The mafia is a universal phenomenon. By making the best movies about organized crime, people show their personalities, their culture. But the best Directors and screenwriters rise above this level, reflecting all of humanity in their works at once. Movies are arranged according to their artistic merits. And I will try to explain why “the Godfather 2” barely entered the top ten, and the first part did not take the top line. And remember, to love mafia movies means to love movies.
1.Once Upon a Time in America, 1984
The origin story of “Once upon a time in America” is quite bizarre. The movie about the Jewish mafia of new York during prohibition was directed by Sergio Leone, an Italian who does not speak English. The basis was the book The Hoods, written in sing sing prison by the real Jewish bandit Harry gray. Such is the international. In his movie, Leone left almost nothing from the book except the names of the characters. Once upon a time in America has much more in common with Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This is a universal story about a small-time crook who commits a series of crimes in order to impress a woman and become a successful person, in his opinion, to become a member of society. In any other movie, we would have been shown the fall of the hero and the moralizing ending. In Leone, everything is more realistic and at the same time paradoxical: the main character falls into a “personality hibernation”, which takes the rest of his life. “Once upon a Time in America” is not just the best movie of Leone, one of the three greatest Directors of all time. This is not just the best mafia movie, exploiting all possible stamps of this genre. The uniqueness of the movie lies in another: it is a picture of a man stuck in an endless search for lost time.
2.The Godfather, 1972
Many movies about the mafia and gangsters are so good that they want to be called perfect. But in fact, in the history of cinema, only one perfect movie was made — the first ” The Godfather” by Francis Ford Coppola. This is almost a three-hour picture, where there is not a single extra frame, sound, actor or plot movement. Coppola took Mario Puzo’s excellent book about the criminal life of Italian immigrants after world war II and turned it into a mirror of modern American politics, American business, and American family life. As one of the characters in the Comedy you’ve Got Mail says: there is no case in life that can’t be answered with a quote from The Godfather.
The original version of Scarface is the first time that the best American gangster movies have stepped forward, stopped being just entertainment and moved closer to art. The blame for this is primarily the brilliant screenwriter Ben Hecht and the equally brilliant Director Howard hawks. They were the first to show the underside of the American dream, to embody on the screen the image of a person who is ready to do anything to become a successful resident of the United States. The personality of the hero Tony Camonte (Paul Mooney) owes a lot to al Capone, who, by the way, also had the nickname “Scarface”. Some scenes of the movie even repeat episodes from his biography, for example, when killers in police uniforms commit a massacre in the garage. The plot moves — a childhood friend who accompanies the hero on his way, a boss who must be killed to take his place, a tragic love-are typical of Hollywood movies of the 30s. But none of the gangster movies of that time presented all these cliches as well.
The versatility and ultra-high quality of the original “Scarface” only emphasizes the equally outstanding remake, directed by Brian De Palma from a script by Oliver stone. But here the word reinterpretation is better suited — the plot elements of the original in the movie were preserved, but the era changed, and with it the hero. It’s set in Miami in the ‘ 80s. The height of the cocaine wars. Gunfire on city streets and chainsaw dismemberment in cheap Motel bathrooms are common everyday occurrences. Tony Montana (al Pacino) is a Cuban immigrant with a criminal past who is making his way to a successful life in the United States. His task is much more difficult than that of the hero Paul Mooney, who fought with gangsters in the more or less civilized Chicago of the 30s. First of all, there are real savages around. Second, they have radio-controlled bombs and rapid-fire automatic weapons. But Tony successfully copes with his mission: of all the brutal macho heroes listed in this material, he is the only one who was not afraid to go out with a machine gun in his hands against hundreds of Colombian mercenaries, like a video game hero. The symbols of Tony’s success with stone and De Palma were very capacious and tangible. If you’ve watched the MTV program” At home ” (Cribs), you know that American rappers-millionaires “Scarface” is either in the most honorable place among other discs, or 24 hours a day spinning on a huge TV in the entertainment room. And some even have a real Jacuzzi from the movie installed at home.
