A Century of Film
Crime Films

The Genre:

There seems to be an idea that Gangster Films and Crime Films are interchangeable.  But to me, a Crime film is more than just a Gangster Film and the latter is just a sub-genre of the former.  The Rough Guide to Gangster Movies kind of sums up the idea right away even if they are just talking about Gangster films and not Crime films:

“Every book about gangster movies has to have a working definition of what a gangster movie actually is.  And each will disagree with the other.  For the purposes of the Rough Guide to Gangster Movies, it is one in which the gangster is the protagonist, not the supporting player or bête noir of the long-suffering cop hero.” (p 3)

Of course, they then immediately break that rule by including The Big Heat (which they specifically make an exception for).  But they do a better job than most books, not including such films as Touch of Evil, L.A. Confidential or The Untouchables.  I agree with their definition of the criminal being the protagonist and thus don’t include films about crimes when the protagonist is a member of the law (dirty cop movies are a different case as you’ll see below).

Now they also discuss the notion that they have a broad-based definition of a “gangster” so they include a lot of films that I don’t include in the “Gangster” sub-genre listed below, but for more on that, see that definition.

Crime films go back to the start of narrative story-telling.  Indeed, the first great Crime film is one of the first great films ever made, the 12 minute long The Great Train Robbery made in 1903, complete with the brilliant ending of the outlaw shooting at the screen.  Then came The Musketeers of Pig Alley (mentioned in several Crime film list books down below), the 17 minute Griffith film that helped make a star of Lilian Gish.  MGM would make several Crime films in the 1920’s, all starring Lon Chaney.

But Crime films really came of age in the 1930’s with the rise of the gangster film.  Starting with Doorway to Hell and then moving on to Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, Warner Bros became the go-to studio for gangster films which continued throughout the decade, making stars of Cagney, Robinson, Raft and Bogart.

In later decades, the Crime film would flourish overseas, in France in the 50’s and 60’s, Japan and Italy in the 60’s and in the 80’s and 90’s in Hong Kong.

Starting in the late 50’s, films would start to be made about true crime figures (most of the gangster films before then were at least nominally fictional).  Bonnie and Clyde would start a trend towards younger people caught on the run and The Godfather would bring back films about the Mafia.  The two films would also bring a new critical acclaim to the Genre, with Bonnie the first Oscar nominee for Best Picture for a Crime film in 30 years while The Godfather would be the first to win the Oscar.  They would also bring in a new generation of Crime filmmakers like Coppola and Scorsese.  In 1994, things would take another step with Pulp Fiction which unfortunately would set off a wave of inferior films heavily influenced by Tarantino.

Sub-Genres:

Black Humor

  • Best Film:  Fargo

There’s not a whole lot here but what is can be pretty funny.  Films that end up here also could have ended up as Comedies and usually involve incompetent criminals.  Thus you get films like Fargo, with its cast of incompetent criminals, In Bruges, with a hit man exiled to the most boring town ever for bungling a job, The Ice Harvest, with two incompetent feuding criminals, Cul-de-Sac, which pretty much covers that same ground and Crimewave, a Sam Raimi / Coen Brothers / Bruce Campbell combination that should say it all.  These all have a very dark sense of humor, much more than a film like Get Shorty which I don’t place into this sub-genre.

Blaxploitation

  • Best Film:  Cotton Comes to Harlem

By no means are all Blaxploitation films Crime films.  In fact, the two most prominent Blaxploitation films (Sweetback, Shaft) are both classified as Action films.  But certainly Crime films are a prominent part of Blaxploitation, usually with some drug selling gangster.  Cotton Comes to Harlem is not only the best of the few (7) films on this list, but it also has the pedigree, based on the novel by Chester Himes.

