What began as one of our “Top 10” lists, which turned into a “Top Ten Best and Worst Mafia Flicks,” ultimately transformed into one of our “Exploring” features examining all of the gangster flicks inspired by the critical and box office successes of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995), as well as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994).
Based on the reception of Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019), well, there are probably more films to come in the wake of Capone (2020) and Lansky (2021). In fact, a third film — on top of Goodfellas — dealing with the infamous Lufthansa Heist, is already in pre-production.
We’re unpacking 50 films released between 1990 and 2021. Each are listed alphabetically by their year of release. So bookmark us and return to us as your mob flick source.
The American Film Institute presented their “Ten Greatest American Films” lists, which were unveiled on a CBS-TV television special that aired July 2008. The AFI defines the “gangster film” as a genre that centers on organized crime or maverick criminals in a modern setting.
Needless to say, only a few of the films we’re examining — such as Black Mass and The Irishman — make the grade against these ten AFI choices, while most fail at the task. You can use the AFI’s “Gangster Top Ten” of these influential films as a barometer to critique the following films on our list to your own tastes. We hope you enjoy our journey on discovering some mob films you may have missed.
- The Godfather — 1972
- Goodfellas — 1990
- The Godfather Part II — 1974
- White Heat — 1949
- Bonnie and Clyde — 1967
- Scarface — 1932
- Pulp Fiction — 1994
- The Public Enemy — 1931
- Little Caesar — 1931
- Scarface — 1983
1. Goodfellas (1990)
Yes, there are those who offer the Siskel & Ebert “thumbs down” on this modern-day Othello based on the 1985 memoir Wiseguy written by gangster Henry Hill and crime novelist Nicholas Pileggi. Some say, while it’s a great movie, it is still given “too much praise” and The Godfather movies are far superior. Others say that the more Robert De Niro does these “New Yark” movies, (Casino, The Irishman, A Bronx Tale), the more he proves he isn’t a good actor. Then there’s the “long and boring” detractors, those who say the film lacks “suspense and thrills,” and those who see it as a “bunch of guys acting cool and killing people.”
Okay, then. So much for the Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAF nods. But Goodfellas is still better than most of the 45 films on this list that it influenced.
2. King of New York (1990)
One of the first post-Goodfellas flicks out of the gate was this fictitious gangland tale concerned with Columbia drug dealers going against the New York Mafia. Tanking at the box office with a less than $3 million against $5 million, Christopher Walken and Larry Fishburne deliver the goods . . . but then there’s the smarmy-ass thespin’ of David Caruso (Go back to TV, please!) in the miscast Cameron Diaz role (see Gangs of New York).
Abel Ferrara is a director, like Michael Mann, of a classy mood and engaging style (see Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant), but this still a one-and-done watch. However, as with Scarface, this has found a strong cult following on home video in the hip-hop realms.
3. Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Life Magazine proclaims this Coen Brothers’ production as one of the “100 greatest films made since the inception of the periodical.” Uh-oh, there’s that pesky $5 million box office against its near $15 million budget. Yep, another Coen Brothers par-for-the course: Haughty critics love it. The movie-going public, hates it.
In an overly-complex gangster-noir that clumsily borrows from Akira Kurosawa’s flawless Yojimbo — although the haughty Coens-do-no-wrong press claims it’s taken from the works of Dashielll Hammet, his books The Glass Key (1931) and Red Harvest (1929), in particular.
Sorry Life staffers, we pass. The Coen brothers do make movies that suck, you know? Did you not see Hail, Ceasar! or their remake of True Grit? Toss this limp mob romp on that stack. And don’t get us started on O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Hudsucker Proxy. But we’ll watch Fargo, again!
Eh, Will Walter Hill fair better with his later, official Yojimbo-cum-gangster remake? Well, er, ah. . . .
4. Bugsy (1991)
Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man) delivers not so much a mob flick, but a hard-boiled romance flick with this chronicle on the life of Bugsy Siegel. We learn of his tragic romance with Virginia Hill as he begins construction on the Flamingo — the first casino in Las Vegas.
Everything works, here, yes, everything (yes, even the you-can-take-it-or-leave-it Mrs. Beatty, aka Annette Bening), since Warren Beatty as the title Mafioso is pure dynamite. The same goes for Harvey Keitel as Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen, and Ben Kingsley as Jewish “mob accountant” Meyer Lansky.
Bugsy, as with Goodfellas and Casino, is a repeat-watching film. Cue them up for a triple-feature weekend of mob flick mania.
5. Mobsters (1991)
When your film is nominated for two Razzies — courtesy of Anthony Quinn and Christian Slater — and the film doesn’t live up to Bugsy (1991), as publicly hoped for by Slater, it’s a foregone conclusion Variety and Roger Ebert weren’t kind in their reviews, either. Yeah, this is yet another mob flick suffering from style-and-ultraviolence over substance (there’s quite a few on this list).
So, we meet the Brat Pack-versions of Lucky Luciano (Slater), Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey), Bugsy Siegel (Richard Grieco), and Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor) during their Prohibition teens as they mature into their eventual creation of the Commission, that is, the organization of the five families that come to rule the New York underworld.
The critical drubbing is well-deserved: The teen heartthrob casting of four serial killers as misunderstood “sex symbols,” is downright offensive. And Grieco is woefully lost amid the thepsin’ to leave no wonder as to why he fell so quickly to the D-List, while Depp, the guy he replaced way back when, moved to the A-List. Then there is the excessive studio tinkering that resulted in a confusing four different versions of the film being distributed in the world marketplace. The film ended Micheal Karbelnikoff’s directing career.
6. Oscar (1991)
Sylvester Stallone gets into the post-Goodfellas mob game with this remake of the 1967 French comedy of the same name — updated to Depression-era New York City. This time the “comedy of errors” stars Sly as Angelo “Snaps” Provolone, a mob boss who promises his dying father he’ll become an honest businessman.
What can we tell you: We dig Sly and did a week-long tribute to his films — and passed on reviewing this one, proper: for a Stallone in a retro-“Screwball Comedy” ain’t no William Powell or Clark Gable joint. Maybe if Sly — infamous for his displeasure with the writers and directors he works with — rewrote Jim Mulholland’s (Michael Bay’s 1995 action-comedy Bad Boys) script and took the reins from John Landis (Animal House)? (Remember the Cobra vs. Beverly Hills Cop boondoggle?) Maybe if the “first choice” of Al Pacino, took the role — who passed for a $3 million vs. $2 million payday on Warren Beatty’s live-action mob comic book, Dick Tracy (1990)?
How does this story end? Bad ass John Landis dissed John Rambo by saying Oscar would have been a much better movie with Al.
Stallone’s next mob flick, Avenging Angelo (2002), was a mafia rom-com in the tradition of Prizzi’s Honor (1985, Jack Nicholson) and Married to the Mob (1988, Michelle Pfeiffer). And there’s a reason we mention it as a sidebar, here. Yeah, if you need a “mob romance,” stick to Beatty’s Bugsy.
7. The 10 Million Dollar Getaway (1991)
The Goodfellas influence is heavy in this TV movie released within a year of its inspiration — and goes as far to cast Mike Starr in the “Frenchy”-same role. Sure, John Mahoney (TV’s Frasier and the Bruce Willis-starring Striking Distance) is affable as Jimmy Burke, but he still pails to Robert De Niro’s interpretation of Jimmy Conway. Still, watching Mahoney saves this, big time, and it’s nice to see Wendell Pierce (debuted in A Matter of Degrees) as Stack Edwards — who holds his own when compared against Samuel L. Jackson. Not as “Poorfellas” as some opine; it’s more like “Mediocrefellas,” but still worth your streaming efforts.
