Since mob and gangster genres have been done to death, we’re rarely getting them anymore. But this year Martin Scorsese finally brought one of his passion projects to life; now we have “The Irishman” and it’s a glorious masterpiece. Scorsese has given us some of the best mob films of all time – “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “The Departed,” and of course, moviegoers are happy to get yet another crime film masterpiece from the legend himself.
But unlike now, we used to see a lot of mob films – the Irish mob, the Italian mob, other gangsters, you name it – and some of them were overlooked or forgotten over time. Or sometimes they got recognition, but you may feel like it was not enough. If you like stories about mobsters and gangsters, their rise and their fall, and all other things they go through, these 10 films may just be for you.
10. American Me (1992)
Thirty years of Chicano gang life in Los Angeles. Produced, directed, and starred by Edward James Olmos, the film depicts a fictionalized account of the founding and rise to power of the Mexican mafia in the California prison system from the 1950s into the 1980s. At the age of 16, the Latin American Santana with his friends found a gang. Two years later, he is already serving time in Folsom State Prison. He quickly leads his buddy J.D. to the Mexican mafia, and controls the drug flow in jail.
Olmos’ performance alone makes the film worth watching, but it’s more than that; the editing is so great here as is the story which is very compelling. When it comes to Olmos’ direction, you can see how sure he is of his material. The movie somewhat tries to understand the prison culture and why inmates sometimes turn out to be more violent than they were before they went to prison. Unfortunately overshadowed by bigger crime films of the era, “American Me” is a disturbing and also a stunning film that is worth watching.
9. Kill the Irishman (2011)
Sometimes films are dismissed when they follow a formula that is similar to a different famous crime film. “Kill the Irishman” didn’t get much love from critics – some said it’s a copy of “Goodfellas” – but no, “Kill the Irishman” is a very entertaining film on its own. No, it’s not “Goodfellas.” It has its problems and inconsistencies, but the film still works and even has a rewatchable quality, mostly because the main story is very compelling, and secondly, whatever the problems the film has, the high-quality cast manages to elevate it.
The film is about Danny Greene, who had a huge impact on the mob scene of Cleveland. He eventually became a massive public figure and a type of “hero” in Cleveland, and this is his story. The production design is fine as well, with its costumes and settings; it gives the atmosphere of its era. The pacing is fine enough and the dialogue is witty enough. And the cast featuring Ray Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken is more than enough.
If you’re not exactly looking for a masterpiece in every film you watch, and you like the certain familiar beats of such rise-and-fall crime stories (as well as biopics especially if they have a great cast), then “Kill the Irishman” is a fun movie. Speaking of underrated 2010s crime films with Walken, check out “Stand Up Guys” as well, which has Al Pacino in one of his finest late-career performances..
8. Oscar (1991)
For a comedic film with mobs or gangsters, maybe “Bullets Over Broadway” should be here, but that Woody Allen vehicle got strong critical reception and awards recognition. “Oscar,” however, was unfairly panned. Based on the Claude Magnier stage play, it is a remake of the 1967 French film of the same name, a showcase for the great Louis de Funès. The role does not seem to fit Sylvester Stallone, who is not only physically very different but also a totally different kind of actor. But what Sly tries with the role is not exactly bad. Of course, his style is different, but it kind of works in the setting of the film and his comedic timing is fine as well.
The setting of the film this time was moved to moved to Depression-era New York City, and the plot centers on a mob boss trying to go straight because that’s what he promised to his dying father (Kirk Douglas in a cameo). Aside from Stallone, the cast is pretty packed; look out for the gorgeous and talented ladies Ornella Muti and Marisa Tomei, who hadn’t done much before and yet she’s extraordinary in the role. And even Tim Curry is here. Unfortunately, the film didn’t get much love; it was often compared it to the original in a negative way, and it was not made in a time when Sly was as beloved. But “Oscar” is a fun gangster comedy.
7. Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1995)
Here’s the one for Quentin Tarantino fans. Andy Garcia stars as Jimmy the Saint, an ex-gangster who finds that one of his debts has been bought up by his ex-boss, The Man With the Plan. When he botches a job, he gets two days to fix things up or he and his gang will be killed by an assassin.
Yes, it was fashionable and popular in the ‘90s to make a Tarantino-ish films, but while critics were often dismissing them, some of them were actually highly entertaining and fun, such as “Suicide Kings,” “Thursday,” “2 Days in the Valley” and this one. Unfortunately, it was a total box office bomb, but through the years, it got a cult following thanks to entertaining story, as well as great work from Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken. Some of the dialogues is highly quotable. Not to mention, the soundtrack is very cool as well.
In fact, even the film’s title comes from the Warren Zevon song of the same name from ”Mr. Bad Example” which, after some legal negotiations, he allowed under the condition that the song played during the end credits. The film’s screenwriter is Scott Rosenberg, who has somewhat of a unique voice in cinema that often went unnoticed. He later on went to write films like “High Fidelity” and “Beautiful Girls,” which shows his range as a writer.
6. Panic (2000)
A bit of a different film than the rest of the list, but crime film is a crime film nevertheless. It couldn’t even made a million at the box office; “Panic” was a box office disappointment as it had about a $3 million budget. Critics gave it the recognition it deserved, but it couldn’t find its audience and ended up being forgotten through time.
This “gangster in therapy” movie sees William H. Macy as a hitman who can’t go against his father (the always amazing Donald Sutherland), is unhappy with his marriage (Tracey Ullman), and is now seeking psychological treatment. But here in his psychiatrist’s waiting room, he finds the thing he totally didn’t expect to find: a love (Neve Campbell).
While we get to see his past through flashbacks in this stylish and quirky thriller/drama, we also get to see how he’ll handle his next mission: killing his therapist. The whole thing may sound like “Grosse Pointe Blank,” which is a great film as well but this is a much more serious film with an engaging character, using a traumatic father-son relationship at its center. The cast also manages to elevate already fine and interesting material.