Corrupt Cop

  • Best Film:  Q & A

As I mentioned in the opening piece, I don’t generally consider “Cop” films to be Crime films.  If a police officer is the protagonist, I generally classify it in some other way (usually either Action or Mystery).  But if that police officer happens to be corrupt, well then, you’re in a Crime film.  Certainly two of the most well-known in this sub-genre are Bad Lieutenant and Training Day (especially since Denzel Washington won the Oscar).  Q & A is the only one of the 14 films I classify in this sub-genre to earn higher than *** from me and I will remind you that I think Training Day is a terrible film with a massively over-rated performance from Washington.  It’s Keitel who gives the best performance in any of these films although there are also both Jason Patric and Ray Liotta in Narc.

Fu Manchu

  • Best Film:  The Face of Fu Manchu

Like Tarzan in Adventure films, James Bond in Action films and Sherlock Holmes in Mystery films, there are enough Fu Manchu films that I decided to give him his own sub-genre.  I have only seen six of them, however and one of them, The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu, is actually a Comedy.  But that still leaves the Boris Karloff The Mask of Fu Manchu and four of the Christopher Lee films with the best, by a significant margin being The Face of Fu Manchu (the first of them).  They aren’t great films but any Christopher Lee film is worth watching at least once.

Gangster

  • Best Film:  The Godfather

The dictionary definition of a gangster is just “a member of a gang of criminals”.  But, for me, there is more to it than that.  The idea of a “gangster” to me implies organized crime.  So people like Bonnie and Clyde, who definitely had a gang, don’t fit my definition.  This would almost be better defined as a “Mafia” film but it’s not always the Mafia (it could be the Yakuza), so I went with “Gangster” instead.
There is also a subset of Gangster films that I classify as Gangster (True Crime).  These are fact-based (mostly) stories of real gangsters.  It’s interesting to note that these don’t begin until the late 50’s.  Before that, almost all Gangster films were fictionalized versions of real gangsters that didn’t use real names.  But that kind of changes with Al Capone, the 1959 film.  By then, Capone had been dead for over a decade and that seemed to open things up for real stories.  But for the most part, these are different from the True Crime sub-genre listed below.
There are any number of great Gangster films, most notably the Best Picture winners: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Departed.  But I count 11 different films I rate as **** and classify here not including the one **** film that rises above all others in the Gangster (True Crime) part which is GoodFellas.  There are a number of ***.5 films (Bugsy, Donnie Brasco, American Gangster) but only GoodFellas reaches ****.  Overall between the two parts, there are 72 films that are classified as Gangster.

Heist

  • Best Film:  The Usual Suspects

I could just call this Fictional Heist because true heists tend to end up in True Crime (the limits of making choices).  There are 66 films here with 9 of them reaching **** and another 8 ***.5 (almost all of them high ***.5).  This seems pretty straight forward – a film in which a group of criminals gather together to steal something.  This sub-genre really started to rise in the 50’s and the first four films on the list by Oscar eligibility date are also four of the best: The Asphalt Jungle, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Killing and The Ladykillers.  In fact, until you get to the mid 90’s the only bad film in this sub-genre is Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round and the only reason I’ve seen that is because its Harrison Ford’s film debut.

Hitman

  • Best Film:  The Killer

This sub-genre didn’t used to exist in my spreadsheet before I started doing this post but going through the Crime films it was clear there’s a whole group of films that are stories about a hitman.  These are films that not just feature a hitman but are primarily about them and the job that they do.  This one seems to get interest in different countries and directors as diverse as John Woo (The Killer), Luc Besson (Leon), Jim Jarmush (Ghost Dog) and Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill).  My top rated performance of a hitman in a Hitman film is Tom Cruise in Collateral.

Lit Adaptation

  • Best Film:  No Country for Old Men

Like in Westerns, a rather small part of the genre and like in Westerns it features both Cormac McCarthy and Graham Greene.  In fact, three of the five films are Graham Greene adaptations with both versions of Brighton Rock as well as This Gun for Hire.  The other film listed here is La Bete Humaine.  A very strong short list with the five films averaging an 83.8.

Prison

  • Best Film:  Brute Force

There are two different types of Prison films.  There are Drama films that are about people who are wrongly imprisoned (Shawshank) or prisoners that focus on their life in prison rather than their crimes (Birdman of Alcatraz).  Then there are films that focus on the criminals and their criminal lives that happen to be set in prisons.  It’s not a big list (8 films) and not a great one (only two films ranked above *** – Brute Force and A Prophet).

