1. The Usual Suspects – This movie is sheer brilliance. Everything about The Usual Suspects is subterfuge. After having watched the movie a couple of times, I still don’t have a good handle on what really happened. The writing was phenomenal. The acting of Kevin Spacey was even better. The movie carries the viewer through so many twists and turns that it can make your head spin. The reveal at the end of the movie is the greatest in cinematic history with the possible exception of “I am your father, Luke.”
2. The Godfather II – It’s the rare sequel that can exceed the original, and deciding between which of the original Godfather movies is no easy task, but there were two reasons why I liked this one better. The first is the backstory of Vito Corleone, which was thoroughly captivating. The second is the acting of Robert De Niro. De Niro is the king of all gangster actors, and this was his best performance in a long and decorated career.
3. The Godfather I – The original movie is the godfather of all gangster movies so to speak. It has everything you can possibly ask for in a mob movie. There is drama, memorable lines, and career defining acting performances. Marlon Brando is the quintessential mob boss in his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone. James Caan brings life to Sonny Corleone. Mostly, this movie captures the heart and soul of the mafia at the peak of their power. It is also one of the most realistic portrayals of how the mafia operated. It is easy to immerse yourself in the world created in this movie. The best way I can describe this movie is that it’s epic.
4. Goodfellas – Much like the Godfather movies, Goodfellas has memorable lines given by great characters that will live on in popular culture for years. Based on the real life of mafia informant Henry Hill, this movie is a slicker and cooler version of The Godfather. In a world of forgettable movies, this one resonates long after you watch it. It’s been a good while since I last saw Goodfellas, but I can remember almost everything about it. As good as Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta are in this movie, the one who really steals the show is Joe Pesci, who plays mobster Tommy Devito.
5. Gran Torino – Although the main characters in this movie aren’t gangsters, I felt this movie belongs on the list because there is a heavy gangster element that is critical to the movie. Gran Torino is the kind of movie that tugs at your heartstrings, not exactly what I look for in gangster movies, but in this case it works so well. In the twilight of his career, Clint Eastwood gives the performance of his lifetime as a crotchety old man who befriends and mentors an Asian teen, who is in danger of falling into a life of crime. The dynamic between these two characters is memorable, and the movie is deep and moving.