Part II Francis Ford Coppola’s film about the Corleone family in Nevada that takes place after the events of the original. Another storyline involves a young Vito Corleone in Sicily and ultimately his rise in New York. Al Pacino and De Niro are absolutely explosive in the second installment of the Corleone saga.
2. Goodfellas He’s back. Scorsese is back in what I believe to be his best gangster flick to date. It may not have Leo DiCaprio, but it does have a heavyweight cast including De Niro, Pesci and scene-stealer Ray Liotta. Documenting the rise and fall of Henry Hill (Liotta), Goodfellas was a Friday night staple during my high school years and continues to please.
1. The Godfather Hands down the mother of all gangster films. A severed horse’s head, going to the mattresses and a stuffed cheeked Marlon Brando — how could you go wrong? Coppola took the project to help his fledgling company American Zoetrope and created a cinematic masterpiece.
You may have noticed that Scarface didn’t make the list and for good reason. The film sucks. Simply put, it’s overrated. If you like to see a coked-up Pacino running around like a madman, screaming his head off and little more, then be my guest.