True Crime

  • Best Film:  Bonnie and Clyde

When you limit yourself to one sub-genre it’s hard to decide what is most important.  True Crime films about gangsters ended up in Gangster but True Crime films about heists (like Dog Day Afternoon or The Brink’s Job) end up here.  Also, since I have a more narrow focus on what constitutes a “Gangster” film than most people do, a lot of films end up here that most people would have slotted in there, including Bonnie and Clyde or Dillinger or Public Enemies.  Other films that end up here are about solitary killers (Badlands, In Cold Blood, Zodiac) or criminals who don’t fit other molds (Catch Me if You Can, Ned Kelly).

assorted other subgenres

  • Best Film:  Atlantic City  (Romance)

Unlike Westerns, where pretty much all films that were in sub-genres ended up in a specific Western sub-genre, that doesn’t happen here.  So we have a couple of Animated films (A Cat in Paris, Coonskin), a few Comedies that aren’t dark enough for me to slot them in with Black Comedies (Get Shorty, Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me, The Olsen Gang’s Last Escapade), Comic Book films (Sin City), Romance (Atlantic City, Two Smart People), Shakespeare (Men of Respect, which could have been a Gangster film or a Hitman film but is based on Macbeth which overrides all other sub-genres for me) and Tragedy (Le Jour se Leve).

The Directors:

Unlike Westerns, there are a lot fewer directors who have specialized in Crime films.  There are several directors who have directed 5 that I have seen (Tod Browning, Jules Dassin, Abel Ferrara, Louis Malle, Don Siegel, Raoul Walsh) but there are only a handful that have made more than 5.  There are three directors who end up in the top 10 twice without even making 5 films (Coppola, Scorsese, the Coens).

Koreyoshi Kurahara

  • Films:  6
  • Years:  1957 – 1966
  • Average Film:  62.67
  • Best Film:  The Thirst for Love
  • Worst Film:  Black Sun

Like Seijun Suzuki, listed below, Kurahara worked at the Nikkatsu film studio in the 60’s.  I was first introduced to him by watching I Am Waiting, which was included in Criterion’s Eclipse Series Nikkatsu Noir and Kurahara would later get his own Eclipse Series: The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara.  Overall, I have seen six of his Crime films and have only seen one film directed by him that I don’t classify as Crime (Antarctica).  None of the films rank higher than mid *** and Black Sun is pretty weak (mid **) but his better films (The Thirst for Love, I Am Waiting, I Hate But Love) are worth watching.

Jean-Pierre Melville

  • Films:  6
  • Years:  1956  –  1972
  • Average Film:  71.00
  • Best Film:  Bob le Flambeur
  • Worst Film:  Doulos – The Finger Man

Six of the ten Melville films I have seen are Crime films though sadly not his best one (Army of Shadows).  That accounts for all of his Crime films except Magnet of Doom.  He didn’t make his first Crime film until 1956 but after 1961 it was almost exclusively what he made until his death at age 55 in 1973.  Anthony Lane last year perfectly summed up Melville’s style: “This is how you should attend the forthcoming retrospective of Jean-Pierre Melville movies at Film Forum: Tell nobody what you are doing.  Even your loved ones—especially your loved ones—must be kept in the dark.  If it comes to a choice between smoking and talking, smoke.  Dress well but without ostentation.  Wear a raincoat, buttoned and belted, regardless of whether there is rain.  Any revolver should be kept, until you need it, in the pocket of the coat.  Finally, before you leave home, put your hat on.  If you don’t have a hat you can’t go.”  I don’t rate any of Melville’s Crime films as great but almost all of them are high *** and are definitely worth seeing and many of them are available in pristine versions on dvd from Criterion.