8. 29th Street (1991)
Once upon a time in Italy, Antonio Margheriti cast James Franciscus (of the ’70s Apes franchise) and Frank Pesce as co-stars for his Jaws rip, Killer Fish (1979). The two became friends and came to write a screenplay on based Pesce’s winning $6 million dollars in the New York state lottery. But his dad (mob flick mainstay Danny Aiello of the early mob romps Godfather Part II and Once Upon a Time in America) has some gambling debts to the mob. So, does Frank (Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia nailing the New York accent) give up the ticket to the mob to save his pop?
Sure, there’s no blood or bullets and the mob-angle is all played for comedy, but it’s still a great directorial debut by George Gallo, the writer behind Bad Boys, De Niro’s Midnight Run, and the director of one of the better remakes in recent years, with Harry Hurwitz’s The Comeback Trail.
9. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Remember what we said about the detractors on Goodfellas? Copy and paste that, Mr. Pink. Then add the additional aggravation of non-linear storytelling and the overuse of profanity as character development. Then add the opinions that Tarantino ripped off Ringo Lam’s City on Fire (1987) in his diamond heist gone wrong tale — sans the Stealer’s Wheel ear-lobbing interludes.
Look, Tarantino is the master of the art of layers, as taught by screenwriting guru Robert McKee. Tarantino is the Sensei of pop-culture references. He’s the master of actor casting. And he made a great heist movie and accomplished in his career what worshipers Troy Duffy (Boondock Saints) and Rob Weiss (Amongst Friends), could not.
As for Pulp Fiction: Calling Mr. Pink for the copy-paste assist: Tarantino: you either love ’em or hate ’em.
10. Amongst Friends (1993)
Thanks to Tarantino’s creative influences, burgeoning writer and director Rob Weiss cobbled together one million dollars to tell the story of three childhood, drug-dealing friends who graduate to robbing a local mobster; the mobster forces them into a diamond smuggling heist.
Even with the film’s production faux pas in the directing, editing (too many fades-to-black, as I recall), and acting departments, there was still a magic in the frames that caught the eye of the 1993 Sundance Film Festival crowd . . . and ’90s indie guys like me who went to see any movie under the Fine Line Features or Miramax shingles. And I bought the Kevin Smith-inspired, indie alt-rock leaning soundtrack (Lemonheads, Big Audio Dynamite, Dramarama).
Then, like Matty Rich (Straight Out of Brooklyn) before him and Troy Duffy (Boondock Saints) after him: Weiss got bit in the ass by his own ego — and gave Kevin Smith plenty of fodder for his non-fiction books.
11. A Bronx Tale (1993)
In 1989, Chazz Palminteri staged his autobiographical, one-man stage play about his coming-of-age relationships with his hard working, Italian-American father (to be played by Robert De Niro) and the temptations of a better life with a local mafia boss (to be played by Palminteri).
While the film was a minor financial success during its initial release, the critics raved as the film came to find a loyal audience via incessant cable television replays. Everyone agrees it’s a solid directorial debut by De Niro and it gave Palminteri a well-deserved jump start to his always-consistent acting career. However, many aren’t kind to the performances of Francis Capra and Lillo Brancato, Jr. — who play Palminteri at the ages of 9 and 17, respectively.
Eh, I like the lads just fine, De Niro is Scorsese-solid behind the lens, so this is a repeat viewer.
12. Carlito’s Way (1993)
Taking his cues from Scorsese using Nicholas Pileggi’s crime biographies for script fodder, Brian De Palma used Edwin Torres’s fictional novels Carlito’s Way (1975), and its sequel, After Hours (1979), for a lukewarm box office tale about Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino): a Puerto Rican criminal who vows to go straight as a legit club owner, but instead becomes a leading coke dealer for the mob.
While the film carries the title of Torres’s debut novel, it’s actually based on the second; the first was years-too-late adapted into a quickly-forgotten, direct-to-video sequel, Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power (2005) — with Jay Hernandez (Hostel, Suicide Squad) channeling a younger Pacino. (There’s a reason that film doesn’t have its own entry, here.)
Sure, Sean Penn and Penelope Ann Miller walked away with (well-deserved) Golden Globe nods, but there’s that faction that feel they are the film’s two weakest links; Pacino took some critical punches, as well. No matter: As with De Palma and Pacino’s previous joint-effort, Scarface (1983), and the first-out-of-the-gate Goodfellas knockoff, King of New York, Al Pacino’s tour de force as Carlito Brigante worked its way up to achieve a herald, hip-hop culture status.
13. Federal Hill (1994)
In lieu of New York, we’re on the mob-infested streets of Providence, Rhode Island, as five friends make their bones in the Italian mob by way of counterfeiting, cat burglary, and the usual mob shenanigans. When one, the clichéd dimwit of the group, gets indebted to the mob, the others devise a plan to bail him out.
Sure, we get the always-welcomed Nicholas Turturro and Frank Vincent (How many does this make, Frankie?), but you know what: this budget conscious mix of Scorsese’s own Mean Streets and Goodfellas serving as Michael Corrente’s writing-directing debut (of the enjoyable American Buffalo and engaging Outside Providence) isn’t great, but it keeps you watching.
14. Getting Gotti (1994)
This is a Canadian TV movie alert . . . this is a Cannuck misfire masquerading as a real movie — which aired on CBS-TV in the States. Let that be your first caveat.
The next emptor: Ugh, Lorraine Bracco of Goodfellas fame in the title role of Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Diane Giacalone: she grew up in the same neighborhood as John Gotti — and comes to take down his empire. Is Anthony John Dennison solid as Gotti? Eh, well, er, he doesn’t look like him at all, but he sells the role. Now, for Bracco: As in Goodfellas, she does nothing but shout and scream and screech and caterwaul her dialog all-the-day long, which is annoying as f**k as it is off-putting as it is exhausting. Thus, the script’s narrative twist of having Gotti’s tale told from Giacalone’s viewpoint is DOA.
So, yeah, we’ll err to the side of the two-years later HBO production of Gotti starring Armand Assante in the title role (he won an Emmy for his work, as well as a Golden Globe nod). Yes, and Double-A for the win over John Travolta’s 2018 “passion project,” as well. But still: even though the Assante-version is well-made, as an HBO production always is, the proceedings are still inaccurate, docudrama-flat, possessing none of the depth, of say, a gangster film like Donnie Brasco.
15. Casino (1995)
It’s a “sequel” to Goodfellas . . . and it’s not, as Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are back with Martin Scorsese directing his second book-to-screen crime drama penned by Nicholas Pileggi. This time, it’s the book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, that tells the story of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (Sam “Ace” Rothstein in the film), a Jewish American gambling expert handicapper recruited by the Chicago Mafia to run their casino operations in Vegas. The usual Shakespearean chaos and downfalls — with graphic bloodshed — ensues.
