This Crazy Thing Called “Real Life”

I am experiencing it today. See you all later.

Topic for conversation while I’m away: Excluding the Godfather films (because they’re too easy), your favorite film featuring gangsters.

My vote: Miller’s Crossing.

134 Comments on “This Crazy Thing Called “Real Life””

  1. The Sting

    If I remember correctly, my parents went to see it with their friends and were so blown away they took me (I was maybe 12 or so) a week later, partly just to see my reaction to the ending. It may be the only movie my folks ever paid to see more than once in its first run.

    Also, we have a warm spot in our hearts here at Hentosz HQ for the farce Johnny Dangerously with Michael Keaton and Joe Piscopo. Lot of good quotable lines. As recently as last week, my wife called some bastage a “farging eyesoll.”

  2. Another vote for The Long Good Friday. Simply because someone needs to say it first: Goodfellas. Honorable mention goes to Eastern Promises.

  3. Let Him Have It: a gangster genre twist in that it a) our heroes are ’50’s teens and wannabe gangsters and b) it deals more with the justice system in relation to juvenile crime. No glory here – just a damn good story.

  4. Oh, by the way: Miller’s Crossing? Really? I’m a big fan of the Coen Bros, and could even see putting it in my top five movies of theirs, but for favorite film featuring gangsters it probably wouldn’t make my top twenty.

    More honorable mentions: The Grifters and The Killing.

  5. Johnny Dangerously.

    Also, Bugsey Malone.

    Does The Outsiders count? Or is this restricted to Early 20th Century style gangsters.

  6. Non-serious answer: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

    Serious answer: A History of Violence.

  7. “The Freshman” with Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando.

    Though, I fully admit that I’m not fond of mobster films. I think the only reason I like this one so much is it’s such a great send up of the mobster genre.

  8. Goodfellas tops my list, though the mention of Johnny Dangerously really tempts me to revise it.

    That movie is worth it alone for the scene when Keaton is dusting kittens while talking to the kid.

  9. Though I was raised on the ones with Italian gangsters (heritage and all), I prefer the ones that star either Chow Yun Fat or Beat Takeshi – Triad and Yakuza flicks. :-)

  10. State of Grace is the first that comes to mind. Great cast. The history of violence and Eastern Promises are a very close second and third. Props to # 10 and #11. It’s hard to find one favorite because there are some really good gangster films out there.

  11. City Heat, just for the line:

    “I don’t like people of your ilk. You do know what an ilk is, don’t you?”

    “Uh, some kind of big deer?”

  12. “Eastern Promises” or “The Untouchables.” How great is it listening to Sean Connery chew through the line: “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!”

  13. I’m going with The Sting too. Love it.

    Honorable mention for Goodfellas.

  14. I’m surprised to discover I’m the first to mention Mickey Blue Eyes, which I adore. I’m biased though – I believe that every movie can be improved with the insertion of Hugh Grant. If the technology existed, I would devote my life to digitally inserting Hugh Grant into every movie ever made.

    If we’re talking serious films, then I’d say The Departed, which has also not been mentioned thus far. What’s wrong with you commentors!?

  15. The Usual Suspects . . . Keyser Söze is the best gangster in the world.

    I’d also put 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde with Warren Beaty and Faye Dunnaway right up there.

  16. What? No one else has mentioned this?!

    Boondock Saints

    “All right. Get your stupid fuckin’ rope.”

    I also liked The Departed and Johnny Dangerously

  17. Sexy Beast.

    I’d give a lot to be able to watch that again for the first time.

    Other top gangster flicks: Chopper and Get Shorty

  18. Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.”

    I acn’t believe nobody else is saying so, here.

    I grew up in Brooklyn, so found the details of behavior, costume, food, exactly on-target.

    Great acting by Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci. Great adaptation of the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. Not loosely based on a true story — accurately based thereon, and the actors worked closely with Pileggi to ensure this.

    Great soundtrack.

    Interesting to me as a sometime filmmaker (industrial videos in the aerospace field, way back when) whose work was directly started by a personal contact and equipment from Frank Capra; and my experience in improvisational comedy, was the way that improv lines were massaged into rewrites of the screenplay.

    I’ve got to stand up for this film, which did okay box office, then was nominated for six Academy Awards (won one for Joe Pesci, Best Actor in a Supporting Role), three awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, was named best film of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the National Society of Film Critics. Plus being ranked #94 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years, 100 Movies and #92 on its updated version from 2007. In 2000, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

    It is a nearly flawless film. And the insights on gangster character, and on their families (especially wives) makes it the logical and stylistic predecessor of The Sopranos.

