Tuesday, March 10, 2009

5-4-T: Underrecognized Gangster Movies

We try not to be negative here on Tuesdays, but a few weeks ago, we went with the downer approach of noting five overrated gangster films. At Josh's suggestion, today we're flipping the coin and going for the underrecognized. As mentioned here previously, "underrated" is always hard to measure, so we have to instead opt for films that people may never have heard of or at least not lauded frequently enough. So, without further ado, let's get on with today's Five For Tuesday. Honorable Mention:
Miller's Crossing - the too oft forgotten Coen Bros. masterpiece is just a little too recognized to make this list, but it's a damn fine film.

5) Killer's Kiss
The first movie directed by Stanley Kubrick rarely gets the attention of his later work as it plays more like a straight crime drama than the creative and bizarre stories he would give us further down the road. Yet it's an excellent straight crime drama told in flashback and centered on a young boxer who gets entangled with some bad characters. Someone has put the entire thing up on Youtube, which is surely illegal, but worth your time nonetheless.

4) Thief
The first thing Michael Mann ever did to be released in movie theaters plays like a a character study in advance of his wildly successful film, Heat. James Caan is a talented jewel thief who has his sights set on retirement and a lifestyle closer to Ozzie and Harriet. He's just going to do one last heist for the mob. That may sound cliche, but Mann presents the scores with great detail and clarity, and Caan gives one of the best performances of his career.

3) Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Jim Jarmusch films can only be taken so seriously. That this movie makes no realistic sense is one of its charms. The mobsters are intentionally ridiculous, and Ghost Dog's existence in New York City appears completely surreal. But the overarching themes of honor and responsibility, tied perfectly in with the Samurai warrior's ethic give the movie a unique center. There's a lot of meat to sink your teeth into, even if the bone tying it all together is fragile. Besides, watching an aging Cliff Gorman throw down some of Flavor Flav's best rhymes in his bathrobe is a scene impossible to forget.

2) True Romance
That one scene gets all the pub, but the rest of this movie is equally sparkly, and absolutely loaded with top notch actors and performances. The Quentin Tarantino penned script is one of his most quotable, with loads of memorable scenes and snappy dialogue. Yet, I feel like thsi one has slipped through the cracks. That could be because Christian Slater's star has ceased to shine, or because Patricia Arquette hit the wall. Or perhaps it's because Tony Scott's output keeps getting cheesier (yes, the man who directed Top Gun). But either way, this is a chestnut worth digging up if you haven't yet had the pleasure.

1) Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
I would have never heard of this movie if it weren't for its inclusion in Roger Ebert's Great Movies. Well, that and Fletch drops Alfredo's name at one point, but that's a movie for another Tuesday. This film is far to over the top to be made these days. It has a little bit of everything, but mostly a whole lot of every kind of violence. In sum, I will never forget this movie.

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