5.Carlitoʼs Way, 1993
This movie tells the story of the most exotic type of mafia in the United States: Puerto Rican, thriving only in certain areas of New York. And this is one of the most realistic movies about the life of the underworld. It is based on a pair of novels by Edwin Torres, a New York judge who created a collective image of the street kings of New York in the 70s in the person of Carlito Brigante (al Pacino). The movie is famous for the brilliant direction of Brian De Palma, who managed to plug even his own work in “Scarface”and” the Untouchables”. Stunning in intensity, dynamics and duration, the scene of the Italian mafia chasing the hero Pacino on the new York subway is worth seeing.
Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi are known primarily as the authors of “Nice guys”, but 5 years later they wrote and directed a much more Mature work. “Casino” is a completely fantastic technical performance of the movie. There is such a level of direction, editing, selection of the soundtrack and even the use of a voice-over narrator that you can hardly get more out of the cinema at all. The story in “casino” is much more interesting than in “Nice guys”, and its scope is much wider. The idea itself: “a gambling den as a microcosm of society” has never been better served and handled anywhere. The movie is thoroughly biographical, telling about the adventures of two very real people: Frank Rosenthal, who in the movie is hiding under the guise of Sam ” ACE ” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and Anthony “Ant” Spilotro, who was renamed in the movie Nikki Santoro (Joe Pesci). The real ACE worked for the Chicago mafia and ran three casinos in Las Vegas in the late 70s and early 80s. The real Nikki provided him with power support, also dealing with murders and robberies.
7.Long Good Friday, 1980
British organized crime is on the scene: brutal and low-level, but with pronounced Shakespearean motives. “King Lear”, “Macbeth” and “Richard III” are no less important for understanding the plot of the picture than knowing the biographies of real British criminals. These biographies are usually too small: not a single decent movie about a real British criminal has been made, but if you take some common motives and pass them through “the connection of times has broken, the century has come out of the grooves” — you can get a masterpiece. Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is the criminal king of all of London and he feels that the throne under him has suddenly shaken. However, it is not so easy to find the source of the threat. The climax of the movie is perhaps the most famous scene in British cinema. Guy Ritchie’s “Gentlemen” wouldn’t exist without her.
8.The Cotton Club, 1984
The most underrated and undeservedly forgotten movie by Francis Ford Coppola tells the story of a nightclub in Harlem in the 30s, in and around which three generations of the mafia change. The movie has a lot in common with the legendary “Cabaret” by Bob FOSS: one of the bloodiest and darkest periods of recent American history is served through the prism of a nightclub with jazz and tap dancing. First, the Irish who are entrenched in New York (the real owners of the real club are played by Bob Hoskins and Fred Guinn) are replaced by Jewish organized crime in the person of Dutch Schultz (James Remar), then it is just as decisively replaced by Italians. The latter are represented by Lucky Luciano (Joe Dallesandro), who is delicately watching what is happening in the club from behind a curtain. The classic love triangle “trumpeter, girl and gangster” in the style of old Hollywood is only a small component of this surprisingly complex and integral picture. I can’t help but mention one of the best works of the young Nicolas cage as the real-life gangster Vincent “Mad dog” Call. The bad reputation of the movie in the United States is absolutely not deserved, it is connected with scandals on the set and the murder of one of the producers during its movieing.
9.Un Prophete, 2009
A living classic of French cinema, Jacques Audiard conceived a movie-a denunciation of the modern prison system. But the Director and his team of screenwriters (Toma Bidegen, Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Pefelli) were so talented that they turned out to be the best French gangster epic — the first crime movie made in this country that can compete on equal terms with the most outstanding foreign examples of the genre. The life of the Corsican mafia in a French prison is shown through the eyes of an outsider: an Arab boy Malik El Jeben (Tahar Rahim) without any connections or prospects. But he is taken under the wing of the old Corsican leader Luciano (Nils Arestrup). It all starts with small but responsible tasks like killing a cellmate and develops into tasks outside of prison and abroad.