  19. It’s a tie between Goodfellas and Miller’s Crossing. So much amazing filmmaking contained in just those two films. Plus, both can be re-watched an infinite number of times.

  20. OK, I’m an unapologetic Anglophile:

    Gangster No. 1 because it has Malcolm McDowell in it.

    Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

    Snatch (which contains one of my favorite Brad Pitt character – the nearly incomprehensible Irish traveler Micky O’Neill

    And from this side of the ocean,
    Reservoir Dogs – Steve “why do I have to be Mr. Pink” Buscemi

    Pulp Fiction

  21. I love the Takeshi flicks, but I’d put Fireworks over Brother, and if you said, no, you have to pick one where Takeshi IS a yakuza, I’d probably go with Sonatine.

    That said, my FAVORITE yakuza films are Fukasaku’s epic “Battles Without Honor or Humanity” sequence.

    For an English-language film, I would say Bugsy Malone just to mess with your head, and then probably wind up at Goodfellas and Casino.

    But I might spend some time mulling over M to get there.

  22. Comfort and Joy directed by Bill Forsythe.

    I’m not really sure that the families were really The Family, but it was the first movie I thought of.

  23. I can’t believe no one else said Innocent Blood. It’s also on my list of “best movies with Don Rickles as one of the undead”.

  24. Bollywood gangster movies! My fave:

    Lage Raho Munnabhai. Gangster tries to adopt non-violent methods, has some difficulty with the concept.

  25. The Warriors (not gangsters exactly, but it is about gang warfare) Can you dig it? How can you beat a movie where the main conceit is a gang trying to get back to their turf of Coney Island?

  26. Lethal.

    It’s…well it’s an experience, certainly. I fell off my couch laughing the first time I saw it and it just gets funnier each time. I should add, it’s not SUPPOSED to be funny, but that’s what happens when you have a miniscule budget, visibly reuse the same six stunt guys over and over again…oh and your headline “star” is Lorenzo Lamas.

    Having read the rest of the comments, I’ve now got a few suggestions of films to go watch to see how it SHOULD have been done!

  27. I’m going to cast another vote for The Usual Suspects. That’s a contender for my favourite film of all time, not just favourite gangster film.

  28. Gonna have to go with something out of the usual.

    O Brother Where Art Thou (has at least one gangster in it, plus Southern Politicians.)

  29. I am partial to ‘Boondock Saints’ (I love the whole Irish vigilante thing) and ‘The Killer’ (nod to John Woo and the Chinese Triads).

  30. Wow, a lot of terrific ground covered – well done everyone. I’ll just add Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

  31. I started getting into film noir a little bit ago, where the dividing line between gangsters, mobsters, criminals, thugs, mooks, and regular joes in over their head can be thin. So these films might not involve gangsters in the “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me” sense; here’s what I like:

    Out of the Past
    Miller’s Crossing
    Lock, Stock…
    Usual Suspects
    The Departed (not so much Infernal Affairs)
    Hard Boiled
    L. A. Confidential

  32. I don’t think anyone’s mentioned it yet, but– Kung Fu Hustle, because… dancing Axe Gang. That’s style, baby.

    Although I also love The Usual Suspects.

  33. I might possibly be the only one in this thread who has never seen any Godfather films.

    I did, however, enjoy both Reservoir Dogs and The Departed. I’ll vote for The Departed because I cried at the end of it.

    Yes, even that kind of films can make me cry if they’re done right.

  34. Definitely agree with Boondock Saints, Kung Fu Hustle, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs, and The Departed.

    I liked Training Day too, because the gangsters were cops, or vice versa.

  35. Ah, Miller’s Crossing…. Now, I might have to vote for Goodfellas when it comes to the ultimate gangster movie question (surprised it hasn’t been mentioned more), but I always love it when someone brings up Miller’s Crossing. It’s my favorite Coen Bro’s film, and that’s saying a lot (excluding, of course, the very, very wrong turn they took a few years ago). In fact, how someone feels about Miller’s Crossing has become one of my character/what-stuff-are-you-made-of litmus tests.

    Also, really liked seeing a mention for Johnny Dangerously. But, and correct me if I’m wrong here, he wasn’t dusting the kittens, he was clicking little price tags on them, which is even funnier.

  36. Looking at this list I have to wonder, is there such a thing as a bad mobster movie?

    My own: Departed, Snatch, Boondock Saints.
    And of course, Mafia!

