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Time Out’s Best Gangster Films: ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ and More

Time Out's Best Gangster Films: 'The Godfather,' 'Goodfellas,' 'Once Upon a Time in America' and More

Time Out Film has selected the 50 best gangster movies, from Coppola to Scorsese, U.S. to Japan, “Scarface” to “Scarface.” From organized criminals to disorganized thieves, it’s a wide-ranging, eclectic collection of films. The full list is here, but these films made the top ten.

1. “The Godfather” (1972, Dir: Francis Ford Coppola)
2. “The Killing” (1956, Dir: Stanley Kubrick)
3. “Reservoir Dogs” (1992, Dir: Quentin Tarantino)
4. “Goodfellas” (1990, Dir: Martin Scorsese)
5. “Mean Streets” (1973, Dir: Martin Scorsese)
6. “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967, Dir: Arthur Penn)
7. “The Godfather Part II” (1974, Dir: Francis Ford Coppola)
8. “Miller’s Crossing” (1990, Dir: Joel/Ethan Coen)
9. “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984, Dir: Sergio Leone)
10. “Sexy Beast” (2000, Dir: Jonathan Glazer)

Here’s what Tom Huddleston had to say about the no-brainer number one pick:

The undisputed don of the gangster-flick family, Francis Ford Coppola’s timeless tragedy of twisted loyalty and moral decay refuses to become any less powerful or relevant. From its epic moments—the horse’s head in the bed, Luca Brasi’s bulging fish-eyes—to the most intimate details (Enzo the baker’s shaking hands, Clemenza’s spaghetti recipe), “The Godfather” never puts one immaculately crafted leather boot out of line. If we revisit this list in a century’s time, expect it to be holding steady in the top spot.

As with any list, one can quibble with the rankings (someone will nit-pick about De Palma’s “Scarface” rating one spot higher than the Hawks original) and omissions (speaking of De Palma: “Carlito’s Way” is absent in favor of “The Untouchables” – whaaaaaat?). But it’s still a first-rate bunch of films with some slightly less intuitive picks, like David Ehrlich’s selection of the Japanese yakuza film “Pale Flower.”

Movies just don’t get any cooler than Masahiro Shinoda’s monochrome noir romance set to a soundtrack of speeding tires and piling casino chips. Dropping in at an underground Tokyo gambling den the moment he’s released from jail, Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) is a yakuza hit man with some very deadly vices.  It isn’t long before a mysterious woman (Mariko Kaga) catches his eye, and the two of them are swept up in an increasingly dangerous no-limit game of their own.

Unsurprisingly, Martin Scorsese is the most-represented director on the list, with four films. “Goodfellas” is the highest-ranked at number four, but one spot behind it is his 1973 breakthrough “Mean Streets.” Huddleston writes:

The giddy, streetwise flipside to the brooding austerity of “The Godfather,” Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough explores the grasping underside of the gangland dream. Harvey Keitel’s guilt-ridden Charlie is the heart of the film, but it’s Robert De Niro as firecracker Johnny Boy that you’ll remember.

There’s room for comedy among gangster movies, and Joshua Rothkopf makes a strong case for Woody Allen’s 1994 hit “Bullets Over Broadway“:

Woody Allen’s backstage comedy has so much sparkle to it (Helen Sinclair’s “Don’t speak!” among a chest of gems) that it’s easy to forget that the movie is, in fact, a gangster story. And not your ordinary gangster, either, but Cheech, a secret creative genius, expertly played by Chazz Palminteri.

Finally, I’d like to draw attention to my favorite film to make the top ten, Sergio Leone’s melancholy epic “Once Upon a Time in America.” Rothkopf writes:

Sergio Leone’s Depression-era epic evokes New York City’s teeming Lower East Side like no movie before or since. The curiosity of youth is balanced against the euphoria and bitter sacrifices of criminal life. More than just “The Godfather” of Jewish gangster movies, Leone’s masterwork is the apex of a glorious, genre-bending career.

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