The MCM Buzz Top Ten Gangster Movies

Universal Pictures has recently announced with machine guns blazing, that the explosive underworld epic Scarface will be arriving on Blu-rayTM Hi-Def on 5th September 2011. Nearly 30 years after it first exploded onto the screen, Scarface stands as a cultural icon with a passionate and growing fan base that continues to exert an enduring influence on not just moviemakers but artists across the entire pop culture landscape. 

To whet your appetite ahead of this release and to pave the way for our forthcoming competition we have decided to share our love for gangster films with our list of the top 10 gangster movies: 

10) CARLITO’S WAY (1993)

A Puerto-Rican ex-con, just released from prison, pledges to stay away from drugs and violence despite the pressure around him and lead on to a better life outside of NYC. Short sighted critics (are there any other kind?) said that Pacino was just re-treading Scarface territory here but if you look closer you’ll find a much more complex character. All Carlito wants to do is go straight but he finds out that it’s impossible to run away from your past. Sean Penn is awesome as Carlito’s sleazy lawyer. Required viewing! 

9) BUGSY MALONE (1976)

The rise of “Bugsy Malone” and the battle for power between “Fat Sam” and “Dandy Dan“. A gangster movie where all the gangsters are children and instead of bullets they use ‘splurge guns’ which shoot out cream. Alan Parker’s brilliant riff on the crime genre still holds up today. Who knew that a musical featuring kids in adult roles and guns that shoot dessert would work? Great work by a young Scott Baio (who peaked way to early) and Jodie Foster as the trademark gangsters’ moll.  

8 ) CASINO (1995)

Greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two mobster best friends and a trophy wife over a gambling empire. What better place for the mob to rule than sin city itself. This is a true epic featuring a leading trio of actors at the very top of their game. Even the bright lights and noise of Las Vegas Boulevard can’t drown out the gunfire as DeNiro, Pesci and Stone battle it out. We know that with great power comes great responsibility but if you’re a gangster in charge of a Casino it can bring you double crosses, life threatening situations and could cost you your life as well as your friends.

 7) WHITE HEAT (1949)

A psychopathic criminal with a mother complex makes a daring break from prison and leads his old gang in a chemical plant payroll heist. Shortly after the plan takes place, events take a crazy turn. Nobody delivered intensity like Jimmy Cagney and White Heat is one of his best. Here we see him play a man so wired that he would rather pull the trigger than talk it out. Killing is just all in a day’s work for Jimmy. 

6) ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

A former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to Brooklyn over 30 years later, where he once again must confront the ghosts and regrets of his old life. Sergio Leone created the greatest westerns ever seen but for his final film he tackled the gangster genre and delivered his most lyrical work of his distinguished career. It’s essentially a story about regret and retribution and Robert DeNiro conveys pain and loss unlike anything ever seen. It garnered a critical mauling when it was first released in 84’ and had been forgotten for ages until a director’s cut resurfaced years later. All of a sudden the world was ready to appreciate Leone’s vision and it is now considered a masterpiece. The film also features a very early performance by Jennifer Connelly.  

5) GOODFELLAS (1990)

 Henry Hill is a small time gangster, who takes part in a robbery with Jimmy Conway and Tommy De Vito, two other gangsters who have set their sights a bit higher. His two partners kill off everyone else involved in the robbery, and slowly start to climb up through the hierarchy of the Mob. Scorsese’s dissection of the New York criminal underworld cruelly lost out to Dances With Wolves at the Oscars. Thankfully Pesci took home the supporting actor award but it should have taken home a whole lot more. Great music and sumptuous long takes create an atmosphere rarely seen in cinema. It’s damn scary too. 

4) MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

Tom Regan, an advisor to a Prohibition-era crime boss, tries to keep the peace between warring mobs but gets caught in divided loyalties. It’s pretty damn hard to pick a favourite Coen Bros. Film but any film fan would put this quite high up the list. Gabriel Byrne is excellent as the lead character. A man who yearns for peace but can’t shut out the violent nature of his life. As with all Coen films Miller’s Crossing is very easy on the eye. Gorgeous cinematography works hand in hand with a beautiful poetic autumnal colour pallet. Like watching a painting come to life. 

3) THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)

Federal agent Elliot Ness assembles a personal team of mob fighters to bring Chicago crime boss Al Capone to justice using unconventional means during the mob wars of the 1920s. This fictionalized account of the arrest of Al Capone is heavy on style and gunfire. Sean Connery’s accent aside you really can’t fault Brian De Palma’s crime odyssey. It features a magnificent set-piece that riffs on classic silent film Battleship Potemkin involving a giant staircase, a buggy with a baby in it and tons of Kevin Costner in slow-mo. 

2) SCARFACE (1983)

The rise of Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who, with his friend Manny Ray, builds a strong criminal empire in early 1980’s Miami. Oliver Stone’s delightfully tacky gangster epic screams 80’s excess at us. Arguably Pacino’s greatest performance and featuring a character we all love to hate. Has violence ever been captured so beautifully since? 

 1) THE GODFATHER (1974)

The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. A perfect adaptation of a brilliant novel. Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t put a foot wrong with The Godfather. For all of Brando’s eccentricities you really can’t deny how incredible his performance is here. He leads an acting master class and is closely followed by Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale and of course Al Pacino who’s quiet demeanour slowly gives way to ruthless murderer. An even better sequel followed.  

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