  37. Goodfellas, hands down.

    And if you haven’t seen it, you need to rent Layer Cake right now. We’ll wait.

  38. Wasabi
    Starring Jean Reno directed by Luc Besson. The gangsters in question are Yakuza. Best use of golf in a film, also.

  39. I’m with the folks who chose Goodfellas. It’s the first one that came to mind.

    I’m also glad some of you picked State of Grace. It was one of my first jobs on a big movie (and remains one of my least favorite experiences). Nice to know it was worth the trouble.

  40. Hope it’s just ‘real life’ in a busy, busy way and not in a bad way.

  41. Tie between Montana and Gridlock’d. Gridlock’d is definitely the better film, but I have a profound affection for Montana that eclipses even my considerable affection for Gridlock’d. Honorable mentions: the Usual Suspects, Snatch, the Departed, and yes, Innocent Blood. Chuk @ 43, you win.

  42. Topkapi.

    Shoot ’em up for gratuitously silly violence that I’d normally abhor, but especially for Paul Giamatti’s deliriously OTT performance.

  43. The Rocketeer.

    (Okay, that was a non-serious answer, but gotta love the mobster’s twist in that one.)

  44. Len@79: That twist was loosely based on reality. In Italy, mobsters worked with military forces to help undermine Mussolini, who was bad for business.

  45. Ian M #52 I also forgot about Ghost Dog. I love the relationship he has with the ice cream man. Also I like on the DVD you can watch the music with just the Wu Tang Clan Music.

    Hey does the Sopranos count?

  46. Real film with gangsters? Given the constraints, Goodfellas, no question. Comedy? I’d say Johnny Dangerously.

  47. @ # 20:

    Layer cake is the greatest “gangster” movie ever.

    Then Goodfellas. After that, I don’t think it matters much…

  48. I’m going to go a sillier route and say.. Dick Tracy.

    I do adore that yellow coat.

  49. Jeez, to pick just one? The Sting, Miller’s Crossing, maybe even throw in Tokyo Drifter, the wild yakuza movie from Suzuki.

    I found The Departed to be an absolute dreadful mess, right down to the terribly overbaked Boston accents. And Goodfellas was only slightly better, along with the most annoying voice over of all time.

  50. One is hard to pick. For me it’s probably a toss up between Infernal Affairs and Portland Street Blues.

    But I have a great deal of affection for Too Many Ways to Be Number One, which is a very funny triad film.

  51. Guys and Dolls. Big Julie from Chicago is awesome. I actually now own dice with the spots removed for luck. Incidentally, I haven’t found a “serious” gangster movie that I like.

    My husband votes for Blues Brothers.

  52. I don’t know that it’s the best, but A Bronx Tale is definitely up there. Great coming-of-age movie.

  53. Well, I never said “The Best.” I said “your favorite.” There’s a difference.

  54. Top Six

    Some Like it Hot
    What’s Up Doc?
    Roger Rabbit
    West Side Story
    General Spanky (the only feature length Our Gang film)
    Speed Racer

  55. The Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs” is much better than its remake “The Departed,” which follows its plot fairly closely but lacks the original’s melancholy atmosphere. It also helps that it does not include Jack Nicholson reprising his role as the Joker.

    “Beast Cops” is an obscure but excellent Triad-and-cops movie which should be enjoyed by anyone who likes the offbeat humor punctuated by episodes of shocking violence exemplified in many Scorsese films.

    My American favorites, other than the Godfather films, are “Mean Streets” and the underrated “Casino.” And “The Sopranos.” (“The Usual Suspects” is great but it’s a caper film, not a gangster film.”

  56. Cold Blooded. Best of luck finding a copy, since it never made it into DVD. Very quirky. The movie by which I seduced my wife.

    Peter Riegert and Robert Loggia pretty much chew up the screen, but Priestly did an excellent job with his character as well.

  57. What, almost 100 comments down and nobody has mentioned John Woo’s twin masterpieces “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled”?! For shame, people.

  58. Oh, and while this is stretching the definition of “film” rather a lot, I will point out that The Wire (especially seasons 1 and 3) is a better film involving gangsters than just about anything mentioned here. Including Goodfellas. Yes, really, damnit. :)

  59. Not counting Godfathers, I’d have say any one of: “Charlie Verrick”, “The Outfit”, “The Sting”, or “Goodfellas”. “Goodfellas” has it’s flaws, but the first 2/3rds of the movie is nearly perfect.

