Friday, September 28, 2007

Great gangsters: My favorite mob movies

As you can perhaps guess from the photo above, I'm fairly certain that, unless he somehow monumentally screwed this one up, Ridley Scott's upcoming "American Gangster" will soon find its place on a future edition of this list.

If you want to see a slew of images from it, visit the great froggy film site And now, in honor of Mr. Scott and his hopefully great movie, here are 10 of my favorite mob (using the term very loosely) movies. And before anyone jumps on the most obvious omission, I've left out the two clearly greatest mob movies of all time Godfather I and II, because if you haven't seen those already, I probably can't help you anyway. Here goes, and please feel free to pitch in with any you love that I may have overlooked:

1. Internal Affairs
Though I thought "The Departed" was Martin Scorsese's best movie in many years and a deserving Best Picture winner, the real accomplishmen was William Monahan's in capturing most of the style of this Hong Kong crime flick and transporting it to Boston. It plays the game of interchanging identies even better than Scorsese's flick, and the trilogy it developed into has often been compared to "The Godfather."

2. City of God
When pressed to name one favorite movie, this is the title I pull out most often, because my love for this Fernando Meirelles movie knows no bounds. His flick about Brazilian kids and the lure of organized street crime is as visually stunning as it is dramatically compelling.

3. Angels With Dirty Faces
Believe it or not, I was able to do my senior thesis at Catholic University, for a class on political film, about the social implications of the early gangster flicks. Maybe not as easy as it sounds at first, but still a lot of fun. With this flick, my favorite of the bunch, you get James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, childhood friends who go on to become a mobster and a priest (given the actors, I trust you can guess the order.)

4. Little Caesar
Another from my rather enjoyable assignment. James Cagney rightly got the most acclaim back then, but Edward G. Robinson's Rico in this flick was my favorite of the early gangsters, and his death scene ("Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Rico!) is just perfect.

5. The General
John Boorman may best be known for making that movie where the dudes have to squeal like a pig, but he's made many other great flicks, including this one about the legendary Irish gangster Martin Cahill. This was the first time I remember noticing Brendan Gleeson who, as Cahill, gets in a great cat-and-mouse game with Jon Voight's Inspector Ned Kenny.

6. Ghost Dog
If ever Jim Jarmusch was gonna have a bonafide big hit, this offbeat gangster flick with Forest Whitaker was probably his best shot. Starring Whitaker as a sort of zen hitman who eventually turns on his mafia employers, it gathers in Eastern mythology, Wu Tang philosophy and other ideas for a mix that almost works perfectly (and Isaac de Bankole's ice cream truck driver is extremely funny.)

7. Goodfellas
I can probably get away with omitting "The Godfather," but this list would be a complete failure without this one. It should have garnered Oscars for Martin Scorsese, Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco (but did get a well-deserved one for Joe Pesci, who hasn't come close to being that good since.) Among its many virtues are perhaps the best tracking shot of all time, when Liotta's Henry Hill takes Bracco's Karen out on their big date at The Copa. Just amazing.

8. Once Upon a Time in America
When I was far too young to be seeing this movie, my parents took us to see it in New York, only to have to drag us out just before Robert De Niro's "Noodles" Aronson makes a rather disastrous attempt to win the affections of Elizabeth Perkins' Deborah Gelly (and, failing rather miserably, ends up raping her in a car.) Not exactly family-friendly stuff, but this epic Sergio Leone flick tells a sprawling but mostly spellbinding tale about four friends who grow up to be gangsters, and it is at its very best in its quietest moments at the beginning and end.

9. Miller's Crossing
Forgetting this Coen Bros. flick would be almost as great a sin as omitting "Goodfellas." This one proved that, indeed, Joel and Ethan Coen can do anything they want to on screen, and the Irish-American mob flick contains the best performance from one of my favorite actors, Jon Polito as Johnny Caspar.

10. The Lavendar Hill Mob
OK, maybe not technically a mob movie, but I love to laugh and this one just makes me giggle uncontrollably. It almost made me cry too this morning when I saw listed at the IMDB a potential 2009 remake of this British flick about a meek bank clerk who stages a heist of his employers. Apparently nothing at all is sacred.

