Friday, 28 January 2011


Cinema has widely explored the dark underbelly of the human existence. And we as the audience seem to be strangely mesmerised by the fanatic violence, deception, sociopathic behaviour, laissez-fare attitudes and the get-rich-or-die-tryin’ philosophy found in so many films. Most gangsters and criminals are portrayed as quite likable wisecracking types, with plenty of charisma, quick wit and peculiar moral codes.  Here are some of my favourite ones. So, just gimme the fookin money and let’s go.

10. The Departed. 2006.
 Dir.: Martin Scorsese.
With: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson.

This recent film is a remake of a Hong Kong movie called ‘Internal Affairs’. It is perhaps the most successful film out of Scorsese’s recent creations. The gangster-cop drama is all about finding your true identity and the troubled father-son relationships which can drive men to do radical things. ‘The Departed’ was critically acclaimed and has a 93% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty rare. It also boasts a star-studded cast.

9. Pulp Fiction. 1994.
Dir.: Quentin Tarantino.
With: Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis.

The film that truly established Quentin Tarantino as a major force to be reckoned with. Pulp Fiction has a prologue, three main storylines and an epilogue. Its soundtrack has been praised for its originality and eclecticism. The film has been watched and re-watched by millions of people and the quotes from it acquired a cult status. The dancing sequence with Uma Thurman and John Travolta is up there with the most famous scenes in movie history. It also caused a sensation at he Cannes Film Festival in 1994 at its midnight opening and went onto winning the Palme d’Or.

8. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. 1998.
Dir.: Guy Ritchie.
With: Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Jason Statham.

The movie about gangsters from the old blighty also turned out to be a breakthrough for a young British director. The set up is pretty simple – a filthy geezer loses 500,000 pounds to a boss and decides to rob a gang to get the money. I remember watching it with subtitles for the first time because I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying.

7. Reservoir Dogs. 1992.
Dir.: Quentin Tarantino.
With: Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel.

The film that made Tarantino noticed. This is a perfect one-room drama; set in an empty garage, Reservoir Dogs is a heist movie with no actual heist in it. Each gang member comes back to the garage after a robbery that did not go as planned and tries to find out who the mole is. Suspenseful and nervous, this movie is a great character study. I remember that one particular scene caused a lot of controversy due to its violent nature when, in fact, nothing was shown on the screen but rather implied. I would quite like to watch this as a theatre play too.

6.  Casino. 1995.
 Dir.: Martin Scorsese.
With: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci.

Somehow, the most underrated mafia movie ever. Casino is based on a true story of the Jewish head of a Las Vegas casino who was part of the mafia. Joe Pesci is the usual psychopathic and charming self and De Niro is his more intelligent, cold-blooded buddy. Sharon Stone gives a brilliant performance as the ultimate object of unrequited love – she is gorgeous, high off her face most of the time and in love with another man. It’s worth watching for many reasons; one of them is De Niro’s colourful wardrobe that would put any average pimp to shame.

5. Goodfellas. 1990.
Dir.: Martin Scorsese.
With.: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci.

A gangster movie that is almost a comedy. Despite its violence it had tonnes of laugh-out-loud moments and some really hilarious characters. It also stars half the cast from The Sopranos series in supporting roles. Joe Pesci and De Niro do their usual buddy shtick and Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco show what’s being married to a wise-guy is really like. It’s also quite fun to watch how the costumes, the furniture and the hairstyles change with time from 1950s to 1980s.

4. The Godfather Part II. 1974.
Dir.: Francis Ford Coppola.
With: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro.

I don’t think I could add anything new to this wonderful movie. Only that I’d rather they cut all the scenes with Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone and make them into a separate little film just for me. De Niro hardly speaks in this film and when he does it is in the Sicilian dialect. The other half is set in the 1958-9 and it follows Michael Corleone’s fully succumbing to his evil side.

3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 1969.
Dir.: George Roy Hill.
With: Robert Redford, Paul Newman.

Too much handsomeness for one screen! Robert Redford (who is strikingly similar to Brad Pitt in this film) is Sundance Kid and Paul Newman is Butch Cassidy, together they are the baddest gangsters in the whole Wild West. In my opinion, it is the best bromance film of all time. Both men have their strengths – Butch is a natural leader and the Kid is the best shot in town. They go through train robberies, gang mutiny, love for the same woman and persecution together. Neither will rest while the other is in danger. However, there are also tonnes of tongue-in-cheek jokes and awkward moments and it is just a very entertaining and enjoyable film.

2. The Godfather. 1972.
Dir.: Francis Ford Coppola.
With: Al Pacino, Marlon Brando.

The one and only. I personally think that The Godfather is akin to a modern Shakespearean tragedy - there is a protagonist who tries to escape from his fate at first but life decides its course for him. It is a story of familial duty, loyalty, betrayal and self-sacrifice. It is also a masterful rendition of an individual’s degradation into his worst form. Superbly directed and acted, The Godfather is a classic in many senses. It also exploits and, therefore, strengthens the stereotypes we have of the Italian-American mafia; many quotes like 'he is sleeping with the fishes' are sayings now.

1. The Sopranos. 1999-2007.
 Created by David Chase.
With: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli.

Strictly speaking, this is not a film and cannot be in this list. However, I do think that it is one of the most encompassing stories ever told on screen  (doesn’t matter that it is the TV screen). The Sopranos is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed TV series of all time and I’ll tell you why. The core of the story is pure genius – a charismatic mob boss from New Jersey with a big house, an unhappy wife and two teenage kids goes into therapy because of his mother issues. It really humanises your standard ‘Vito Corleone’ type. Each episode is about 50 mins long and feels like a mini film in itself. The acting, the scripts and the storylines are great. There is humour provided by the mafia boys, tragedy in the case of Carmella, the mob wife, but most importantly, there are many wonderful character observations. Season after season the characters develop rather than stagnate in clichés until they meet their natural end.

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