    “Casino” makes me shudder. I’m still trying to parse out in my brain whether it strikes me as “Goodfellas Lite”, a really loooooooong Jerry Springer episode featuring gangstas, or “Bugsy” on dope. The shame is I think it could have been a really great gangster flick if it had been treated to a severe cut-down. In this case, much much less would have rendered infinitely more.

  60. Doc M @96: The Killer was noted @50 and Hard Boiled @53. We have no shame ;p

  61. Miller’s Crossing, hands down.

    1. I’m so tired of movies centered on Italian gangsters. Miller’s Crossing acknowledges the fact that gangsters came from many backgrounds besides Italian. Tom & Leo, of course, are Irish, Bernie Bernbaum is Jewish. The Dane was Scandinavian, fer cryin’ out loud.

    2. Hats! I love hats, especially the Fedora, made famous by Sam Spade, Indiana Jones and Tom Reagan. Tom’s hat is his honor and his armor.

    3. “The Old Man is still an artist with a Thompson.” Need I say more?

    4. I can watch it again & and again without feeling brutalized by the violence. I think most gangster films are way over the top.

    5. It’s about the end of a beautiful friendship. Tom & Leo have obviously been a dynamic duo for some time. But those days are clearly ending as the film opens; now Tom is trying to protect Leo from himself. Tom sacrifices pretty much everything he has (friends, girlfriend, reputation, livelihood and ultimately his relationship with Leo) to save Leo.

    6. I can identify with Tom, unlike with the majority of gangster characters. He’s usually the smartest guy in the room…which doesn’t automatically give one the upper hand. Sure, he can run rings around most folks: Mink; Bernie’s boxer friend (Tom plops Bernie’s too-small hat on the boxer’s over-large head, and remarks “…all that feelin’ must have gone to your head–you’ve outgrown this one.”); and Bernie as well. But up against the viciousness of The Dane, and the insanity of Caspar, Tom’s only recourse is to run a long con, almost getting himself killed several times.

    7. 1920’s slang. “You’re always givin’ me the High-Hat!” “Look at me, bawlin’ like a twist.” “So take yer flunky and dangle.” “Hey Tom, what’s the rumpus?”

    8. The song one of Caspar’s henchmen was singing as they escorted Tom out to Miller’s Crossing to find out if he had really shot Bernie as ordered. The song is titled “La Ghirlandeina,” and a performance of it by Pavoratti is available on iTunes under the track name “A Gramadora.”

    9. And the rest of the soundtrack.

    10. It was the first Coen brothers film I saw.

    11. It played at the theater I worked at as a projectionist for one week only, and for that week I got to re-watch parts of it several times.

    12. Caspar: “Kid, if it’ll help you think, you should know that if you don’t do this you won’t be in any shape to walk outta’ here.” Tom: “. . . Would that be physically, or just a mental state?”

  62. After … lessee, 102 entries, I feel compelled to mention one that hasn’t been mentioned yet.


    …or, as one reviewer called it: “Reservoir Nerds.”

    Also, since Denis Leary cracks me up, I’ll mention Suicide Kings and – provisionally mob-related – Two If By Sea.

  63. Another vote for Miller’s Crossing, fairly easy choice.

    One of the best movies ever, let alone gangster movies …

  64. It’s a close one for me. It would either be Untouchables or Casino. Both are great movies, although a little long if you’re looking for a quick flick.

  65. Meh, you guys are boring, reaching for the obvious “Goodfellas” or “Miller’s Crossing”. No, work harder, get more obscure, learn more, dig deeper:

    Samuel Fuller’s Underworld USA (1961)

    Phil Karlson’s The Phenix City Story (1955)

    Jean-Luc Godard’s Detective (1985)

    Elaine May’s Mikey and Nickey (1976)

    Michael Roemer’s The Plot Against Harry (1969)

    Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl (1958)

    Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel (1948)

    Val Guest’s Hell is a City (1960)

    Irving Lerner’s Murder by Contract (1958)

    Alain Resnais’ Stavisky (1974)

  66. I have to go with Pulp Fiction. Just for how endlessly quotable that movie is, at least in my house.

    Jules: What ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in What?
    Brett: What?
    Jules: English, motherf**ker, do you speak it?

  67. Zora @44 set off a new train of thought – the two Munnabhai movies are amazing, hilarious takes on the gangster genre.
    If we’re talking only about the serious stuff, then I’d say Satya and Company, by Ram Gopal Verma, probably the best depiction of the local gangsters – bhais – in Bombay

  68. My favourite? Things to do in Denver when you’re dead. It’s far from perfect, but it’s got a fine cast of character actors and an interesting story. It resonated with one of my closest friends and I exactly the same way when we first saw it, and it’s become one of the touchstones of the friendship.

