movie drama

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100 Greatest Gangster Films: White Heat, #17

This was film noir, movies where evil not only exists, but flourishes. Cagney’s Cody Jarrett isn’t a charismatic outlaw who viewers could vicariously admire, but rather a despicable embodiment of immorality, a man who takes what he wants whenever he wants it, mocking and abusing all those he comes in contact with—including the cops, members of his own gang and his less-than-virtuous wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo).

Movie still: A Bronx Tale

100 Greatest Gangster Films: A Bronx Tale, #18

A Bronx Tale is more than a wonderful portrait of growing up around the mob in the 1960s. Written by Chazz Palminteri, directed by Robert De Niro and starring both, the movie is a primer on life. No film this side of The Godfather provides as many valuable life lessons.

Movie still: Carlitos Way

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Carlito’s Way, #20

Brian De Palma was worried about doing another Hispanic drug kingpin movie after Scarface. But the story and the acting in Carlito’s Way go in such a different direction that there ended up being few similarities between the two films. This is a personal look at one man’s attempt at redemption. Scarface, on the other hand, is a saga about one man’s one-way trip to hell.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Pope of Greenwich Village, #21

To appreciate just how well director Stuart Rosenberg and writer Vincent Patrick captured wiseguy street corner ethos in this classic mob tale, you have to understand the meaning of an Italian phrase that has come to define the way certain mobsters act. The phrase is faccia una bella figura. Literally, it means “make a good impression.” But in fact the phrase conveys much more. It describes an attitude, an approach to life that is more typically found in the southern half of Italy, especially in Naples and points south.

Movie still: Gangs of New York

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Gangs of New York, #22

Before there was John Gotti, before Carlo Gambino, before Lucky Luciano, there was Bill “the Butcher” Poole. The 19th-century boxer, fixer and, yes, actual butcher, was a forerunner of the mobsters who later controlled New York City.

Movie still: The Public Enmy

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Public Enemy, #23

Cagney, along with Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni and, later, Humphrey Bogart, invented the film gangster. Each brought a sense of the street and gritty realism. For Cagney, that came naturally. He grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and had to drop out of college after one semester when his father died. He knew how to be tough, in an argument or in a rumble.

Movie still: Sexy Beast

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Sexy Beast, #24

Sir Ben Kingsley becomes the ruthless Logan in Sexy Beast, and he’s 90 percent of the reason to watch the movie. The plotline here is straightforward, nothing special really. The action is sporadic. The supporting cast is strong—led by British veteran Ray Winstone, who’s actually the film’s lead, and Ian McShane, who can always dial up ominous. But it’s Kingsley—throwing off Gandhi’s loincloth and round spectacles—who becomes the savage bully you’ll remember long after viewing Sexy Beast.

Movie still: Get Shorty

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Get Shorty, #26

One year after reviving his career in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta gracefully slipped back into the role of a mobster. Like Vincent Vega, Get Shorty’s Chili Palmer is ultracool, sharp-witted and drawn to dressing in black. He can shatter your nose with a punch or fire his Colt Detective Special accurately enough to add a part to your hairline.

Movie Review: Mud

With just three feature films to his name, writer and director Jeff Nichols has already set himself a high standard. Both of his previous works, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, are strong dramas with compelling characters, dark intrigue and impressive economy of style. With Mud, Nichols has progressed from making a good film to making a great film.

Movie still: Rififi

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Rififi, #27

That these guys are, as the French say, sympathique, is evident from the beginning of the robbery when Tony tucks a pillow behind the head of the elderly woman to make her more comfortable after she and her husband have been gagged and tied up. A clock ticking on a mantel provides a time line for the heist, which begins shortly before midnight and doesn’t end until six the next morning. In film time, the robbery takes about 30 minutes. And during those minutes, not a word—NOT ONE WORD—is spoken.

Movie still: The Untouchables

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Untouchables, #28

In the midst of a dinner party in his honor, Capone (Robert De Niro) takes out a Louisville Slugger and delivers a tribute to baseball as the All-American sport. As his underlings smoke cigars and chuckle in agreement, Capone circles a huge round table—finally stopping behind one nodding toadie. He briefly speaks of betrayal and then applies a few Ruthian swings to the employee’s skull.

Movie still: Eastern Promises

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Eastern Promises, #29

The diary of Tatiana (Tatiana Maslany), a 14-year-old, drug-addicted prostitute who dies while giving birth to a daughter in a London hospital, sets the film in motion. Her account of how and why she came to London—provided by periodic voice-overs as the diary is translated from Russian—offers a back story of the mob’s involvement in white slavery and English brothels.