10.The Godfather: Part II, 1974
Many critics prefer the second “Godfather” to the first — but this only shows that in cinema it is not always accepted to appreciate economy, minimalism and completeness. But there is a very high demand for smearing the plot over different time periods and hammering into the viewer’s head long ago learned truths. The quality of Coppola’s direction in the second “The Godfather” is really better than in the first. Maybe even better than Leon’s Once upon a time in America. This is a movie that you should definitely watch in order to understand how you can put, shoot and edit a movie in General. A movie that many movie industry professionals put in the first place as a role model. But in the scenario plan, “The Godfather 2” sharply loses the first part. Coppola and Mario Puzo did their best, but they had an unenviable task: to come up with a sequel to a nearly perfect movie, in which everything is perfectly completed and looped. We are invited to admire historical inserts from the novel by Puzo, which were not included in the first movie and do not add anything to the image of Vito Corleone, and to fanfiction about the further adventures of Michael Corleone, whose image was also fully revealed in the first movie.
11.Un uomo in ginocchio, 1979
In Italy in the 70s, movies about the real Sicilian mafia were once an entire industry. Among them are many first-class works that show the Italian mafia in a completely different way than it is done abroad. In Italy, the mafia is everyday life, everyday life, politics, one way or another affecting the life of absolutely any resident of the country. A classic of Italian genre cinema, Damiano Damiani made a movie that became something more than just a realistic action movie or social drama. Of all the movies mentioned in this article, “Man on his knees” has the most powerful plot — the script here eclipses even the excellent Director and almost flawless acting work of Giuliano Gemma and Michele Placido.
“The Untouchables” is a classic Hollywood approach to crime movies straight out of the black-and-white era: the cops are definitely good, the gangsters are absolutely bad. And it ends not with a trial, but with a shootout. But this is the most striking and stylish representative of this direction of movies about the mafia. Despite the weakness of David Mamet’s script, Brian De Palma’s direction pulls everything out — he even turns an ordinary shootout on the stairs into a movie classic of the level of “Battleship”. And the scene in which a desperately overplaying De Niro in the image of al Capone smashes the skull of a subordinate with a bat is presented as a triumph of suspense and a good commercial for American baseball.
13.Election 1-2, 2005-2006
The two Johnny To’s movies should be considered as one picture, divided into two parts. They show the struggle for the position of Chairman of the Hong Kong triad “WO Shing — – the modern Chinese mafia. Both movies are a benefit for the magnificent Simon Yam, who plays one of the two main contenders for the throne, the cold-blooded and calculating Locke. He works his way to the top by any means, including the personal murder of opponents and bystanders. As is usually the case with To, stylistically both movies are adjusted to the last frame and sound — this is an outstanding example of new Asian cinema of the 2000s. Both movies are both satires on the underhand struggle in any major Asian Corporation, and extremely realistic depictions of political manipulation at the highest level of organized crime. “Elections” almost do not contain fights and shootouts, although the struggle for the “Throne” is visually symbolized by the hunt for the ritual rod “Dragon’s Head”, a symbol of power in the triad.
About half of Japanese cinema is devoted to movies about the life of the Yakuza, including many of the works of Takeshi Kitano himself. But almost all of them are spoiled by the formalism characteristic of Japanese cinema: it is the same completely predictable story about a real Yakuza who could not give up his honor and was killed by others for this, the Yakuza. “Brother” begins as a standard movie of this kind: the correct Japanese bandit Yamamoto (Kitano) is about to be killed. But then friends give the hero a bag of money and a ticket to America. As a result, the movie turns into an unprecedented original work for Japanese cinema: a live anime in which Yamamoto piles up not even dozens, but hundreds of corpses around him, and the Italian mafia lays out terrifying hieroglyphs from the bodies of the killed Yakuza. In parallel, Kitano, who believes that he always makes best comedy movies to some extent, ridicules the cliches of crime movies: from classics like “The Godfather”, “Scarface” (both versions) and “Superfly”, to his own movies about the life of the Yakuza. Separately, it should be noted the acting work of Omar Epps in the role of a dark-skinned friend and sidekick of the main character, who turns out to be closer to his colleagues who came from Japan.