As with its New York-based, Scorsese-Pileggi predecessor: Casino is either “underrated cinema” or “overrated schlock”; it’s either “Classic Scorsese” or a failed attempt at a “Goodfellas 2,” one that lacks substance or class that substitutes F-bombs and constant yelling — especially from Sharon Stone, in the opinions of some, in the Lorraine Bracco-caterwauling role. But Stone earned “Best Actress” Golden Globe and Academy Award nods (winning the former), so you know how it goes. Me? This is a repeat viewing film that’s oft-copied by several films on this list, but will never be duplicated.
16. Heat (1995)
This is Michael Mann’s first entry on this gangster list — he’s back with Public Enemies in 2009 — one that suffered from way too much hype centered on the fact that the film would offer the first on-screen appearance of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (both doing it awesome, later, in The Irishman).
Yeah, sorry, Mike: even with the acting royalty — including an equally-great Val Kilmer (err, we can do without the TV-flatness of Amy Brenneman) — this is no Casino. Opinions vary, but err to the side of the proceedings as all too-talky “meh” up to the big bank robbery . . . but when that robbery comes, whoa: it’s a classic Michael Mann set piece that reminds of his 1981 mafia-crime masterpiece, Thief. So, yeah, it’s not a repeat-viewer, but it keeps you watching for at least one viewing.
17. The Usual Suspects (1995)
There is a contingent that feels this (overly talky) tale of five criminals on a quest to find a mythical mob boss — Keyser Soze, who no one has ever seen — is overwrought and overrated. Sure, it’s off the major-studio beaten path and the twist is did-not-see-it-coming clever, and it made $35 million against a $6 million budget, and the WGA ranks Christopher McQuarrie’s work as the 35th greatest screenplay of all time, etc., but not everyone is on board with a story that leans towards being, essentially, a gloried stage play that heavily relies on non-linear flashbacks and narration. And a lot of Kevin “Look at what a great thespian, I am” Spacey: the sole reason for the overwroughtness of it all.
Look, your opinions of Brian Singer’s sexual deviations and Kevin the Great’s acting aside: Singer tried to pull a Tarantino — and succeeded. He gave us a film not as violent as Reservoir Dogs or character-engaging as Pulp Fiction, but nonetheless engaging and one that serves as the epitome of word-of-mouth indie film marketing in the Fine Line and Miramax ’90s tradition (such as David Salle’s — which I think is much better — Search and Destroy).
18. Last Man Standing (1996)
Sure, we have Walter Hill of The Driver, The Warriors, Streets of Fire, and 48 Hours in the writer’s and director’s chairs, but a remake of a remake is still a remake of a remake as the “man with no name” from Akira Kurosawa’s samurai adventure Yojimbo (1961) — remembering it was rebooted by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) — returns. Ah, but Leone’s was an unauthorized, European-litigated remake and Kurosawa supported this American remake. Warning: Akira’s backing means nothing.
So, does Hill’s 1940s-styled film noir updating of Kurosawa’s revenge proceedings to a 1930’s gangster flick set in a dusty, western-styled Texas border town with liquor bootleggin’ afoot — with Bruce Willis in the “Robert Mitchum/Humphrey Bogart” anti-hero role — work?
The film’s worldwide gross ($18 million in the U.S.) was less than $50 million against a $40 million budget that ballooned to near $70 million. Sure, the cast is all here, with Bruce Dern as the second lead and (wimpy) town sheriff, along with William Sanderson (Blade Runner), Christopher Walken, R.D. Call (Waterworld), and David Patrick Kelly (Luther in The Warriors, Sully in Commando). So what went wrong?
Eh, it looks good . . . but it’s all boring formula from the Syd Field Aristotle, three-act screenplay book: eight sequences of stock characters doing gangstery-things threaded together by too much sex, splashy violence, and the dreaded sign that nothing is working: droning voice-over narration. Unlike its predecessors: Hill’s version is totally forgettable — and Hill made my beloved The Driver. Go figure.
Oh, ah . . . since this is B&S About Movies: We need to mention our beloved Enzo G. Castellari clipped this all before Hill did, with his post-apoc, Mad Maxian-updating as Warriors of the Wasteland. Are we suggesting an Enzo-epic over a Hill romp? This time, yeah, for Enzo entertains us, makes us yell at the screen, and jump up and down in glee at the absurdity of it all.
19. Public Enemies (1996)
No, this isn’t the Johnny Depp one by Micheal Mann: that comes later, in 2006. This is the one by Mark L. Lester starring . . . Frank Stallone. Let that be a warning.
Yes, Mark L. Lester (he of the ’70s hicksploitation classic Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw) took on the then-hot mobster genre sweeping ’90s Hollywood — by clipping Roger Corman’s ’30s-styled Big Bad Mama (1974). Theresa Russell as Ma Barker? Sure. But Alyssa Milano as a femme fatale? No. Eric Roberts as a member of the infamous Barker gang? Oh, yes! But Frank Stallone as Alvin Karpis? Frank Stallone vs. Channing Tatum (in the Mann-version): ponder than celluloid conundrum. And Dan Cortese (then from MTV Sports, later George’s man-crush “Tony” from Seinfeld) as Melvin Purvis? No. No. No.
Yeah, it’s Lester and we did a week-long tribute praising his films and all . . . but against the other films on this list, it’s not as good as it wants to be . . . yet still infinitely better than a few of the more contemporary vanity mobster flicks on our list. If you’re a fan of Lester, you’ll be fine; others will scoff.
20. Donnie Brasco (1997)
Director Mike Newell (later of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; he made his debut with the Charlton Heston mummy romp, The Awakening) knocks it out of the park, as Paul Attanasio wins his well-deserved, second “Best Adapted Screenplay” Oscar (the first was for Quiz Show; he also wrote Disclosure) in this tale based on the 1988 non-fiction book, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by Joseph D. Pistone.
Johnny Depp portrays the FBI agent — uncover as a jewel thief — befriended by Al Pacino’s Lefty Ruggiero, an aging hitman in the Bonanno crime family. As for the rest of the cast: Wow. We’ve got Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Zeljko Ivanek, and Robert Miano (Exorcism at 60,000 Feet) all bringing their A-games (but I can do without Anne Heche). Depp and Pacino play their characters perfectly: as you watch, you experience the true friendship between Pistone and Ruggiero — and Pistone’s conflict in his work leading to his friend’s ultimate demise. Deep is fantastic, but Pacino: as with his work in Heat, he owns the film.
This movie is dead-solid perfect and a repeat-watching classic: not just for mob films, but films, period. Do it. In fact, I am going to watch it for the umpteenth time as soon as I hit the “enter” key on this sentence.
21. The Boondock Saints (1999)
Sure, the film bombed — hard — at the box office and Harvey Weinstein buried him, but Troy Duffy’s debut film cleaned up on home video, to the point its fans quote the film verbatim, wear the t-shirts (me), and even have Boondock Saints “double gun” lamps on their end tables in their media rooms (not me).
Sadly, as with Tommy Wiseau (The Room) after him: Troy Duffy’s ego was so driven, he had a cameraman on set filming everything about his epic film — that would sweep the Oscars. And we wished Rob Weiss had behind-the-scenes cameras rolling on the set of Amongst Friends. Oh, well.
You may have heard the stories about Duffy’s meteoric rise and even quicker fall with his tale of two resourceful Irish lads taking on the Russian mob; your chance to see it all up close and personal can be had with the documentary Overnight. Detract if you must, but Boondocks Saints is still better at the Tarantino’in that most of the low-budget wannabes on this list. Only the most diehard fans should attempt the sequel, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009) — Julie Benz is utterly dreadful in the “Willem Dafoe” role that made the first film work better than it should.