  69. For those who’ve already seen “Miller’s Crossing,” but wanted to enjoy it again, here is the scene that made John Turturro’s career, and one for which he should have won an Oscar:

    Don’t watch if you haven’t seen it yet, ’cause it’s out of context and a spoiler.

    My picks, already mentioned: Brick (amazing movie), The Usual Suspects, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (an excellent choice), and a movie no one else has heard of, a wonderful Hong Kong flick, Johnnie To’s “The Mission.”

  70. The Departed, and Bugsy Malone
    The Departed because, well, it’s The Departed, what more do I have to say, and Bugsy Malone because my school did a production of which I have fond memories.

  71. Calamari Union – directed by Aki Kaurismäki. How can you not like a film in which every character is called Frank, except one?

  72. Children, children, children – ‘White Heat’ – look, ma, top of the world.

  73. Well sheesh, don’t I feel a young ‘un for saying that Michael Mann’s Heat is my all time favorite. I mean, come on! Al Pacino and Robert de Niro both doing what they do best?

    Of course the classics on are on my list, but they’ve been there for so long. Heck, this comment thread is an excellent resource for the genre. John, you should compile it and post it so that we can all get a good taste of what’s good. I know I’ll be checking out a bunch here that I’d never even heard of.

  74. Too many posts without it coming up again. And it was my first thought as I was clicking on the link.

    The Long Good Friday.

    Bob Hoskins is as scary as it gets for a thug with some brains. Helen Mirren as his girl friend and ally doesn’t hurt either.

    Sure are a lot here that I like but hadn’t thought of. Heres another new funny one for the list.

    The Mask.

  75. Burritoboy:

    “Meh, you guys are boring, reaching for the obvious ‘Goodfellas’ or ‘Miller’s Crossing’.”

    Translation: “I just ransacked IMDB to make myself look cool!”

    Burritoboy: Offering more obscure suggestions is nice, so thanks. Insulting people while you’re doing so because they don’t have your taste in films is rude. And in the particular case of me, trying to school someone who has worked as a professional film critic off and on for nearly two decades, and has written a book and thousands of articles on film, is, well, stupid.

    In other words: Don’t be the disdainful indie music store clerk of the conversation, please. Thanks.

  76. Miller’s Crossing, even if you include the Godfather series. I’ll also pop in White Heat and Public Enemy #1 – two great reasons to love James Cagney.

  77. Because I’m a comedy girl, first Johnny Dangerously (“fargin’ iceholes!”) and second, Married to the Mob. Yes, I said it. Because Mercedes Ruehl rules.

  78. Rachel Brown:

    My fiancee and I were watching “The Departed” this weekend, and she said, ‘I think I’ve seen this before, in Chinese.’ After it was over, she pulled out her copy of “Internal Affairs” and we watched maybe the first thirty minutes.

    As to “the Joker” appearing in the US version, am I alone in thinking that Jack Nicholson is really just a jackass who only knows how to play himself in movies?

  79. Another vote for Boondock Saints,

    One that hasn’t been mentioned “Suicide Kings” it should be a classic.

  80. Road To Perdition. Good ol’ 20’s gangsters, tommy guns, old cars, bank robberies, and a good (if totally foreseeable) storyline.

  81. Otto Preminger’s paean to gangsters and LSD, “Skidoo”.

    You said my favorite, you didn’t say it had to be good, did you?

  82. People, people. No King of New York?

    Laurence Fishbourne as pimp-rolling psychotic Jimmy Jump, one of his best performances ever (and I read that it’s his own personal favorite role – “Where’s my chicken, m*****f*****?”), a death-pale Christopher Walken taking over a subway car for a makeout session with a hot high-class lawyer, the greatest chase scene ever filmed using a stretch limo, and David Caruso getting his head blown off with a shotgun. Something for everyone, in other words.

    People generally point to Abel Ferrera’s Bad Lieutenant as his masterpiece, due mostly to Keitel’s performance, but I say it’s King. Big cast and everyone shines. (Except Steve Buscemi. What’s he doing there?)

  83. Of the films mentioned here that I’ve seen, I like most of them. The major exception is Wasabi, which I saw a few weeks ago, with high hopes for another great Jean Reno flick. My wife and I both thought it was terrible.

    Not mentioned yet, and should be somewhere in this list:

    Prizzi’s Honor

  84. The Goonies.

    Not so much a fan of SERIOUS pictures about SERIOUS mobsters.

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