Seijun Suzuki

  • Films:  7
  • Years:  1960  –  1967
  • Average Film:  69.00
  • Best Film:  Take Aim at the Police Van
  • Worst Film:  Branded to Kill

Like Kurahara, Suzuki worked at Nikkatsu in the 60’s and his Take Aim at the Police Van is included in the Nikkatusu Noir series.  But, Suzuki’s increasingly surreal sense of style (which can be viewed in his Crime films, all of which are available from Criterion) continued to get stranger and stranger until Branded to Kill which ended up getting him fired from the studio, and after he sued them, blackballed in the industry for a decade.  Of his later films, I have only seen two and neither was a Crime film but his work at Nikkatsu in the 60’s were vital films even if none of them reach higher than high ***.

Steven Soderbergh

  • Films:  7
  • Years:  1995  –  present
  • Average Film:  78.86
  • Best Film:  Traffic
  • Worst Film:  The Underneath

Soderbergh has worked in a variety of genres, of course, but ever since he made his first Crime film in 1995 (The Underneath, his only Crime film to earn lower than a 70) he has continually returned to the genre.  In fact, he is a master of the Heist film because not only has he made the three Ocean’s films but also Out of Sight and even The Underneath (and would return to Heist after 2011 – see the end of the post).  He has even expanded beyond Heist films with his masterful Traffic diving into the world of drug trafficking and The Limey exploring a British criminal at loose in the streets of LA.

Fritz Lang

  • Films:  8
  • Years:  1918 – 1960
  • Average Film:  80.13
  • Best Film:  M
  • Worst Film:  The Spiders Part II: The Diamond Ship

Like Soderbergh, Lang has worked in a variety of genres and like Soderbergh he would have a series of Crime films (The Mabuse films) and he would return to them from time to time.  He would also, like Soderbergh, direct two great Crime films (M, You Only Live Once) and several other very good or solidly good ones.  He and Scorsese are the only directors to win the Nighthawk twice for directing a Crime film.  He also has the longest stretch working in Crime films because of his return to Mabuse in 1960 towards the end of his career.  Even his worst film in the genre earns a 72.

Best Crime Director  (weighted points system)

  1. Fritz Lang  (280)
  2. Martin Scorsese  (262)
  3. Francis Ford Coppola  (234)
  4. Joel and Ethan Coen  (213)
  5. Quentin Tarantino  (165)

Analysis:  This adds up points on a weighted scale (90-1) for placing in the Top 20 at the Nighthawk Awards for Best Director in any given year.  Lang and Scorsese land at the top because both of them win Best Director twice for Crime films.  Steven Soderbergh, with the most films, ends up in 6th place with 143 points.

The Stars:

James Cagney

The best of the Gangster actors even if the movies weren’t always the greatest.  He helped kickstart the genre with The Public Enemy (along with Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar but Robinson was in a lot fewer Crime films, or at least a lot fewer than I’ve seen).  Aside from The Public Enemy though, the only great Crime film he was in was Angels with Dirty Faces.  There were a couple of very good ones though (Doorway to Hell, White Heat) and his reputation as the ultimate actor in the genre continued through his time away from the genre (the 40’s, basically) and allowed him to return to it.  He would also earn an Oscar nomination for playing a gangster in a film that isn’t a Crime film (Love Me or Leave Me).  Cagney is one of my absolute favorite actors of all-time, possibly only behind Guinness and Bogart because he could balance the Crime films with Musicals, Comedies and Dramas.
Essential Viewing:  Angels with Dirty Faces, White Heat, The Public Enemy

Humphrey Bogart

Bogart’s work in the genre is a little tricky because a lot of people will include such films as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon which, first, I don’t count as Crime films, and second have Bogart as the detective and not the criminal.  But that doesn’t mean he’s not important in such very good films as High Sierra or Dead End.  He’s also brilliant as the gangster Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest which I classify as a Drama.  Unfortunately, the one Crime film that teams Cagney and Bogart (with Bogart as Cagney’s crooked lawyer), The Roaring Twenties, is somewhat disappointing.
Essential Viewing:  High Sierra, Dead End, They Drive By Night