“In Nomine Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti.”
22. Wannabes (2000)
Is this a “wannabe” in every aspect of film? Indeed, as the vanity “triple threat” this go-around comes courtesy of William DeMeo of The Sopranos (and a bit role in A Bronx Tale).
Needless to say, casting go-to “mobster” Joe Viterelli (Ruby, The Firm, maybe you remember him in Jack Black’s Shallow Hal) and Joseph D’Orofrio (young Tommy in Goodfellas; Slick in A Bronx Tale), along with a few other familiar “mob” faces — in conjunction with a mind-numbing onslaught of “F-bombs” for the sake of cartoonish character development — can’t help this dead-on-arrival vanity effort. If you care: Vitrelli is the mob boss, D’Orofrio is the clichéd-hotheaded son (pinching off James Caan’s Sonny Corleone), while DeMeo is the other son; to escape their legit waiter jobs, they get into the bookmaking business with the expected, bloody results . . . and expected boredom.
23. The Big Heist (2001)
In line after The 10 Million Dollar Getaway, this Canadian TV production — jokingly referred to by mob flick fans as “Poorfellas” (again?) — aired in the U.S. on the A&E network, with yet another version of the story behind the Lufthansa Heist. This was justifiably taken to critical task for its historical inaccuracies, such as Jimmy “The Gent” Burke’s crew being connected to the Gambino family, when, in reality, they were part of the Lucchese family, and John Gotti wasn’t involved in the heist. Did these filmmakers not read any of the mob books my ol’ pop bought and I re-read?
Yeah, there’s Rocco Sisto and Nick Sandow as Tommy DeSimone and Henry Hill, but they’re awkward and weak (both in scripting and acting) and totally opposite in their portrayals compared against Goodfellas. Then there’s Donald Sutherland, who chose to go with an (in-and-out-and-in) Irish accent when, in fact: while Jimmy Burke was Irish, he was born and bred in New York and had no accent.
Yeah, for our Lufthansa fix, we’ll err to the side of The 10 Million Dollar Getaway — until the next film. Uh, oh, we spoke too soon: there’s a flick in development based on Henry Hill’s 2015 book, The Lufthansa Heist. Way to go, Hollywood.
24. Knockaround Guys (2001)
Brian Koppelman and his writing-directing partner David Levien (later of Ocean’s Thirteen and HBO’s Billions) come off their modest box office hit about high-stakes poker, Rounders (1998), with this mob action-comedy starring Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Seth Green, Dennis Hopper, and John Malkovich.
The wannabe sons of mobsters — Pepper is a hitman that can’t pull the trigger; Seth Green can’t handle a simply “package” pick up — head to Billings, Montana, to set up their own shop to show up their boss-fathers. The action-comedy “buddy film” cliches ensue . . . as the film barely made back its $15 million production cost.
Eh, if you’re fans of the actors, there’s something for you. Mob aficionadoes have seen better and can pass. Vin mobs up a second time in Find Me Guilty — and gets the same response.
25. Deuces Wild (2002)
As a favor to writer Paul Kimatian, Martin Scorsese signed to this retro-’50s mob project as an executive producer. Then he eventually removed his name. What does that tell you? Well, Deuces Wild is rated three points over John Travolta’s Gotti opus, which earned a Rotten Tomatoes 0%. What does that tell you?
Well, for those enticed by DVD sleeve copy: don’t fall for that “The Basketball Diaries . . .” tagline (the connection: rock/rap video director Scott Kalvert helmed both films). That Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer is a repeat viewing film . . . this mob-dress up flick, you’ll barely make it through one viewing. Needless to say: Scott Kalvert and writer/producer Paul Kimatian (he got his start as a First AD on Hot Dog . . . The Movie, executive produced Without Warning, and crewed on Deathsport, but worked as Scorsese’s still photographer on Taxi Driver and New York, New York, thus the connection) haven’t been heard from since. . . .
Leon and Bobby Anthony (the always great Stephen Dorff and Brad Renfo; the latter of the later 10th and Wolf) are two brothers who run the Deuces, a Brooklyn Street gang that protects the neighborhood of Sunset Park. When their younger brother Alphonse dies from a drug overdose by way of drugs pushed by the rival Vipers street gang, the clichéd violence, erupts. The fact that Fairuza Balk is our resident femme fetale from the Vipers’ gang tempting Renfo, isn’t helping matters, either.
In addition to Dorff and Renfo, the cast is all here: we’ve got Fairuza Balk, Matt Dillon (not here enough to matter, as a mob boss), Max Perlich, Balthazar Getty, Norman Reedus (the Vipers’ leader), Frankie Muniz (meh), James Franco — even mob flick mainstay Vicent Pastore (against type as a priest). So what went wrong? Sure John A. Alonzo (Vanishing Point, Chinatown and Scarface) in the cinematographer’s chair captures it all, expertly, but ugh. It’s all just a bunch of too-old-actors-as-teens playing dress up in greasy pompadours on a Hollywood back lot dressed with 1950s cars — sans any of the dance numbers from West Side Story.
So, you decide: Spend the evening with the Sharks and the Jets . . . or the punk ass Vipers and Deuces. Me: I’ll rewatch the far superior battles between the greasers and socs in The Outsiders. Better yet: I’ll rewatch Roger Corman do it better — and with Jim Carroll in the cast and on the soundtrack — in Tuff Turf.
26. Gangs of New York (2002)
So, Martin Scorsese is back behind the camera, along with Oscar-winning screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan. We’ve got Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCarpio in front of the camera. We’ve got ten Academy Award nods. Ugh, but then there’s the miscasting of the woefully-awful Cameron Diaz, along with Daniel Day Lewis going way over the top, as if he’s saying “I shalt win an Oscar by simply breathing your air.”
Whatever, Danny D.
Based on the 1927 book, The Gangs of New York, regarding a long-running feud between Catholics and Protestants in 1860s New York, the end result is just one, big, overwrought fight scene with little-to-no character development. Clocking in at almost three hours and clearing only $193 million against $100 million, well, yeah, it sure looks fantastic, but far from the repeated-watching masterpiece that is Goodfellas and Casino.
If you need another “look at what a great actor I am” work that’s all surface (make-up) and no substance: see Tom Hardy in Capone (2020). Better yet, don’t.
27. Internal Affairs (2002)
This is the blockbuster, Hong Kong-produced action-drama about a cop pretending to be a gangster and a gangster pretending to be a cop that everyone word-of-mouth rented on home video. Once the original became Hong Kong’s official entry for “Best Foreign Language Film” for the 76th Academy Awards, Miramax put it into U.S. theaters in 2004. So successful — not only in the Asian, but worldwide marketplace — its two sequels met with the same international acclaim and box office.
Then Scorsese got the remake rights . . . and U.S. audiences ended up with a film, not based on Internal Affairs, but a film (very) loosely based on the relationship between Boston’s Whitey Bulger and rogue FBI agent John Connolly . . . which we got proper — and oh, so much better — with Black Mass (2015).
Sure, The Departed grossed close to $300 million against $90 million, but Internal Affairs grossed $55 million against $6 million. So I’ll err to the Cantonese language original — every time — in lieu of a DiCaprio/Damon joint. Look, Marty, if you’re going to “remake” a film, remake it. Don’t say you’ll remake it, then give us a completely different movie — and stick us with Matt friggin’ Damon.
