What is your favorite gangster film?
The Godfather: Part II. Yes, I'm one of those people who thinks the second film is just a hair better than the first film. When my media department supervisor at Best Buy found out I had never seen these films (this was 2002), I rented them immediately and was hypnotized by this one: the acting, the dark cinematography, the parallel stories, and Michael's slow inevitable descent. The final shot is haunting, Nino Rota's score is beautifully melancholy, and this film has one of my favorite transitions, when we dissolve from Michael on frame left to young Vito on frame right. "...this is the business we've chosen."
When I look back on it, I'm surprised how few good films there really are about the mob? Largely, The Godfather and Goodfellas are it. Though on television you also have The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. But I like to zag when others zig, so I'm going with Black Caesar. That's right, Blacksploitation at its best as Fred Williamson tries to muscle his way into power in Harlem.
As much as I really like The Godfather and its sequel, I think GoodFellas may actually edge them out on my list. Not only is it probably the best directorial work Martin Scorsese ever did, in my opinion, with an excellent cast in every respect, I think it's actually better at showing the moral rot that set in within the Mafia over time. Whether or not it really was about family, protection, and respect at one time, by the time the movie ends, it's become a mere collection of criminals who show no qualms about killing one another to stay on top. The best gangster movies are the ones with a cautionary tale woven throughout them, and this one pulls it off beautifully.
Panelist: Tennessee Jed
I hadn't even finished the question before my mind was typing in The Godfather. For me, the better question is which I like more, I or II. Hard to say, but my gut tells me the original. Probably because of Brando, and the way Michael emerges as the youngest ivy league son who has the force of personality to take care of all family business.