Lon Chaney

Before he was a Horror star, Lon Chaney often played lowlife criminals.  In fact, some of his best performances are as criminals in films The Penalty or The Unholy Three.  Chaney managed to perfectly convey the face of a man who was utterly untrustworthy.  Most importantly, the remake of The Unholy Three in which he again plays the leader of a small group of criminals is the only sound film that Chaney would make before his way too early death.
Essential Viewing:  The Penalty, The Unholy Three, Outside the Law

Jean Gabin

Though I haven’t seen Gabin in that many Crime films (five by my count, though there could be more that I am missing), the ones he did star in are key ones.  If I just did a Best Actor Top 5 for Foreign Crime films, Gabin would come in 2nd (La Bete Humaine), 4th (Pepe le Moko), 5th (Le Jour se Leve) and 6th (Touchez pas au Grisbi).  All four of those films are also in the Top 20 for Foreign Crime films while no other actor is in more than one of the Top 20.  What’s more, he worked with different directors, with four different directors on those films.
Essential Viewing:  La Bete Humaine, Pepe le Moko, Le Jour se Leve, Touchez pas au Grisbi

Robert De Niro

No one has appeared in more great Crime films than Robert De Niro, starring in four different **** films (Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II, GoodFellas, Jackie Brown).  Amazingly for all his work in Crime films (nine by my count), he has only earned the one Oscar for The Godfather Part II and no other nominations (though he was worthy of an Oscar for both Mean Streets and GoodFellas).  Everyone in the Godfather films became at least somewhat identified with the genre but De Niro, by starring in Once Upon a Time in America and GoodFellas really became solidly identified as a gangster in many people’s minds.
Essential Viewing:  GoodFellas, The Godfather Part II, Mean Streets, Once Upon a Time in America

Al Pacino

He may not have won his Oscar in a Crime film but he earned three Oscar nominations in Crime films, the only person ever to do so.  What’s more, his performance in The Godfather is one of the greatest performances in film history and absolutely should have won the Oscar.  He also earned back-to-back nominations for Crime films for The Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon.  I’ve seen him in eight Crime films and while two of them have reputations they don’t deserve (Scarface, Carlito’s Way) two of them are also very underrated (Heat, Donnie Brasco).  While Cagney is still the definitive Crime film actor, no one has given more great performances in Crime films than Pacino.
Essential Viewing:  The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III, Dog Day Afternoon

The Studios:

Warner Bros rules the genre.  Of the major studios, only Warner Bros has more than 4 **** films (they have nine as well as seven ***.5 films).  The only other studio with more than four is actually Miramax which really specialized in Crime films in part thanks to Tarantino.  While no other major has more than 40 Crime films, Warners has a whopping 64.  While Paramount has the #1 film overall, Warners has the next two on the list.  After Doorway to Hell in 1930, Warners burst forth in 1931 with five different films including both Little Caesar and The Public Enemy and basically crafted what would later be known as the Gangster film.  From then to 1941 the only year where I haven’t seen at least one Crime film from Warners is 1937 and most years have multiple films.  With both Cagney and Bogart moving away from their roles in the 40’s things cool off until the late 60’s bust after the success of Bonnie and Clyde they return with three more great Crime films (Mean Streets, Badlands, Dog Day Afternoon) and it’s rare to have more than a few years go by without at least one really good Crime film with Warners.  I should mention though that Paramount has won two of the four Best Picture Oscars for Crime films but that’s because of the Godfather films.  Warners did win Best Picture for The Departed.  See the next paragraph for one more studio.

Countries

Not only do the most Crime films come from France (53 of the 201 that I have seen that are non English language) but the best ones do as well.  They average a 68.7, over three points higher than the average and they account for half of the great films (4 of 8) and over a third of the very good films (7 of 17).  No other country has more than one great film and the only ones with two films better than *** are Germany (one ****, one ***.5) and South Korea (two ***.5, both in the same series by the same director).  I should mention here the Nikkatsu films.  As mentioned above in the Directors piece, Criterion released an entire box set of Nikkatsu Noir films and another separate box set of Kurahara films (all of which were also Nikkatsu films).  I have seen 21 films by the studio and 15 of them were Crime films made between 1957 and 1967.  None of them rank above *** but only two rank below *** and they are important films to see.

