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

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Casino (1995)

Martin Scorsese takes us to the golden age of Las Vegas when the mob ruled it all. Before the corporations and regulations, when everybody got a piece and eventually got whacked. Whether its based on truth or distracted by glorification, Casino tells the tale of two high ranking and hard hitting mobsters taking Sin City for themselves. Perhaps one of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci’s finest outings, the two leads effortlessly portray the lives of best friends turned worst enemies in a lengthy and violent affair. This movie even features one of Scorsese’s infamous Pesci rib breakings!

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Casino (dir. Martin Scorsese, DOP Robert Richardson)

The first half details the inner workings of the Tangiers Casino, how the mafia took its cut and how our anti-heroes ran the operation. The story is interesting, cool, classy and intriguing as the characters navigate the obstacles that the real world presents. The second half is sadly a little too much of a soap opera with the strange love triangle between the main characters Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) and Sam Rothstien (Robert De Niro). This movie comes close to being in the same league as GoodFellas but ultimately runs about an hour too long. Still, it serves as an unforgettable entry in the genre!

The Podfather Score: 7.375/10

– A.A

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

Mean Streets (1973)

Before Casino, GoodFellas, Raging Bull and even Taxi Driver there was Mean Streets. Martin Scorsese’s first collaboration with Robert De Niro takes us to a darker side of the mafia’s favourite city, New York. We follow the lives of some young, up and coming gangsters learning how to rip people off and owe too much. The film is packed full of great shots and great music with each scene bursting with Scorsese’s creativity, creating an excellently specific feel. It may not be as polished as what you’ve come to expect from the famous director, but this only gives the film an uncanny charm.

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Mean Streets (dir. Martin Scorsese, DOP Kent L. Wakeford)

The performances from Harvey Keitel and De Niro are exciting and emotional. You can see where so much of GoodFellas and Casino’s great dialogue got its beginnings in the comfortable and uncomfortable exchanges between the two leads. It’s no wonder De Niro went on to star as a young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II the following year! Maybe its retrospect speaking but I wish I’d given this movie a higher score. It’s an unforgettable adventure into 70s New York City and a great example of what a young director can achieve.

The Podfather Score: 6.25/10

– A.A

Boyz N the Hood (1991)

What do we think of nowadays when we imagine a ‘gang’? To today’s generation, ‘gangsters’ are the members of the ethnic and cultural minority of African American youth: armed with guns, cars and a resentment of the system that has done their people wrong. This is where John Singleton’s 1991 film takes us. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is the ‘good guy’ of his troubled group of friends in Crenshaw, L.A. The gang, which includes the acting debuts of Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut, have had their fair share of criminal incidents, some of whom celebrate their release from prison early in the story.

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Boyz N the Hood (dir. John Singleton, DOP Charles E. Mills)

The film navigates us through their lives, the events of which switch between dodging persecution and being confronted by crime. Throughout these events, the film is brilliantly soundtracked by police sirens, screeching tires, helicopters and, of course, gun shots: surrounding the viewer with the ever ominous doom of South Central L.A. The moments where we are confronted with the destroyed innocence of the characters, most of whom we follow from childhood, leave a huge sense of injustice with viewers. The relationships Singleton is able to develop between parent and child, policeman and youth, girl and boy, often leave a more lasting effect than the violence itself. It’s the insight into the black community, however, that has the biggest impact once you’ve walked away.

In 112 minutes, Boyz N the Hood covers everything from racial issues, to the meaning of manhood, to women’s rights, to bloodshed – undoubtably defining it as a gangster film.

The Podfather Score: 8/10

– ML.D
(Marie-Laure Deramond)

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