28. The Departed (2006)
Continuing on: Sure, this Scorsese joint won 97 of its 141 worldwide nominations — 4 of which are Oscar wins — and it appeared on many U.S. critics’ “Top Ten” best films of 2006 lists. For me: this is still a bloated, 151 minutes-long Shakespearean-troped gangster opera rife with (bad) Bostonian-accented yelling — none of it comes across as believable — with Matt Damon as the weakest link in the not terrible, but seriously flawed proceedings.
Anyway, Scorsese’s retool follows two newly-graduated officers from the Massachusetts Police Academy: The first, William Costigan (Leonardo Dicaprio) goes undercover to infiltrate the Irish mob run by Frank Costello, aka our ersatz James “Whitey” Bulger mixed with real life Boston mob boss Frank Costello (played great by Jack Nicholson, but he acts as or resembles, neither). The second: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is mentored by Costello from childhood and pressed into law enforcement to act as a mole.
Look, it’s stylishly made, rife with great shots, and nods to Howard Hawks, and “Catholic guilt” subtext, and yada, yada, yada. Just give me copies of the Internal Affairs series and the multi-watch Black Mass and hate on me for not liking this one.
29. Find Me Guilty (2006)
You know that long-running screenwriter joke when a crime-driven character says, “I want ______ to play me?” Well, in this case, the real Jackie DiNorscio, the New Jersey Mafia solider for the Lucchese crime family on which this is based, requested Vin Diesel. And the film returned less than $3 million against $13 million. Yeah, those involved blame “the marketing” (it’s a drama, but the poster and trailer make it look like a comedy), but it’s the casting that’s the problem (Alex Rocco and Richard Portnow aren’t here enough; having Ron Silver onboard, helps). That’s not to say Vin isn’t okay, here, he is: but as with Sylvester Stallone before him: the public wasn’t ready for the guy who made his action-bones as Dominic Toretto, Riddick, and Xander Cage to go “dramatic,” as directed by five-time Academy Award-nominated Sidney Lumet.
Sure, Vin is no Pacino, here (but who is, really), and we’re not getting his and Lumet’s Serpico (1973) or Dog Day Afternoon (1975) (or Lumet’s own, 1982 courtroom drama with Paul Newman, The Verdict), in this chronicle of the longest Mafia trial in history, in which DiNorscio represented himself — and won. Eh, there are worst films to sit through on this list.
Speaking of long: two hours of courtroom chatter is about 20 minutes too long; a shorter run time would help. And all of those New York-based, network TV actors turn the proceedings into Law & Order: The Movie — since most of the supporting cast hails from that popular franchise. And that stagnant, lingering wide shot of Vin trying to wedge a cherished, ratty recliner through the prison cell door: it’s uncomfortable and clumsy . . . as you become frustrated for the mediums and close-ups that never come from a great director that knows and has done better. Oh, and that annoying, comedy-inducing clarinet soundtrack: that ONLY works in Woody Allen movies, not mob flicks.
30. 10th and Wolf (2006)
Boy, oh, boy, did this “true story” on the Philadelphia Mafia have high hopes . . . only to take one hell of a critical drubbing. Those “high hopes” were based on two factors: Robert Moresco, who writes and directs, here, previously won a 2004 Academy Award for “Best Original Screenplay” for Paul Haggis’s multi-character study, Crash. The other hope: this was based on a “true story” observed/told by Donnie Brasco, aka FBI Agent Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated the mafia in the Johnny Depp flick of the same name.
Tommy (an always fine and underrated James Marsden; Cyclops in the X-Men franchise) is the son of a Mafia hitman, and a dishonorably discharged, Desert Storm-era Marine, who returns to Philadelphia (with Pittsburgh doubling as Philly) — only to be pressed into uncover service by a rogue FBI agent (Brian Dennehy doing what he does, best: be a prick). Then there’s Brad Renfo: sure, he’s great, but his character is so clichéd, you wonder if it’s based on “Fredo Corleone” instead of a real person. Dash Mihok, who’s always great in the Law & Order franchises, is too “Sonny Corleone,” here, to matter much. Meanwhile, Giovanni Ribisi (he mobs-up in the later Public Enemies and Gangster Squad), well . . . at this point: we expect him to be either the “over the top thespin’ village idiot or the local sociopath; here, he’s the latter — but, even still, he saves the film from the doldrums.
Sure, the proceedings are well made and Moresco pulls off a few nice shots, but, well . . . maybe you need to have been a Penn State’er who has lived in both Pittsburgh and Philly. They’re two, very distinct cities and one can not be passed off as the other; it’s like trying ot pass off Chicago as Los Angeles. In the end, this is all too by-the-numbers with characters and scenarios pinched from superior mob flicks on this list, to invest your time or emotions. It is, however, also better than most of the other, low-budgeted vanity productions on this list — such as #31, #32, and #33.
31. This Thing of Ours (2006)
Well, we’re all mobbed-up with the familiar gangster faces of Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore. It’s nice to see Chuck Zito and ‘60s and ‘70s funnyman Pat Cooper (in the Don Rickles role). We’ve got James Caan. Ah, with that cast, it sounds like a name-on-the-box industry calling card.
Yep, it is. This is a Danny Provenzano vanity joint exhibiting his Tarantino-writing, his Scorsese-directing and acting chop-socky (he’s been at it since 1990’s Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D), so it’s a whole lot of Danny-the-star and other amateurs — probably his friends — and not enough Caan.
However, bonus spins on the table for intriguing us with a tale on how the old school Mafia (Caan) makes its move into the digital age with his young bucks (Danny P.) attempting to pull off a bank heist that’ll rival the infamous Lufthansa heist. It’s in no way in the Goodfellas-cum-Reservoir Dogs ballpark, but it’s a hell-of-decent swing for the fences.
32. Brooklyn Rules (2007)
Well, at least it’s all updated from the 1960s to the 1980s, but it’s still the same, boiled-over, voiced-over flashback-drivel concerning three Italian-Catholics earning their Mafia bones. Do want to hear Scott Caan dropping F-bombs, Freddie Prinze, Jr. in “fudgetaboudit” mode, while watching Alec Baldwin going through the mob motions as a Gambino family captain?
Well, sure . . . the script from Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos producer and writer Terence Winter, while it feels like a patchwork of castoff writing-room ideas from those two shows, Brooklyn Rules still rises above most of the films on this list. Prinze — who’s no prize in the acting department by any stretch — does turn in a pretty decent performance (Ugh. I still can’t get Wing Commander out of my mind). Nevertheless, this does not rise to the levels of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which Winter also wrote, while director Michael Corrente walked these mean streets before with an early Tarantinoesque knock off, Federal Hill.
33. Chicago Overcoat (2009)
Cast mob flick mainstays Frank Vincent, Katherine Narducci, Mike Starr (How many does this make?), and Armand Assante for the box office win!
Vincent is an aging hitman, with Stacy Keach as the aging cop looking to bust him, finally. Assante is the mob boss, with Starr as an under/street boss. Ugh, just because the scene switches from New York to Chicago doesn’t make it different. Yeah, it’s all just a tired, clichéd pastiche of everything we’ve seen done much better.