Oscar Submissions

Oddly enough, the submissions for Best Foreign Film at the Academy are actually, on the average, weaker than the non-submissions (the average is 64.89, almost a full point lower than the average film overall).  It’s not that they pick bad films.  Of the 53 films submitted that I have seen and classify as Crime, only two are below **.5 and the vast majority are *** or better.  It’s that they don’t pick the really good ones.  I have seen 16 very good or great films that were released since the category’s existence and only five were submitted to the Oscars.  Thankfully, three of them were nominated.  Unfortunately, the best of them by far, City of God, was not nominated.  Of the best 17 (which earn a 67 or above) since the semi-finals began, 7 were nominated and one more was a semi-finalist.  Of the bottom 36, only one, The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany, 2008), earned a nomination.  No Crime film has ever won the Oscar.  While France and Japan have made the most Crime films that I’ve seen, combined only one submission has been made by the two countries (The Gates of Paris, France, 1957), which earned a nomination.  The most submissions have come from India (5), Mexico (4) and Colombia (4) and Biutiful (Mexico, 2010) is the only one of those 13 to earn a nomination.  Add in the three from Argentina and three from Brazil (no nominations for either) and it’s clear that Latin America prefers the Crime film more than any other region for its Oscar submissions; those four countries have submitted 26.4% of the Crime films but only 7.3% of all Oscar submissions.  Germany has been quite successful though.  West Germany submitted three films and earned nominations in 1957 for The Devil Came at Night and in 1978 for The Glass Cell while since reunification, it submitted two and was nominated for The Baader Meinhof Complex.  Germany accounts for 19 out of 310 total Oscar nominations (about 6%) but 3 out of 8 Crime films (37%).  Likewise, it is 19 for 59 when submitting (counting all three countries) but is 3 for 5 when submitting Crime films.  Carlos Moreno is worth noting as the only director who has submitted multiple Crime films that I have seen (both for Colombia).

note:  For the next few lists, any links are to reviews I have written.  Some of them go to the Adapted Screenplay posts that discuss the film and the literary source but don’t actually review the film (but link to places where I had already reviewed the film).  There are a few that are not linked now but will be in the coming months as I get to more of the Adapted Screenplay posts.  The middle list deliberately includes any Crime films I have already reviewed as well as any Crime film I saw in the theater and some remakes of great films just to show the difference in quality.
note:  Please don’t try to make the following list match up with other lists I have made.  All my lists are fluid and they change.

The Top 100 Crime Films

  1. The Godfather
  2. GoodFellas
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. Pulp Fiction
  5. M  (1931)
  6. Fargo
  7. The Godfather Part II
  8. No Country for Old Men
  9. The Departed
  10. Traffic
  11. Mean Streets
  12. The Usual Suspects
  13. Dog Day Afternoon
  14. City of God
  15. Out of Sight
  16. The Killing
  17. Boyz N the Hood
  18. Miller’s Crossing
  19. Scarface (1932)
  20. A History of Violence
  21. Badlands
  22. Jackie Brown
  23. The Lavender Hill Mob
  24. The Grifters
  25. Atlantic City
  26. In Cold Blood
  27. Eastern Promises
  28. Road to Perdition
  29. Reservoir Dogs
  30. You Only Live Once
  31. Shoot the Piano Player
  32. Pickup on South Street
  33. The Ladykillers  (1956)
  34. The Asphalt Jungle
  35. Point Blank
  36. Elevator to the Gallows
  37. The Long Good Friday
  38. The Town
  39. Biutiful
  40. The Public Enemy
  41. Catch Me if You Can
  42. La Bete Humaine
  43. Angels with Dirty Faces
  44. The Killer
  45. It Always Rains on Sunday
  46. Clockers
  47. Menace II Society
  48. Revanche
  49. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
  50. Casque d’Or
  51. Force of Evil
  52. Sin City
  53. Zodiac
  54. The General  (1998)
  55. In Bruges
  56. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
  57. High Sierra
  58. Once Upon a Time in America
  59. Heat  (1995)
  60. The Night of the Hunter
  61. Le Jour se Leve
  62. Leon
  63. Shanghai Triad
  64. Battles without Honour or Humanity
  65. Brute Force
  66. Prizzi’s Honor
  67. The Good Thief
  68. Brighton Rock  (1947)
  69. Pepe le Moko
  70. Sexy Beast
  71. Infernal Affairs
  72. Bugsy
  73. Rififi
  74. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
  75. The Crime of Monsieur Lange
  76. The Cotton Club
  77. Animal Kingdom
  78. Maria Full of Grace
  79. Collateral
  80. Get Shorty
  81. Donnie Brasco
  82. Inside Man
  83. The Onion Field
  84. Dead End
  85. American Gangster
  86. The American
  87. Touchez pas au Grisbi
  88. The Limey
  89. Man on the Train
  90. The Penalty
  91. They Live by Night
  92. Ocean’s Eleven  (2001)
  93. Matchstick Men
  94. The Ice Harvest
  95. The Godfather Part III
  96. Thieves Like Us
  97. Lady Vengeance
  98. Dance with a Stranger
  99. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
  100. Q & A