15.Young & Dangerous 1-5, 1996-1998
One of the main movie franchises of the 90s, which did not take root outside of its native China. But he launched the careers of Hong Kong superstars Simon Yam and Francis Ng. the Character of Francis, a completely frostbitten small-time gangster nicknamed Freak Kwan, was so loved by the audience that a separate prequel was made about him. As with ” the Election, “all parts of” the Young and the dangerous ” (including the prequel) need to be treated as one big continuous picture. But the theme here is the opposite: we are very hectic and budget-friendly show weekdays “shock teams”. This is the lower echelon of the Hong Kong triads, a gang of Chinese hopefuls who are fighting not for the Chairman’s seat, but for the right to walk around the district with their heads held high.
16.The Counselor, 2013
The only original screenplay work of the living classic of American literature Cormac McCarthy, more or less decently brought to the screen by Ridley Scott. The movie seems to have failed at the box office and was not favored by critics, although its worldwide collections amounted to $ 70 million with a budget of $ 25 million. Both the script and the production have a lot of shortcomings, but this is the only movie that realistically shows the fate of an ordinary American who decided to plunge into the meat grinder that the drug trade across the border of Mexico and the United States has now turned into. If series like “Dope” and “breaking bad” tell us beautiful stories about how ordinary white Americans and American women compete on equal terms with the terrible Mexican bandits due to their innate resourcefulness, then McCarthy shows how quickly and sadly everything would have ended in the life of Walter white or Nancy Botwin in reality.
Like Casino, Goodfellas is a true story about real American mobsters written by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese based on the memoirs of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta): a small-time Italian-Irish criminal who first managed to get a foothold in the Italian mafia, and then turned all his friends over to the FBI. The story is told with great directorial and screenwriting skill, and many of the movie’s scenes have become the epitome of American gangster cinema, eclipsing even the Godfather. “I don’t clean my shoes anymore, Billy»
18.The Departed, 2006, & Infernal Affairs, 2002
Both movies use the same great idea: what if you take two of the most hackneyed plots in the history of crime movies and combine them into one movie? We’ve seen a million movies about how a police officer is introduced to the mafia (“Donnie Brasco” is on the way), and there are plenty of thrillers about finding a mafia “Mole” in the ranks of valiant police officers. Very, very talented writers of Hong Kong’s “Double castling” SIU FAI Mak and Felix Chong thought to show both the one and the other story at the same time: which of the embedded agents will be smarter, faster, luckier-Andy Lau or Tony Leung Chu Wai? You probably already know the American version of the movie: Lau was replaced by Matt Damon, and Tony Leung was replaced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Instead of triads, screenwriter William Monahan showed the Boston Irish mafia, and Jack Nicholson played the easily recognizable Whitey Bulger, the most famous and bloodthirsty American gangster of our time, who became famous for turning over all competitors to the FBI, while committing dozens of murders with impunity. Both versions of the movie have great directing and screenwriting advantages, but personally, as always, I prefer the Hong Kong version.
19.Pusher 1-3, 1996-2005
One of the most striking debuts in the history of world cinema. “Pusher” (which we have renamed “Dealer”, in my opinion, only out of the spirit of confrontation) Nicholas Winding Refn talks about the problems of a simple Copenhagen drug dealer Frank (Kim Bodnia), who drowned borrowed heroin in a lake. Crazy in energy, the movie does not allow you to catch your breath from the first frame to the last-together with Frank, we are constantly on the run and in debt, only one step ahead of several groups of deadly pursuers. 8 years later, Refn directed a more restrained and adult sequel, which was a benefit for Mads Mikkelsen as Tony, Frank’s sidekick from the original movie. Tony gets out of prison and goes to work in the garage of his father Duke (Leif Sylvester), a crime boss and professional car thief.
