Boardwalk Empire is one of my favourite new TV shows this season, and I initially thought that it would make for a good excuse to list my top 5 gangster movies of all time. But then it occurred to me that if I did, my list would be largely populated by Martin Scorsese films, because let’s face it: the guy is a master of the gangster picture. Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed…those are all hard acts to top. Goodfellas is considered by many, myself included, to literally be the best gangster movie ever made. So I’ve decided to take Scorsese out of the equation and give some other filmmakers a turn in the spotlight. What follows is a list of my top 5 gangster movies of all time…not including Martin Scorsese movies.
5. The Godfather
I’m sure I’d be murdered by goons if I didn’t mention Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant mobster epic on this list. The Godfather is considered by many to be the greatest movie ever made (it’s currently occupying the #1 spot on IMDb’s list of the top 250 movies of all time, though it’s constantly competing with The Shawshank Redemption), and it really is a masterfully made portrait of a family of criminals. Featuring amazing performances by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and many others, this really is a masterpiece of a movie and the Godfather of the gangster genre. But Y’know, there are other gangster movies that I like more. Such as…
4. Eastern Promises
The mystery at the heart of Eastern Promises is a compelling one, but it’s the cast who sell this movie. Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel play a terrific pair of sinister, charismatic badasses, with Armin Mueller-Stahl in the Godfather role, and they all do a brilliant job. The insight we’re given into the world of Russian crime is fascinating stuff – I love the idea that one’s life story is told in tattoos – and the film features an awesome and brutal fight scene in a bath house. I was initially wary when director David Cronenberg began to move away from the fleshy horror that he was so well known for, but after seeing Eastern Promises, I’m glad he did. Word has it there’s a sequel in the works, and I, for one, cannot wait.
Some will argue that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is the better film, but I prefer Snatch. While both of these Guy Ritchie movies are undeniably similar, it feels to me like by the time Ritchie made Snatch, he’d really polished off his formula. The script is a bit tighter, the jokes are a bit funnier, there are more memorable sequences, and Benecio Del Toro and Brad Pitt have been added to the cast. Not to mention the fact that Brick Top (Alan Ford) makes a much better villain than Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) from Lock, Stock. It’s just an all-around better movie, and one of my most-watched rainy afternoon films. There’s so much fun and energy in Snatch that it’s almost impossible to only watch it once.
2. Pulp Fiction
I’m an unabashed Tarantino fan, and even though I love Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Grindhouse, Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds, I still think that Pulp Fiction is his best movie. An amazing cast (this is one of the few movies where John Travolta doesn’t bug me), a great series of interwoven short stories, a rockin’ good soundtrack and a lot of directorial creativity make Pulp Fiction a movie that I can watch again and again and again until my brains melt and dribble out my ears. Everything about this movie is top-notch, and I’m really having a difficult time naming specific things that make it so good. But I suppose if you want me to name just one reason why Pulp Fiction makes it this high on my list…it’d have to be Samuel L. Jackson. SAY WHAT AGAIN!
1. Miller’s Crossing
In my opinion, Miller’s Crossing doesn’t get the love that it deserves. It’s often overlooked as one of the Coen brothers’ best films, but I think it’s just so stylish, so well-shot, and so well-written that it really is the greatest gangster film ever made. Gabriel Byrne is perfect as wiseguy Tom Reagan, Marcia Gay Harden makes a surprisingly sultry femme fatale, John Turturro and Jon Polito both play perfect scumbags, and Albert Finney is the best mob boss since Brando. I love the costumes and the snappy dialogue, and I consider the “O Danny Boy” sequence to be one of the best orchestrated moments in cinema history. And it features some great cameos from Steve Buscemi and Sam Raimi! You may disagree with me on this one, and I’m sure you won’t be alone, but I love Miller’s Crossing, and if you think I’m crazy, I suggest you take another look at it.
BONUS: Bugsy Malone
One of our readers pointed out that Bugsy Malone was missing from this list, and I realized that, by gum, she’s right! Bugsy Malone is worth mentioning just for the ridiculousness of it. It’s a classic gangster epic about two rival gangs, only it stars a cast of children as the gangsters, and rather than shooting eachother up with tommyguns, these kids blast eachother with splurge guns – guns that shoot globs of cream. There are musical numbers, there’s an extremely young Jodie Foster, and hey, I was in a production of it in high school. If you’re looking for a truly bizarre musical with a lot of pies involved, you should check out Bugsy Malone.
The Scorsese Top 5:
5. Gangs of New York
4. Mean Streets
3. The Departed
The Usual Suspects
Bonnie and Clyde
Natural Born Killers
Once Upon a Time In America