"Okay, we know Transformers: Return of the Fallen is out," you say," but what blockbuster is there for me, someone who’s already seen Megan Fox’s rack and isn’t a racist?" Into that breach steps Public Enemies, recounting the pursuit of legendary pirate Willy Wonka Dillinger by noted law-and-order type The Batman. Here are 10 gangster movies you should watch to psych yourself up for Johnny Depp rocking out with his Tommy gun.
When I get these shorts off,
you're going to eat a knife.
A steam-bath murderfest makes for far and away the most awesome scene in David Cronenberg’s excellent 2007 re-team with Viggo Mortensen, which improves significantly on the pacing, plot twists, and painful accents of 2005’s A History of Violence. That movie takes the old Michael Corleone archetype in a slightly different direction: "Just when I thought I was out, my tendency to murder people with a shotgun at superhuman speed pulls me back in!" This one is more original, a rare look at the dark side of the Russian mafia. Even Naomi Watts can’t bring it down.
I have more antique shotguns than I need,
but not as many as I want.
Leave it to the Brits to remind us that it’s not always the best idea to leave the guns and take the cannoli. And what other gangster movie can get away with treating the underground weed trade like it’s bigger than coke and heroin glued together with PCP that dropped acid?
Guy Ritchie’s 1998 directorial debut introduced the world to both the Transporter and the "Juggernaut, Bitch." Many people argue that Ritchie’s follow-up, Snatch, is a much stronger movie, and at least as much of a gangster movie as this one. Those people are stupid and hate fun. If only all movies that require an arbitrary sum to solve a family member’s crisis ended with a shootout involving antique shotguns, the world would be a better place ... with greater awareness of the value of antique shotguns.
This is an actual line from the movie.
That Columbia Pictures lady sure has a filthy mouth. She’s also way less cute than a young Cuba Gooding Jr. struggling with a touch of Michael Corleone Coming-of-Age Syndrome. Gooding gets a big boost from the moral guidance of his father, Furious "Ostensibly His Real Name" Styles (Laurence Fishburne). If there’s no one in your life with a name as badass as "Furious Styles," we strongly urge you to start calling an authority figure "Furious Styles" until your life improves – no matter what they say.
For a guy with well-established childhood anger problems, Gooding's Tre Styles demonstrates admirable restraint in the world of the gangster. We attribute that to the Furious Styles Financial Services firm. We are not joking. But even if you ignore the object lessons on the need for strong parents and the trap of street corners in the ghetto, nothing beats watching Ice Cube brag on his motherf***ing domino skillz.
Your pretensions sicken me! Unlike cocaine.
Al Pacino may not be the most convincing Cubano of all time, but he’s got Ferociously Crazy Guy down to an art. Pacino’s chewed his way through a lot of scenery in the last quarter-century, but nowhere is his spittle-shooting act better than as "leetle friend"-toting Tony Montana. A mass-murdering coke lord liable to launch into rants against the capitalist pyramid scheme, he’s half-Godfather and half-Bill Hicks.
With direction by Brian De Palma and a script from Oliver Stone, some elements of the Pacino version age better than others. They all, however, age better than the legendary 1932 Scarface, starring Paul Muni as Antonio "Al Capone" Camante. Sorry, snobs, but your allegedly smarter and artier version, staged like a play, features way too many characters who constantly say exactly what they’re feeling. And that makes us feel angry.
You’ll believe a man can fly.
As long as we're rattling sacred cages, Scorsese’s The Departed beats its progenitor, Infernal Affairs. The Hong Kong version is much tighter than its American counterpart and is mercifully free of wire-fu, but the acting in the Scorsese version tips the scales, especially the scene where Nicholson and Matt Damon fly over rooftops battling for the Green Destiny while DiCaprio builds the House of Flying Daggers.
The long-held conventional wisdom is that Francis Ford Coppola assembled the best cast of all time back in the seventies, but we think The Departed dethrones him on that score. When your throwaway roles are played by Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen, and you coax a memorable performance out of Mark Wahlberg without substituting in a non-union Mexican equivalentAndy Samberg, you’re pretty tough to beat — even if the rat symbolizes obviousness.
I get naked. Discuss.
Sergio Leone turned down The Godfather to work on his Once Upon a Time series, but his last movie wound up looking a lot like The Godfather: Part II. The big difference is that the central mobsters are Jewish, and thus naturally are portrayed by Robert DeNiro and James Woods, who reminds us that he wasn’t always a Seth MacFarlane punchline.
At three hours and 49 minutes, Leone’s movie also manages to run longer than Godfather II, though it’s well worth sitting through the whole thing rather than rooting out one of the much weaker hacked-up versions. The full cut offers a superb, and surprisingly rare, look at gangsters who think family doesn’t mean shit, though in retrospect they probably shouldn’t have told their families that so often. And the weird nudity from 12-year-old Jennifer Connelly is a good conversation-starter ... or at least really creepy.
We would like to shoot you, but first let’s
discuss, in rigorous detail, the customs
of foreign nations.
Of course, it’s conversation that takes center stage in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 starmaker. Samuel L. Jackson and a reinvigorated John Travolta star as the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the hitman scene, swapping travel stories and Biblical admonitions in between gangland slayings and foot fetishism by way of Uma Thurman. Most of the gangsters on this list are relatable in terms of broad ambitions and disappointments; these guys could be your buddies, assuming your buddies are trapped in an anachronistic 1975 Aaron Sorkin show.
While Jackson’s Jules sees the hand of God everywhere and there are an awful lot of meetings by coincidence, much of the movie’s action seems refreshingly random, a good reminder to always keep the safety on when you’re not trying to kill someone. Also, anyone with a Southern accent probably wants to gang-rape you. Just so you know.
I’m Joe Pesci and your corpse approves
Yeah, yeah, there’s way too much voiceover. Get over it before we sic Pesci on you.
Another epic boy-joins-the-mob story, Scorsese’s masterpiece makes a pretty convincing argument that crime does pay, that the straight life is for suckers, and that no matter how coke-addled you are that helicopter really is after you. DeNiro and Pesci are fleshed out enough to seem real, but not so much that Ray Liotta’s nominal ingénue can pretend they aren’t engines of destruction. Oh, another lesson: Always move the six-months-dead exhumed corpse in somebody else’s trunk.
I know, I know, I broke your heart.
We can already hear those of you who think this should be at number one reciting quotes out loud. Look, this is a fantastic movie in every conceivable way. Cuba and Vegas are fun; the HUAC stuff is great; we could do with less Jew-bashing, but fair enough. The cast is just as good as the first one; with DeNiro, maybe better. And the story has an even grander feel than the previous installment.
There is a better gangster movie out there, though. It’s called The Godfather: Part III.
Hail to the king, baby.
Honestly, the two movies swap places in our estimation every few years. But the first story is simpler and more powerful, it flows better, and it benefits immeasurably from the presence of Brando and Jimmy Caan.
That said, there’s no reason not to watch both as one unit, so long as you have six-and-change hours to kill. Maybe kill Abe Vigoda, too, just for old times’ sake.
Did we miss one of your favorites? Leave a comment below.