Sunday, August 28, 2016

Gangster Flick Binge Overview: 30 Years in the Making

If you've happened across this blog much over the last couple of years, you've probably noticed a few of those "Gangster Flick 3-Pack"s posted. While I do appreciate a good gangster movie, I wasn't watching so many of them out of random compulsion. Instead, I was working my way through the book which my in-laws gave me for Christmas - The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies by crime flick enthusiasts George Anastasia and Glen Macnow. Before getting this fun little gift, I thought I had seen a lot of gangster films, so imagine my surprise when I looked over the authors' list and found that I hadn't seen over half of the movies listed. It even included several which I had never even heard of. Not one to back down from such a list, especially in a genre which I enjoy, I started to work my way through.

Now that I have watched every movie on their list, I feel the need for a recap. The authors did actually rank all of their selections in the following order (I've provided links to any of the movies which I have reviewed at some point):

7. The Departed
8. Donnie Brasco
9. The Usual Suspects
10. Casino
12. Once Upon a Time in America
13. Leon: The Professional
15. Reservoir Dogs
16. Scarface
20. Carlito's Way
22. Gangs of New York
24. Sexy Beast
25. Road to Perdition
26. Get Shorty
27. Rififi
28. The Untouchables
29. Eastern Promises
30. The French Connection
35. In Bruges
39. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
43. True Romance
45. M
46. Angels with Dirty Faces
51. Mesrine
53. Snatch
58. Jackie Brown
59. Heat
60. Bugsy
64. Bullets Over Broadway
72. American Me
75. The Godfather, Part III
80. Mafioso
86. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
90. The Killer
91. Gloria
92. El Mariachi
94. New Jack City
95. Bound
98. Made

Rather than get into a hyper-detailed rundown of how I might reorder their rankings, I'll just cluster these 100 films into a handful of groups, inspired by the greatest gangster movie of all time (I put Anastasia and Macnow's original rankings in parentheses):

"Don Vito Corleone" Group:

The top of the pyramid. These are the ones that I feel are incredible. They are films which I have already seen multiple times or will happily watch again in the future. Even if I may not feel the need to watch them again, their greatness and influence simply cannot be refuted:

The Godfather (1); The Godfather, Part II (2); Goodfellas (3); On the Waterfront (4); Pulp Fiction (5); Donnie Brasco (8); Casino (10); Leon: The Professional (13); Reservoir Dogs (15); Bonnie and Clyde (19); Road to Perdition (25); The French Connection (30); City of God (32); The Long Good Friday (34); Pepe le Moko (36); A History of Violence (37); Miller's Crossing (40); True Romance (43); A Prophet (44); Get Carter (48); The Big Heat (49); Jackie Brown (58); Heat (59); The Killers (71)

"Always a Capo, Never a Don" Group:

The Clemenzas and Tessios of the gangster movie world. These are the ones that do a lot of things well but have an annoying flaw or two which I can't completely ignore. I also include movies that may have once been great but have suffered the misfortune of being slightly worn down by time. They're solid, reliable movies that I either have or likely would watch again, but they are a bit short of being among the very best:

Little Caesar (6); The Departed (7); The Usual Suspects (9); Once Upon a Time in America (12); Mean Streets (14); White Heat (17); A Bronx Tale (18); Carlito's Way (20); The Public Enemy (23); Sexy Beast (24); Get Shorty (26); Rififi (27); The Untouchables (28); Eastern Promises (29); American Gangster (33); In Bruges (35); Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (39); Infernal Affairs (41); Underworld, U.S.A. (42); M (45); Dinner Rush (47); Midnight Run (50); Mesrine (51); Snatch (53); Animal Kingdom (55); Drunken Angel (56); Kill the Irishman (57); Layer Cake (62); The Asphalt Jungle (63); Bullets Over Broadway (64); Salvatore Giuliano (65); State of Grace (66); Atlantic City (68); Let Him Have It (69); American Me (72); The Roaring Twenties (74); Al Capone (76); King of New York (77); Mafioso (80); Sonatine (82); Dillinger (83); Little Odessa (84); At Close Range (85); Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (86); Lucky Number Slevin (88); The Killer (90); Bound (95); We Own the Night (96); The Yakuza (97); Brother [Brat] (99); The Freshman (100)

"Luca Brasi" Group:

The movies that can serve a simpler appetite for some gangster cinema, but are somewhat limited in their scope and what you can expect from them. It may be due to poor aging or a few misguided choices by the creators, but these ones' merits are almost overshadowed by their flaws:

Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (11); The Pope of Greenwich Village (21); Gangs of New York (22); The Petrified Forest (31); The Friends of Eddie Coyle (38); Angels With Dirty Faces (46); High Sierra (52); The Killing (54); Bugsy (60); Key Largo (67); The Valachi Papers (70); Analyze This (73); Charley Varrick (78); Federal Hill (79); Point Blank (81); The Joker is Wild (87); El Mariachi (92); Year of the Dragon (93); New Jack City (94)

"Fredo" Group:

Sure, Fredo might have ostensibly been a "gangster", but he was clearly far, far out of his depth. The movies in this group are those which I found very difficult to make it through, even once. If there was a redeeming quality or two, I had to work especially hard to find them. Whether due to age, shifting tastes, or the authors' completely different sensibilities from my own, I'm not even sure why these ones were considered among the "100 greatest" by Anastasia and Macnow:

Things Change (61); The Godfather, Part III (75); Prizzi's Honor (89); Gloria (91); Made (98)

All told, Anastasia and Macnow put together a good list. While I suspect that there are some foreign gangster movies which the writers may not know of, they did include a decent amount of crime movies from abroad. Whenever I go through a list like this, my goal is always to try and find a few gems which I had never seen or heard of. Such was the case here. There were seven  standout discoveries for me: Pepe le Moko, A Prophet, The Big Heat, The Killers, Mesrine, At Close Range, and The Yakuza. Sure, I had to sit through a fair number of mediocre or downright unpleasant movies, but finding those seven were worth it.

That wraps up this little obsessive compulsive movie-watching task. On to the next ones...