To celebrate today’s release of the Warner Bros. Blu-ray Ultimate Gangsters Collection I’ve put together a bit of a treat for you.
When you think of gangster films, you think of G-Men battling it out with the top brass of the mafioso, Tommy-guns aflame. You think of the poor immigrant that has to fight his way through a game of dope and guns. You think of a fat guy, petting a cat whispering orders to his underlings. Well, this list has all of that and more, so get ready, here’s your best gangster films of all time!
The Untouchables has everything a gangster film could want. A team of bravura-filled, gun-toting bad-asses, Robert De Niro’s Al Capone chewing up all the scenery, one of the last great performances from Sean Connery, and an “Odessa-step” ode to Battleship Potemkin that is as grandiose as gun-battles get. What’s even more enticing about The Untouchables is the edge the film keeps you on. In many films you have a good deal of promise in the fact that all the good guys will be okay in the end. But, in this film, anything goes.
When it comes to epic crime film-making , Michael Mann knows what he’s doing. Heat is a heist film of epic proportions and it’s known for several things. Firstly, is the table scene between Robert De Niro (I know he shows up here a lot) and Al Pacino—two actors that before that moment in time rarely had the opportunity to feast upon a scene together. The other memorable moment in this film is the actual heist scene which one of the more outstanding gun-play battles in the history of cinema.
8. The Public Enemy
The Public Enemy—not only known for its witty dialogue and sharp stage direction—is also know for the infamous “fruit in the face scene” in which James Cagney’s cantankerous character bashes a grapefruit in the face of a female compatriot, which was taboo at the time, and to this day remains a controversial scene. Add to that one of the most shocking endings in the history of cinema, and you have yourself one hell of a gangster film.
7. The Departed
Some may say that Casino or Goodfellas is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, but some may agree that The Departed, with it’s razor’s edge of a cat and mouse game within the ranks of the police department and a ruthless gangs of thugs, led by a scene-stealing Jack Nicholson, may be his best picture. While not a typical gangster film if you consider his other works, The Departed has you twisted and bent with excitement at every turn, and believe me, there’s lots, including what is Mark Wahlberg‘s best performance.
6. Reservoir Dogs
The first film that Quentin Tarantino directed may also be his best. The film centers around a group of thieves who botch a job and must meet back at their headquarters to try and figure out who it was that ratted on them. If you’re expecting a ballet of bullets here, look elsewhere. This is a gangster crime drama packed with biting dialogue and shocking spurts of violence. Great performance by Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel round out this fantastically scripted piece of work by Quentin.
Just like anyone else, there’s a special place in my heart for Scarface. I’m not sure if it’s the immigrants dream come true, the tour-DE-force performance that Al Pacino lets loose, the solidly scripted screenplay or the fabulous misc-en-scene used to create a Miami dripping with drugs and machismo. Whatever it is, this may be the most fun film on this list and it deserves every repeat watching it receives.
4. City of God
If Quentin Tarantino were Brazilian he would have made this epic film that spans the lives of several characters through the years as two friends become separated by the violence of the Brazilian favelas. Brutal, beautiful, skillfully made, sharply directed and just all around a great film. If this were a list of my favorite films of all time this might have cracked the top three.
If you took Goodfellas, added some money to the budget, added some running time to the film, and gave Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone (who’s a revelation in this film) and Joe Pesci the freedom to chew up every scene that they’re in, then you end up with Casino. Casino, to me, is Scorsese’s Godfather—even down to the soft lighting that he used rampantly throughout the picture. Casino is one of those films that whenever it is on, you can’t help but to watch the amazing performances.
2. The Godfather 1 & 2
Yes, I know I’ll catch some slack for this, but I have a reason for not including these two masterpieces—and they are—as my top gangster film of all time. Godfather one and two is Francis Ford Coppola‘s ambitious “gangster-as-king” film, but there’s just one problem I have with it. It drags at times. Yes, yes…I know. You hate me now. But don’t get me wrong…I love this film. It’s just not what I consider the greatest gangster film of all time. You can start writing the hate now.
Goodfellas is gangster. It exudes it out of its pours like an alcoholic on a treadmill. While The Godfather showed you the top of the gangster heap, Goodfellas shows you the guys that gets those guys the millions that they own…and that, in my estimation, is what a gangster is. Sure it’s over the top in some instances such as when Joe Pesci shoot an innocent kid, but Scorcese’s talents are on full display here, from his sharp editing, zinging camera movements, swinging stedicam shots and his penchant for lighting every actor’s face in just the right manner. This is pure Scorsese, and it doesn’t get any better.