Top 10: Crime Films

2nd April 2015

pg-19-gun-crime-alamyAfter Super-Heroes, criminals are perhaps the most lionized subject matter on celluloid.

Surviving day-to-day in a sea of danger and intrigue, often with only their wits and the odd glamorous gal for company they live fast and die young.

As far as a narrative goes this heady combination of action, drama and pathos is simply a marriage made in heaven for filmmakers and everyone from Bonnie and Clyde to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ have seen their lives played out on the silver screen, leaving in their wake some of the greatest films ever made.

So put down your Tommy gun, set aside your swag bag and join us now as we run down a list of our personal top-10 crime capers of all time….(sadly Fast & Furious 29 didn’t make it!!!).

The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
Subtlety and space are the bywords for Andrew Dominik’s haunting and criminally overlooked masterpiece. Based upon the novel by Ron Hansen, Dominik’s movie illustrates the blurred line between admiration and obsession, as Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) shadows and fixates on Jesse James (Brad Pitt) until jealousy and bitterness consume him. But it is perhaps the accuracy with which the story is conveyed that really sets this Western apart. Roger Deakins’ landscapes (mostly in Alberta and Manitoba) and interiors convey, with unnerving accuracy, the bleakness and austerity of the spaces of the Mid-west frontier. (KM)

Sexy Beast (2000)
Sexy Beast marks the high point of both Ben Kingsley’s glittering career and the surge in British crime films, which sparked with Lock, Stock and sputtered with all number of Danny Dyer all-night garage bargain bucket DVD flops. As brutal gangster Don (Kingsley) goes after the walnut-tanned ex-pat safecracker Gal (Ray Winstone) for one last job, all number of hidden secrets emerge. A film that plays more like a thriller than a gangster film, the tension comes not from vicious violence but from the strained relationship between the two protagonists, a grinding of tectonic plates which can only lead to an eruption. A gem of a film which relies on dialogue more than it does gunfire. (CD)

Goodfellas (1990)
Inspired by Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, a chronicle on the life of real life mobster Henry Hill, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas is a riveting near 150 minutes of cinema and a true classic consistently heralded as among the best films ever made. Taking the audience on an exhilarating journey of hijackings, heists, drugs, mistresses, murder, self-preservation and betrayal, the film wonderfully depicts the glamorous trappings, and the ever pervasive aura of danger, of the mafia lifestyle. As hard-hitting as it is stylish and propelled forward by a glorious soundtrack, Goodfellas features great performances by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and, most notably, Joe Pesci in his Academy Award winning portrayal of the simultaneously terrifying and amusing psychopathic raconteur Tommy De Vito. (SH)

The French Connection (1971)
Not to be confused with the spinach-loving sailor, Gene Hackman’s “Popeye” Doyle is one of the great cops of cinema. Grittier than gravel in a bag made of sandpaper, director William Friedkin’s superb cop drama boasts perhaps the greatest chase scene on film and sees wild card detective Doyle, chasing down Fernando Rey’s suave French drugs overlord all over New York’s mean streets. The stench of sweat and sleaze is so overwhelming here that it is obvious a film like this could never be made like this now. Scenes of Detective “Popeye” and his sidekick Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo (Roy Scheider) bursting into an all black bar and manhandling customers, or “Popeye” shooting a man in the back are simply too close to home in a post-Ferguson America to be allowed. Unflinching and unbowed it remains a classic. (KM)

Scarface (1983)
While most people salivate over the “say hello …” line/scene, this is such an iconic classic it seems churlish to single out just one moment for attention. The very soul of the 1980s is laid bare by this rag-tag band of coke fuelled egomaniacs, falling over themselves to stab one another in the back to get their greasy foot on the next rung of the gangster ladder. Al Pacino is virtually unrecognisable from the clean cut Michael Corleone of the first Godfather film (just 10 years earlier) as Cuban mobster Tony Montana and lives by the simple motto: “First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the pussy”. Surely it’s one we can all aspire to? (KM)

Silence of The Lambs (1991)
The story of uber-intelligent psychiatrist turned psychopath Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter (portrayed masterfully by British actor Anthony Hopkins) is easily one of the most psychologically disturbing and suspenseful crime thrillers ever produced. Director Jonathan Demme’s superbly-crafted film is harrowing to the point of being trouser wetting. Although now over 20-years old this picture has lost none of its impact. Intimate and disturbing characterizations of mass murderers who specialize in mutilating their victims (usually female) still shock as well as they ever did, even to a more modern audience – now anesthetized by wall to wall gore. Culturally omnipresent it birthed countless Halloween outfits, cartoon parodies and instantly recognisable quotes. Best served cold with fava beans and a nice bottle of Chianti. (KM)

City of God (2002)
Loosely based on real events, City of God combines a slick character driven narrative and a relentlessly gritty realism to deliver its story of greed and survival within the slums of the Cirdade De Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro. A story spanning the 1960s up until the 1980s, the film’s lead character and narrator Rocket is the innocent bystander as his simple dreams of becoming a photographer get caught up in the favelas’ succumbing to a fierce drug empire and its chaotic descent into a revenge fuelled gangland war between Knockout Ned and the starkly menacing sociopath Lil’ Ze. Largely casting untried actors who were themselves real-life residents of the favelas, City of God is lent the weight of a formidable authenticity that makes for a breathtakingly raw movie experience. (SH)

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Everyone likes Pulp Fiction. It’s a dull, obvious choice. Should I have picked a more leftfield film? No. At the time of release it defined leftfield, which goes to show the way it has changed the landscape of film. Male rape, a head explosion, graphic drug-injection and overdose scenes plus John Travolta twisting; all non-linear and all in stark contrast to the film’s dialogue-heavy script. Curiously poetic and endlessly quotable exchanges, consisting mostly of highly creative cursing, interspersed with mundane chit-chat about burgers and milkshakes. Oh, and the soundtrack…(JH)

Gomorrah (2008)
Stripping back the romanticism of other gangster films such as The Godfather, Neapolitan-language Gomorrah is based on the revealing book by Roberto Saviano on the Camorra crime syndicate, the publishing of which has led to the author living under police protection ever since. Neo-realist in structure, Gomorrah shows the banal, dirty, corrupt side of the criminal underworld, from dank Italian sweatshops to the illegal dumping of toxic waste. The elders of the syndicate appear washed out and aged from a life of crime, while the youngsters dream of being Tony Montana while shooting assault rifles in their pants. An eye-opener for those who don’t quite buy into the glamour of the Hollywood mob flick. (CD)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
What list of top crime films would be replete without a prison-break epic, and what better silver screen opus to take that spot then Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Shawshank Redemption. Despite being something of a box office disappointment on its initial release the story of Andy Dufresne continues to be cited in top 10 lists for a whole range of categories. Tim Robbins is perfectly cast as the stuffy banker, wrongly convicted for his wife’s brutal murder and Morgan Freeman shows why that caramel voice was made for cinema with the performance of a lifetime. Gritty and tender in equal measure, it abounds with allegorical messages and boasts one of the very best movie twists of all time. (KM)

By Kevin McGough (KM), Conal Dougan (CD), Scott Hammond (SH) & James Hobson (JH)