20.Donnie Brasco, 1997
Based on the memoirs of FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp), the movie shows what it really costs to infiltrate a criminal group. The operation to introduce an FBI agent to the Brooklyn team of one of the major New York families stretches back most of the 70s. It is based on a friendship with one person: Benjamin “Left-Handed” Ruggiero (Al Pacino), a small-time mobster who is always sitting without money and can not get a promotion, despite dozens of contract killings performed by him. Despite the abundance of al Pacino roles on this list, Lefty is my favorite of his characters. This is an absolutely documentary, not understated or embellished portrait of a middle-class gangster who sees no difference between knocking change out of a Parking meter with a hammer and putting a bullet in the back of someone’s head. If Michael Corleone is the most subtly played, and Tony Montana is Pacino’s most energetic character, then Lefty is the most lively.
In the 70s, black American crime had its own movie. The genre was called blaxploitation and told about the everyday life of ordinary black detectives, pimps and drug dealers, who are put in the wheels of the white mafia and the white police. Shot by the classic of this movie direction Gordon Parks Jr. SuperFly is the most striking, in my opinion, representative of the subgenre. It’s about a new York dealer, Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neill), who wants to pull off one last deal: sell 30 kilograms of cocaine and retire. The movie is great not only for the direction of parks and the soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield, but also for the acting of O’Neill, who played as well as Al Pacino and Paul Mooney, a man who strives with all his might for his special kind of American dream.
22.American Me, 1992
The movie is about the founder of the Mexican mafia in the Folsom prison-Montoya Santana (Edward James Olmos), the real prototype of which was the Latin American authority from Los Angeles Rodolfo Cadena. His best friend, one-legged gangster J. D. (William Forsyth), is also a real one — a mobster named Joseph Morgan, who, despite his skin color, was the second man in the Mexican mafia. By the way, he was really one-legged. Olmos not only directed the movie, but also played the main role. We know the movie as “I am an American”, although in fact the name American Me is a very complex pun on the theme of La Eme, the slang name of a Mexican prison criminal gang. The movie very realistically shows the life of Los Angeles bandits in prison and on the outside: Olmos invited real prisoners as consultants. Unfortunately, the script of the movie included a moment in which Santana is raped by a cellmate. The real Mexican mafia did not understand this treatment of the image of its founder: all the consultants were killed in prison within a year.
24.The Raid 2: Berandal, 2014
In “RAID 2”, British Director and screenwriter Gareth Evans very realistically shows the criminal situation in modern Indonesia, the most terrible feature of which is the weak level of organization. I would have put this wonderful movie much higher in the list, if not for the wildly stretched chases, shootouts and scenes of hand-to-hand fights, which by inertia migrated from the first “RAID”. In such a high-quality, realistic and the best gangster movie, they look no more appropriate than they would look in “Nice guys”or” The Godfather”.
25.Massacre Mafia Style, 1974
Most of the 24 movies listed are three-hour epics that take time and mood to watch. The main advantage of the movie Massacre Mafia Style (also known as The Executioner or “Executioner”) is that there is only one brilliant scene in it, and it fits perfectly into a two-minute trailer on YouTube. Italian-American singer Duke Mitchell, who always dreamed of making his own version of the Godfather, wrote and directed this movie with his own money. He also plays the main role and sings a very cheerful song that sounds off-screen in the scene of a mass massacre in an office building. The scene (and the entire movie) had a huge, invaluable influence on the work of Quentin Tarantino and all the Directors who use the mafia as a Playground for telling their postmodern stories with a lot of black humor.
That was our list of the best mafia movies in our opinion, thanks for reading the article.
Hope you liked our top list!