34. Public Enemies (2009)
You’d think, in the wake of Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino, a major studio biographical drama on bank robber John Dillinger — especially with Johnny Depp in the title role — would be box office and critical gold.
As always, Michael Mann’s films (The Keep and Thief) are cinematic sights to behold, but, in the end, this by-the-numbers gangster romp is too clinical and cold. Sure, Giovanni Ribisi and Channing Tatum are fine as infamous gangsters Alvin Karpis and Pretty Boy Floyd . . . but everyone seems too young and wrong for the part, leaving it a bit too mobster “brat packy” — as you wait for Judd Nelson to show up. (Hey, at least Frank Stallone didn’t appear.) And the historical details, for the sake of narrative, are a mess.
Yeah, we’re erring to the side of the Roger Corman-produced The Lady in Red, aka Guns, Sin and Bathtub Gin (1979), starring Robert Conrad as Dillinger and A Bullet for Pretty Boy (1970) starring Fabian as the title hood. I know: I just suggested a Fabian flick over a Mann-Depp flick.
35. Sinatra Club (2010)
While ex-Mafiso Salvatore Polisi had his life chronicled in a well-received book, Sins of the Father (2015), by Nick Taylor (also an acclaimed memoir on astronaut John Glenn), Polisi took it upon himself to write his own memoirs: The Sinatra Club (2014): his book was adapted from this, his screenwriter debut.
A familiar Danny Nucci stars as John Gotti in 1972 New York. Amid a Mafia war, our up-and-coming Gotti has a dream: he, along with our faux-Sammy “The Bull” Gravano (Jason Gedrick), will put an end to the conflict by pulling together a heist crew with one member from each of the five families (run by a-barely-here Leo Rossi and Michael Nouri) to steal a cache of silver bullion: the crew comes together in Salvatore Polisi’s gambling den, the Sinatra Club (the real-life Polisi opted to comically narrate the film himself). As with the earlier The Big Heist: all of the characterizations are way off; everyone comes off as weak and dopey buffons with big mouths and littler brains to match.
Critics and mob flick fans were not kind to this “Kiddiefellas” — starring ex-’80s teen actors Danny Nucci (TV’s Family Ties, Falcon Crest; currently on FOX’s 9-1-1), Jason Gedrick (Iron Eagle), and Joey Lawrence (Gimme a Break, Blossom) as a dopey lounge singer — that plays it very loose with the facts. Think of everything that made Scorsese’s and Ford Coppola’s adaptations of “the truth” Oscar-stunning. Think of Ray Liotta’s expert voice over work — courtesy of Scorsese’s writing. Then take all of that away. You have Sinatra Club.
Yeah, everyone dumps on Gedrick and Nucci in “fugetaboutit” mode, but I appreciate seeing them trying ragged, mature rolls; the only reason I stuck with this was their presence. But you kind of see why they’re here (and Gedrick didn’t become “Tom Cruise”) — and not in a Scorsese flick. Then again: look at the material and flat direction they had to work with.
36. For the Love of Money (2012)
This female-driven mob flick from director Ellie Kanner-Zuckerman and producer-writer Jenna Mattison brings a refreshing twist to the mob genre. Its purported “true story” (“based on the life” of one of its executive producers moving from Tel Aviv to L.A.) concerns the Jewish mob going against the Italians (run by James Caan, again) and the Columbians (run by always-welcomed Steven Bauer, fantastic in The Beast). As with most of these Tarantino-cum-Scorsese flicks: the expected soundtrack nostalgia runs the (sugary-queasy) gamut from Steppenwolf to Three Dog Night to Billy Squire to A Flock of Seagulls.
Rotten Tomatoes rates this with a Gotti-equal 0%, so take that as you will.
37. The Iceman (2012)
We’ve reviewed director Ariel Vromen’s work before with The Angel (2018) and, as with that film, he delivers the goods with this tale about Polish-bred, Italian mob hitman Richard Kuklinski. What makes this work: Michael Shannon in the title role, along with Ray Liotta, now promoted to a mob boss role, as Roy DeMeo. Keep your eyes open for Winona Ryder, Chris Evans as the murderous Robert “Mr. Freezy” Pronge, along with Robert Davi, James Franco, and Stephen Dorff in support roles.
Does it rise to the level of Scorsese: not by a long shot. But having a skilled cast of thespians who let you lose yourself in their work — without showing off — makes all the difference in the world. It’s a shame the Oscars are based on box office performance: Shannon deserved one for his work, even though this bombed at the ticket window.
For a deeper take on Kuklinski’s life: HBO made the 1993 documentary, Kuklinski: Confessions with a Killer.
38. The Gangster Squad (2013)
Is this a spoof on gangsters or a real drama? One thing is certain: Sean Penn under make-up as Mickey Cohen is the reason we have “The Razzies” once a year.
Anyway, this lauded Black List “spec script” written by ex-LAPD officer Will Beall (Aquaman) attracted the talents of Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi, and Sean Penn . . . then squeaked by with just over $100 million against a $75 million budget. While it’s based on a real life individuals, this is actually a fictionalized account (think of James Cameron’s narrative approach on The Titanic) of LAPD’s ‘40s era “Gangster Squad” taking down kingpin Mickey Cohen.
The studio blames the film’s failure on the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting in July 2012 — considering this film features a submachine gun battle inside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The critical reality is that the box office failure is the result of the film’s style-over-substance punctuated by excessive violence rife with historical inaccuracies and been-there-done-that characters. And Penn’s “Look at what a great actor, I am!” emoting makes my teeth hurt and my eyeballs bleed.
39. Momo: The Sam Giancana Story (2013)
Until Hollywood feels the inspiration to produce a feature film version, this critically-lambasted documentary that explores gangster Sam Giancana’s connections with the Kennedy family and the (alleged) role he played in the deaths of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and the St. Valentine’s Massacre will have to do.
In addition to insights from Giancana’s daughters, the film is rife with archive footage-padding (and opined historical inaccuracies and “made up” facts-based on one’s opinions) from all the key players, such as Fidel Castro, Jimmy Hoffa and Jack Ruby. It’s all courtesy of Dimitri Logothetis — the producer behind Hardbodies 2 and the director of Slaughterhouse Rock (no, really). We’re placing our bets on the Flamingo’s green felts that Logothetis probably wanted to make a feature film, but due to finances, opted for the documentary route.
Is anyone else tired of these flicks turning serial killers into misunderstood folk heroes to the hard working Italians that helped build America? It’s an insult to Italians the world over.
40. Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn (2013)
The genre tropes of the previous 39 flicks on our list are a flippin’ and-a floppin in Paul Borghese’s vanity affair as he tackles the writing, directing and acting — totally out of his element with genre mainstays Armand Assante (earning a paycheck), Vincent Pastore, William DeMeo (who’s awful again, here), Louis Vanaria (“Crazy Mario” in A Bronx Tale), and Cathy Moriatry (who deserves better). Even rap musician-cum-actors Ja Rule and Ice T (who aren’t Oscar caliber, but always serviceable, nevertheless, makes Borghese look even worse at the craft, in this painfully over-acted, tragic Shakespearian mess of a Tarantino-wannabe of intertwined (more like tangled and mangled) story lines concerned with the Italians of old. vs. the new vanguard of urban gangsters.
Just don’t do it. Unless you enjoy being more confused than entertained.