And there you have it. I have to wrap this rather quickly so I can go to an 11:15 screening of "The Kingdom" before work, so not many pictures. As I said, please feel free to add any of your favorites, and have a great weekend.


Divinity said...

Ack, Infernal Affairs!! We watched the first 2 and really enjoyed them but my godbrother said the 3rd one was strangely disjointed and confusing (even for someone who speaks and understands Chinese fluently).

Divinity said...

Oh, wait. The comparison to the Godfather trilogy makes sense now. Duh.
The bf wants to add Casino and Scarface and I might chime in with The Untouchables and Analyze This

P.S. DVDs are on their way!

Eric said...

Agree with Divinity on Casino. Denero and Pesci are a great pair.
Scarface the original rather then the later version for me. Look for the symbolism in the cinematography. People are Xed out or framed before they are killed.
Funny Story about goodfellas. years ago in like 86 I was shooting a film and my makeup gal was all happy about her new boyfriend. Real nice treated her well and had $$
It turns out it was Henry Hill who was in witness protection at the time. but he still could not keep his fingers out of the nose candy business and he got busted again.

Ashok said...

Yeah it is "Infernal Affairs". Initially I saw First and Third. Loved both of it, recently saw the Second One and it is amazing too. You can see my view on it

But Third is the most engrossing patient and deep matured movie of the three. First one is pacy and entertaining. Second is entertaining and process of maturing. Third is the complete set of everything putting the puzzle together and also the aftermath, guilt and way of redeeming one. Awesome trilogy for sure.

Marina said...

I'm all about "Casino". I can't help but pop it in whenever I stumble on it on TV. *love* it.

Fletch said...

Big Casino fan here as well - in fact (blasphemy!) I prefer it over GoodFellas by far.

Donnie Brasco is another unsung favorite as well.

Reel Fanatic said...

I"m afraid I have to be in the vast minority so far on Casino ... I may have to watch it again, but it just felt to me like Scorsese was coasting with that one ... I will, however, take either version of "Scarface," though like Eric I much prefer the original with Paul Muni to the remake ... And Donnie Brasco is a very good little flick, so I'll definitely take that one too

RC said...

surprised infernal affairs made #1.

But so pleased you placed City of God on your's a great film!

Reel Fanatic said...

I probably shouldn't even number theses, RC, because they're not really in any particular order ... And since you liked City of God, I'd highly recommend a Brazilian miniseries called "City of Men", which picks up the story and adds some new characters with compelling tales to tell

Chris said...

It's getting close to the end of the decade (imagine that), and I have yet to see a movie that matches City of God. I try to tell people to watch it any chance I get.

Mercurie said...

I have to say, Infernal Affairs is my favourite mob of all time. As to others, I'd have to include the original Scarface and, of course, Little Caesar.

JMW said...

I would just echo the love for Donnie Brasco. I really liked that one.

lylee said...

Chiming in with the chorus of approval on "Infernal Affairs" (only seen the first one, though) and "City of God" (one of the best movies of the decade, if not several decades). And special kudos for the nod to "Ghost Dog"! I love that movie - it's so trippy and meditative and hilarious all at the same time, and Forest Whitaker totally owns his role as a modern-day samurai. A real treat to watch.

Chalupa said...

I saw Ghost Dog a couple summers ago while I was on my samurai kick. Never would have put it in with mob movies, but that totally fits. Good call.

James said...

My top three would be:

1). Goodfellas
2). Miller's Crossing
3). Ghost Dog

Honorable mention: Casino.

Yes, believe it or not I'm not the biggest Godfather fan. I think it's o.k. but not the be all and end all of gangster films as many believe.

I picked those three because they represent three different types and styles within the gangster theme.

Goodfellas the classic Italian mafia flick.

Miller's Crossing is the Irish-American, Jewish-American mafia.

And Ghost Dog is the off-beat modern twist.

DCMovieGirl said...

Miller's Crossing is one of the few other films besides The Matrix with it's "Dodge this" line that made get gleefully, ghetto-happy.

I'm talking whoop out loud "That's what I'm talking about!".

Can you guess which scene?

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