Published back in September, The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies features profiles of the 100 greatest gangster films of all time as selected by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s George Anastasia and SportsRadio 94 WIP’s Glen Macnow. On Wednesday, December 14, the co-authors will be hosting a live presentation at Jenkintown’s Hiway Theatre where they’ll discuss their choices, play clips from some of their favorite mob movies, and sign copies of their book (there will also be a special guest in attendance in the form of a cast member from On the Waterfront).
Cinedelphia recently spoke with George and Glen regarding their selection process, the characteristics of the “gangster film”, and what attendees can expect from their upcoming presentation.
CINEDELPHIA: How did you go about the arduous task of choosing the 100 greatest gangster films of all time?
GEORGE ANASTASIA: Both of us like movies. I’ve always been fascinated with gangster movies because the underworld is a topic I cover for The Inquirer.
GLEN MACNOW: George and I sat down over pizza and red wine and went through all the obvious choices. Movies we’d seen and liked. We got to 50 or so good ones before the spumoni arrived for dessert. Then we solicited friends and experts on the subject. The list kept growing. In the end, we watched more than 225 films to come up with the 100 we considered worthy.
GA: It’s an inexact science. We’re already hearing about movies that we left out or overlooked. But that’s part of the attraction of a book like this. We don’t expect everyone to agree.
C: How do you characterize the “gangster film”?
GM: This was a tough challenge. We decided the criteria was essentially this: First, the movie needs to focus more on the bad guys than the cops. And second, it has to be about an ongoing criminal enterprise. In the end, it’s like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
GA: Gangsters come in many shapes and forms…Bonnie and Clyde and True Romance being two examples of the diversity of the genre.
C: Please describe your collaboration, did you each assume certain tasks?
GA: Our collaboration really amounted to writing the introduction together. Other than that, we each did 50 essays and we each had sidebars. Glen interviewed the actors, I interviewed a couple of gangsters.
GM: George, because of his background as a crime reporter, brought a certain expertise and gravitas that gives this book more weight.
C: What were some selections that you didn’t necessarily agree upon?
GM: The biggest disagreement came over Al Pacino’s Scarface. George thinks it’s silly and over the top.
GA: Glen thought it deserved to be in the top 10, I didn’t think it should be in the top 20. We settled for 16. My problem was the narrative got lost in the second half of the movie, which becomes Pacino screaming “Fuck” a lot and shooting people.
GM: I can’t argue that it’s a great movie, but it became a cultural icon and remains one all these years later. People who weren’t alive when it was made now quote the lines and hang that poster of Pacino on their wall. All I need to say is, “Say hello to my little friend!”
C: What were some selections that didn’t make the cut or almost didn’t make the cut but were ultimately included?
GM: We probably could have put more movies from the 1950s – film noir crime movies or some caper films, like The Ladykillers. One movie I regret not putting in was the recent Ocean’s 11. At the time we thought it stretched the boundaries of what a gangster movie is, but, looking back, I think it should have made the cut.
GA: We’re sure there are some hidden gems and little known classics that probably were better than some of the movies ranked in the bottom half. I think the way to look at this is, the top 50 would make anyone’s list, maybe not in the order we chose, but certainly as part of the best 100. The bottom 50 is open to debate.
C: What are some of your personal favorite films that are profiled in the book?
GA: Probably my favorite is The Pope of Greenwich Village. I think it was one of the first to depict the mob from the street level and Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts were great. Of the more recent films, I loved The Departed and Leon: The Professional. And my sleeper was The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a great Robert Mitchum performance and again a story of the underworld told from the streets.
The most realistic or true to life gangster movies were Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco. And I think Pacino’s performance in Donnie Brasco is his best as a gangster.
GM: Beyond the obvious, like The Godfather, On the Waterfront and Goodfellas, there are a few smaller movies I really enjoyed. Here are four sleepers: Sexy Beast, with Ben Kingsley as a frightening British mobster, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, a 1956 heist film that influenced Tarantino, Things Change, which is a fluffy comedy, and the British film Let Him Have It, which will break your heart.
C: Have you received any humorous/furious feedback from readers regarding your selections or films that didn’t make the cut?
GA: Most of the debate is about rankings. There’s also a generational divide. Some younger guys are totally clueless about movies from the 1930s and even classics like On The Waterfront.
GM: There’s a whole constituency out there that think A Bronx Tale should be the top-ranked gangster film ever.
C: What can attendees expect from your upcoming presentation at the Hiway?
GM: A fun night of entertainment. Some great old clips, good discussion, info and trivia, and a chance to offer their own opinions on the greatest gangster films of all time.
GA: The most fun in doing this – and this will be the kind of stuff we talk about – was tracking the trivia and anecdotal stuff that went into the making of the movie or the casting or the writing. We have a lot of that and people seem to enjoy that part of the discussion. For example, we have an item “I know that guy” in almost every essay. It’s a character actor or somebody you recognize in a bit part. In Donnie Brasco there’s the classic scene where Joe Pistone is explaining to an FBI techie what “forgetaboutit” means in underworld speak. Everybody knows the scene and can quote line. But few people notice that the techie is Paul Giamatti. It’s one of his first parts…those are the little gems that make discussions about movies fun and we hope to bring a lot of that to the table.
ULTIMATE GANGSTER MOVIES will be held at the Hiway Theatre on Wednesday, December 14 at 7:30 PM. Admission is $10, $8 senior/student.
212 Old York Road
Jenkintown, PA 19046
Author: Eric Bresler
Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.