Oh, for the DeMeo completists: he meshes boxing with the mob, Rocky meets Goodfellas, if you will — and brings Michael Madsen and Alec Baldwin along for the ride — as a half Italian-Puerto Rican boxer in 2016’s Back in the Day. It’s supposably the “life story” of Freddy “Anthony” Rodriguez, for you sports enthusiasts. Eh, it’s a low rent A Bronx Tale rip with awful writing, directing, and everything else: just like Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn and DeMeo’s Wannabes.
41. Black Mass (2015)
Oh, this movie. Oh, this friggin’ movie! This is how you do a mob flick, Goombah! Capeesh?
Johnny Depp as Bostonian-Irish kingpin James “Whitey” Bulger is pure, bottled lightning, topping his great work in Donnie Brasco. Yeah, there’s some questions as to the accuracy of it all, such as Bulger, according to those who knew him best, never swearing, but wow . . . in between the F-bombs and ultra-violence, Depp is expertly cold and frightening, nevertheless.
The film’s production was inspired by the well-made and well-received documentary Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (2014). I personally double-featured both (Black Mass, first) and had a great, entertaining evening. Then I watched the next film on our list. . . . Oh, where have all the good times gone, amico?
42. Brooklyn Banker (2016)
Federico Castelluccio, who you know for his 28-episode run as Furio Giunta in HBO’s The Sopranos, goes the vanity production route with his feature film directing debut; he also stars as Zucci, along with the name-on-the-box, gangster flick mainstays Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas) and David Proval (The Sopranos). As with Chazz Palminteri basing A Bronx Tale on his childhood: we have lawyer-turned-first time screenwriter Michael Ricigliano corralling his own, supposed childhood in this tale about (the fictional) Santo Bastucci (Troy Garity, the son of Jane Fonda who appeared in the Barbershop franchise): a straight-laced local banker with a rare gift for memorizing numbers; he’s reluctantly recruited by the mob.
The direction and cinematography are streaming-production flat and uninspired; the same goes for the film’s woeful vanity-mix of out-of-their-league amateurs against skilled thespians. There’s no grit, no depth, no nothing. It’s so awful, well, it can’t be “real life,” as it all plays as if it was made up in Final Draft after reading a stack of screenwriting books. It makes you want to punch Scorsese in the nutsacks for inspiring its production.
43. Gangster Land (2017)
Sure, the always-rises-above-the-material-and-delivers Jason Patric (incredible in The Beast), as well as Michael Pare (of my fav, Moon 44), is here, but very little: this is all about Milo Gibson (yeah, the son of Mel) as Al Capone, alongside Sean Faris (ABC-TV’s Life as We Know It) as Capone’s second-in-command, Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn: the alleged mastermind behind the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Telling the tale from McGurn’s perspective adds nothing to the material that well-deserved its negative Variety review and 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating — the same rating given to Gotti. And this is just as bad — if not worse — than that John Travolta tour de force of a piss puddle. Gangster Land just tosses one violent, Tarantinoseque vignette after another, to lesser and lesser effect, hoping to achieve Tarantinoness, but just creaks and stumbles about with been-there-done-that fatigue.
So, we had Capone (1975) with Ben Gazzara and this. That should be the end of telling the life of Al Capone. Wrong. Another film on the Windy City’s most notorious serial killer is on the way in 2020.
44. First We Take Brooklyn (2018)
Also known as Brooklyn Guns, the obvious model in this predictable and flat, Z-grade mobster flick is Al Pacino’s Scarface and Carlito’s Way. Danny A. Abeckaser takes the vanity plunge as the star, screenwriter and director in a tale about an ex-con Israeli immigrant who relocates to New York and finds himself at odds with the Russian mob, à la this film’s other pinch: The Boondock Saints. Sure, that Troy Duffy flick has its detractors, but even that film’s naysayers will agree Duffy’s flick is better than this industry-calling card boondoggle oozing on the riverside docks.
Oh, the Harvey Keitel caveat: he’s only here in a name-on-the-box role; he’s gone as quickly as he appears.
45. Gotti (2018)
Okay, so we are three films into committing infamous mob boss John Gotti to film: Getting Gotti (1994) and Gotti (1996). Wait , there’s four: let’s not forget Sinatra Club (2010). Have they finally got it right?
Critics pounced on it. Ticket buyers greeted it with a $6 million box office against a $10 million production budget (and the six million tally is in question). The 39th Golden Raspberry Awards greeted John Travolta’s “passion project” with six Razzies, including “Worst Picture,” along with a “Worst Actor” nod for Travolta. And to think this swam in the studio development hell fires since 2010 — with Barry Levinson (Bugsy) in the director’s chair and Al Pacino (Donnie Brasco, Heat) in the title role (even Joe Pesci and Chazz Palminteri when through the casting process, in other roles).
Sure, screenwriter Lem Dobbs — with mob-acting mainstay Leo Rossi — gets the credit, and he gave us the fine British crime romp, The Limey. But who in the hell — after Barry Levinson — decided “E” from HBO’s Entourage, aka Kevin Connolly — with a couple of episodes of Entourage and Crackle’s (the Troma Team of streaming) Snatch under his belt — was the way to go?
The final tally of Dante’s circles: Gotti took four directors and 44 producers — and countless actors (including, ugh, William DeMeo, again; see Wannabes and Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn) — to get to the finished product. Oh, and Connolly got a well-deserved, “Worst Director” Razzie nod.
As Sam the Bossman of B&S About Movies said in his review of the Rotten Tomatoes 0% turd that is John Travolta’s The Fanatic: “I lay the blame for this amazing turd of a film squarely at the feet of one Fred Durst. (Only, now: substitute Connolly’s name.) And that Travolta should know better, as every single decision he makes as an actor in this film is wrong and his [Gotti] is beyond a bad performance in a bad movie.”
How bad is it: Well, it was discovered — back to the bogus box office tallies — MoviePass Ventures, the production company behind the film, knew they had a turkey, well, a Golden Raspberry on their hands: so they bought out the tickets to their own movie to bump the film’s opening weekend.
Argh! This film is utterly offensive in its portrayal of the father and son, serial killer team of John Gotti and John, Jr., again, as misunderstood folk heroes to Italians, with senior as a loving family man and good friend, while junior is misunderstood and a victim of government bullying.
To quote Moose from The Fanatic: “Poppycock!”
Seriously, John, you should have followed the thespian advice of Kirk Lazarus. What a painful movie to watch. “E,” please don’t direct another movie. Please. The public has spoken.
46. The Irishman (2019)
Well, Martin Scorsese is back . . . and polarizing as ever.
You’ll either love or you’ll hate this tale based on the 2004 non-fiction book, I Hear You Paint Houses (i.e., kill people; carpentry work is “cleaning up” a problem). Both examine the life of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro): a truck driver who becomes a Mafia hitman employed by mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), then rises to work alongside the powerful Teamsters boss, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
As with Travolta’s Gotti, and the next film on our list, the unrelated Kill the Irishman, this was a major studio hot property that languished in development hell for over a decade. However, while those two films were whittled down to low-budget affairs with less-than-A-List actors, Scorsese convinced Netflix to front a reported $250 million to create a 209-minute, almost four-hour epic.
So, why the lukewarm-to-hate reception from the streaming crowd?
