Get Carter (1971)

Regarded as one of the best British gangster films of all time, Get Carter came at the time in Michael Caine’s career in which he had already started his ascent to becoming one of the most iconic British actors of all time. With one Oscar nomination already under his belt for Alfie (1966) and having starred in critical and commercial hits such as Zulu (1964) and The Italian Job (1969), Caine was the perfect candidate to play the titular Jack Carter. The film sees Carter, a London based crook, head home to Newcastle to figure out who killed his brother, much to the chagrin of those who’d done the deed. A simple enough premise, but one that gets muddied when Carter stumbles upon a pornographic film featuring his beloved niece, Doreen, and Carter’s revenge plot begins. 

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Get Carter (dir. Mike Hodges, DOP Wolfgang Suschitzky)

Get Carter, like many gangster movies before and after, is a mostly fun experience for an audience. There’s a generous sprinkling of dry British humour, and some spoonfuls of the brutal killings that gangster films are known for, but there’s also a hefty dollop of ‘good old fashioned sexism’ thrown in for good measure, and this is what makes the film hardest to watch. It’s tough seeing an actor as beloved as Michael Caine treat women with such reckless abandon that even Tony Montana would wince, and while this may not have been as big of a deal for audiences in 1971, it certainly makes the film harder to watch in 2016. Not to say that Get Carter isn’t a beautifully shot, raw, gritty gangster film – it is all that and more – it’s just as if the film tries so hard to make the female characters (who are infinitely more interesting than many of the men) mere pawns in Jack Carter’s story, rather than giving them any payoff for themselves.

If you’re a fan of Michael Caine or British cinema then this film is still a must-watch, but if you are expecting a classic from 45 years ago to have aged gracefully and maintain its shine – you might be sorely disappointed.

The Podfather Score: 6/10

– J.B

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Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)

Over 50 years before Al Pacino said hello to his little friend, there was a different Scarface in town. In Howard Hawks’ Scarface: The Shame of a Nationthe Scarface in question is Tony Camonte, a street level crook who makes his way up the underworld ranks with a little help from some murder and machine guns. From the very opening scene it is clear that this is a special film, with each death scene somehow being simultaneously brutal and thoughtful, as the people both in front of and behind the camera strive to present as compelling a look into the gang wars of the time as they can.

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Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (dir. Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson, DOP Lee Garmes, L.W. O’Connell)

Based in part on the life and crimes of notorious gangster Al Capone, Scarface: The Shame of a Nation is a masterclass in storytelling, and a film that is every bit as engaging and laudable now as it was in the 30’s. Released only 5 years after the first feature length “talkie”, this is a remarkable achievement of a film, and deserves to be remembered as one of the most enthralling examples of the gangster genre.

The Podfather Score: 8.5/10

– J.B

Goodfellas (1990)

Not Scorsese’s only foray into the gangster genre, but undeniably his most beloved, Goodfellas is a powerhouse of a film. In the years between Mean Streets and this, his talents behind the camera have been refined, and his eye for creative shots and effective story telling techniques are on full show. Not only that, but the cast of Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Lorraine Bracco all turn in fantastic performances, ensuring that the 145 minute running time is 145 minutes of non-stop compelling storytelling.

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Goodfellas (dir. Martin Scorsese, DOP Michael Bellhaus)

The film details the rise of Henry Hill (Liotta) from a boy with big dreams in Brooklyn to a well regarded wise guy in the New York mafia world. Along for the ride are his buddy Tommy (Pesci in perhaps his greatest performance) and their slightly older friend Jimmy (De Niro). Although, perhaps even more interesting than his “job” is Hill’s relationship with his wife Karen (Bracco). It’s not a particularly original concept in film to show a character rise to power and ultimately succumb to the lavishness of the lifestyle it affords, but showing the devastating effects that the crime business can have on a family imbues Scorsese and Nicholas Peleggi’s script with a lot of heart it may otherwise have lacked.

There are many reasons that this film remains one of the greats of the genre, from the costumes to the cinematography and the soundtrack, but mostly Goodfellas just emphasises that Scorsese knows how to use the medium of film to tell a great story.

The Podfather Score: 9/10

– J.B

The Big Sleep (1946)

Adapted from Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name, The Big Sleep is the story of private detective Philip Marlowe and the shady goings-on he encounters when a blackmail case he’s assigned to turns into a murder case. This is, more than anything, a detective film, and as such the plot does get a little muddy at times, however the pace of the film flows so smoothly that it doesn’t really matter. Director Howard Hawks handles the film with an eye that is targeted firmly at the sexual chemistry exuding from the two leads, and that alone is reason enough to watch this film. Oozing charisma as Marlowe, Humphrey Bogart is the definition of cool, and leading lady Lauren Bacall is a force to be reckoned with.

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The Big Sleep (dir. Howard Hawks, DOP Sidney Hickox)

With witty banter and sexual innuendo galore, The Big Sleep shows a glitziness and coolness to the underworld of WWII-era Los Angeles, and finds the fun in much of the grittiness that oftentimes is at the forefront of such films. That said, the film is visually stunning, and there are some particularly gnarly sequences that must have left 1940’s audiences on the edge of their seats. For a film 70 years old, The Big Sleep has aged particularly well, and is well worth a watch for 21st century audiences.

The Podfather Score: 6.5/10

– J.B

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Before Bryan Singer was at the helm of Fox’s X-Men Universe, he was famous for directing this 1995 crime thriller. Boasting an impressive cast, script and an adept voice behind the camera, The Usual Suspects finds its way onto many “Best Of” lists – and for good reason. Singer gives us a delightful contemporary spin on a classic genre, playing off the tropes of morally ambiguous protagonists and mysterious underworld figures by giving us a look into the crime world from the outside, after the crime has taken place.

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The Usual Suspects (dir. Bryan Singer, DOP Newton Thomas Sigel)

Kevin Spacey (in his Academy Award winning performance) as “Verbal” Kint, recounts the story of the crime to both investigator Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) and the audience, and it is through this lens that film becomes so interesting. Just like Kujan, the audience must piece together the story from the flashbacks given to us, so whereas many times in the crime genre we are merely spectators, in The Usual Suspects we become active participants in the narrative of the film.

With its fantastic cast, compelling story and playful homage to many of the gangster movies that have come before it, The Usual Suspects remains one of the most captivating films in the history of the genre.

The Podfather Score: 8/10

– J.B

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

A worthy companion to its predecessor, The Godfather Part II builds upon the world of the Corleone family through two separate time periods. Showing the journey of young Vito (Robert De Niro) becoming a major player in the New York underworld, while simultaneously detailing the fall of the same family empire as Michael (Al Pacino) deals with his own ego and poor choices, the film is very ambitious both as a sequel and a prequel.

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The Godfather: Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, DOP Gordon Willis)

Once again the cast shines, with Pacino giving Michael more of the darkness that was brewing at the end of Part I, and new addition to the cast De Niro turning in an Oscar-winning performance as Vito. With more glimpses into the lives of Italian American immigrants, more great work from director Francis Ford Coppola and director of photography Gordon Willis, and more memorable scenes of death and betrayal, The Godfather Part II earns its title as one of the greatest sequels, and indeed stand alone movies, of all time.

The Podfather Score: 8.5/10

– J.B