Well, as you can see from this list, we’ve been plummeted by 40-plus mob flicks since Goodfellas captured our imagination 31 years ago. Then there’s Scorsese embracing the boundless creativity of the streaming format that echews brick and mortar theatrical norms. There’s the eschewing of practical in-camera effects or casting younger actors in flashbacks (see Goodfellas) for a newly-developed computer-assisted “aging process” — that many feel needs more “development” — that leaves, everyone — especially De Niro — looking odd n’ waxy in appearance. (I’ll even admit the gas station scene with the “youthful” De Niro and Pesci first meeting is an awkward watch.) Then there’s the non-linear scripting — the bane of many film goers — who additionally opine the film is “too talky,” “too long,” and “boring.”
Me: I was enthralled to see how Scorsese would attack the new, digital technologies in “make-up effects” and film distribution, as well as how the thespian triumvirate of De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino would work in this new realm of “digital aging make-up.” I think everyone shot — and scored.
So, long-winded, eh, maybe. Overrated, err? Well . . . if anyone is going to knock out the kinks in new film technologies, I say let Marty and his buddies be our cinematic Magellans and de Gamas.
47. Kill the Irishman (2019)
In 2011, the documentary, Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of The Irishman — itself based on the 1998 book, To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia — became a well-deserved critical favorite that did well enough on streaming platforms.
So, you know what that means: MOVIE SIGN!
Uh, oh. Less than one and a half million in box office against a partly $12 million budget? Too similar too Goodfellas, the critics and film goers say? What went wrong from the documentary-to-docudrama transition?
Well, while this is about the Youngstown/Cleveland/Pittsburgh mafia, it’s filmed in Detroit (Ugh. See the Philly-Steeltown snafu of 10th and Wolf). And it languished in the development hell fires since 2009 (see the Travolta-helmed Gotti). And has a cut-rate “nostalgia” soundtrack (see The Boondock Saints).
For those of unfamiliar with Danny Greene: a Cleveland docks longshoreman, he rose to the Presidency of the International Longshoremen’s Association . . . only to be convicted of embezzling union funds. He then rose through the Irish mob’s ranks in his personal war against the Italian mafia for control of Cleveland.
Ray Stevenson, as Danny Greene (Frank Castle and Volstagg in The Punisher reboot and Thor franchises, respectively), owns his Oscar-caliber role. (Ah, but only popular box office hits receive award nods; box office bombs — no matter how solid the acting — do not. The Oscars ain’t ’bout the “craft,” after all.) Vincent D’Onofrio is his usual, never-awful self as a mob strong-arm, while Christopher Walken is just dandy as Greene’s mob boss. But then there’s the to and fro, non-linear scripting and the narrative voices overs (ugh) from Val Kilmer’s out-to-get-Danny Greene cop stringing it together.
So, sadly, while it is trying, valiantly on-the-cheap, to copy the Scorsese “formula,” the fine cast is still a past-their-primes bargain cast on a $12 million budget, leaving this stuck on the “B-minus” list. And that’s a shame because Ray Stevenson is an “A-Plus” actor, here. It’s not great, but it’s not awful, you know, like 10th and Wolf. So, if you’ve seen neither, you’ll do alright paring them up for a mobster night double-feature of viewing to learn about the Philadelphia and Cleveland mobs — regardless of where each was filmed.
48. Capone (2020)
Didn’t we see this all before with Brian De Palma’s box office bonanza The Untouchables in 1987? No matter, for when you need to ride the coattails of Martin Scorese’s The Irishman . . . to box office failure . . . you saddle up the horses. Well, the Caddies and Lincolns.
Josh Trank (yeah, that guy) returned — from his five-year exile after the social media, critical and box office meltdown that was Fantastic Four — for this “Citizen Kane” version of the life of Chicago crime boss Al Capone. Needless to say: Trank utterly fails at reaching an obvious, The Irishman-conclusion, thinking his non-linear screenplay — every film goer’s favorite way to see a film (not) — was the way to go. Meanwhile, Tom Hardy pushes the realms of “Look at how great of an actor I am,” with his incoherent, mush-mouth babbling, Oscar-baited thespin’ that flashes to and fro and to and fro as a dying Capone suffers syphilis, hallucinates, and mumble-mouths us into tedium. Awful. Just awful. It should be the last we see of Trash, I mean, Trank.
So, yeah, we’re erring, yes, again, to the side of Ben Gazzara starring in Roger Corman’s Capone (1975) for our Chicago crime fix. Thank god for you Roger. And to Ben, we bow, yes, even after your doing The Neptune Factor. But you did Road House, so all is kosher and forgiven.
49. Lansky (2021)
As in Meyer Lansky, the Polish-born “mob accountant” for Lucky Luciano who rose through the ranks of the Jewish mob and developed the modern casinos in Las Vegas and Cuba. The narrative choice this time: flashbacks, by way of a reporter conducting an interview. Thus, this mob romp ends up being slow, documentary-slow with no class, no style, no reason, no purpose, or point; a dull knife rife with historical inaccuracies, buttered to the tune of $5 million bucks against a little over $100,000 in box office.
Sure, Harvey Keitel in the title role, delivers, but a Keitel in the lead does not a Scorese or Tarantino film, make. Thus, we’ll continue to err to the side of the pen of David Mamet and lens of John McNaughton with Richard Dreyfuss starring in the title role of Lansky (1999) — but there’s still a reason why we’ve opted for a sidebar in lieu of a formal entry for that “meh” Dreyfuss Oscar-baity, tour de force.
Eh, either way you look at it: Lansky wasn’t an American entrepreneur who built casinos and created jobs: he was a mass murderer with just as much, if not more, blood on his hands than his Italian employer-counterparts. This and the aforementioned Capone most likely went into production when Scorsese announced the production of The Irishman . . . both are as weak as a copycat-cash-in can be. Totally forgettable.
50. The Many Saints of Newark (2021)
Mob flicks inspired by Martin Scorsese never die: they simply become theatrical prequels to a pay cable TV series — which we’ve named-dropped several times on this list by way of that series’ actors branching out into their own, mob-vanity productions. The prequel in this case takes place during the 1960s and 1970s in Newark, New Jersey, to set up the “rise to power” of Tony Soprano: originated by James Gandolfini, but now played by his real life son, Michael.
As with a Scorsese mob romp, opinions split down the middle: The critics rave. The ticket buyers and streamers call it out as a TV-styled movie amalgam based on a series — just like HBO’s Sex and the City. Sure, it looks great, but . . . well, the proceedings come across as a wannabe gangster flick — see Capone and Lasky, above. Yeah, the acting’s fine in Chaseville, but the plotting is a mob flick pastiche lacking that raison d’être Goodfellas/Casino panache. To quote Patton Oswalt’s opine about Star Wars sequels, Solo: A Star Wars Story, in particular: “I don’t give a s**t where the stuff I love, comes from! I JUST LOVE THE STUFF I LOVE!”
Indeed: this is another Mediocrefellas — one strictly for the series’ fans.
American Gangster — 2007; the Harlem mob
City of God — 2002; the Brazilian mob
Eastern Promises — 2007; the Russian mob
Hoffa — 1992; more about Hoffa’s life and less about the mob behind him
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels — 1998; British and Irish mobsters in the U.K.
New Jack City — 1991, NYC’s urban mobs
Well, that wraps up our exploration of Mafia flicks from 1990 to 2021. We think we watched them all . . . did we miss something? Let us know in the comments, below.