note:  The Top 52 films are all ****.  The rest are ***.5.

Notable Crime Films Not in the Top 100

  • The Hit  (#101)
  • The Unholy Three  (1925)  (#105)
  • White Heat  (#106)
  • The Killers  (1946)  (#107)
  • This Gun for Hire  (#110)
  • El Mariachi  (#111)
  • Dillinger  (1945)  (#112)
  • Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels  (#115)
  • Take Aim at the Police Van  (#117)
  • Little Caesar  (#123)
  • Bob le Flambeur  (#124)
  • The Great Train Robbery  (1979)  (#130)
  • Once Upon a Time in Mexico  (#133)
  • Drive  (#137)
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three  (1974)  (#139)
  • Breathless  (1960)  (#145)
  • The Ladykillers  (2004)  (#160)
  • Natural Born Killers  (#163)
  • They Drive By Night  (#166)
  • The Thomas Crown Affair  (1968)  (#168)
  • Gun Crazy  (#173)
  • Dead Presidents  (#175)
  • Casino  (#181)
  • Le Samourai  (#182)
  • Band of Outsiders  (#183)
  • Kiss of Death  (1947)  (#185)
  • The Unholy Three  (1930)  (#200)
  • Bad Lieutenant  (#204)
  • The Killers  (1964)  (#214)
  • The Anderson Tapes  (#218)
  • The Sugarland Express  (#220)
  • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot  (#221)
  • Ocean’s Eleven  (1960)  (#225)
  • Scarface  (1983)  (#232)
  • True Romance  (#259)
  • The Roaring Twenties  (#263)
  • The Italian Job  (1969)  (#277)
  • A Bronx Tale  (#285)
  • The Big House  (#293)
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil  (#311)
  • Branded to Kill  (#323)
  • Gloria  (1980)  (#350)
  • Pickpocket  (#356)
  • The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre  (#371)
  • Topkapi  (#375)
  • Dillinger  (1973)  (#378)
  • Cotton Comes to Harlem  (#384)
  • The Racket  (1928)  (#385)
  • Carlito’s Way  (#402)
  • New Jack City  (#405)
  • Performance  (#415)
  • Cry of the City  (#423)
  • Black Caesar  (#425)
  • Billy Bathgate  (#427)
  • Sleepers  (#445)
  • Alibi  (1929)  (#448)
  • The American Friend  (#456)
  • Blast of Silence  (#471)
  • Snatch  (#474)
  • The Baader Meinhof Complex  (#475)
  • A Better Tomorrow  (#484)
  • Mickey One  (#486)
  • M  (1951)  (#494)
  • Al Capone  (#498)
  • The Honeymoon Killers  (#502)
  • Foxy Brown  (#529)
  • Pusher  (#533)
  • Bloody Mama  (#547)
  • Breathless  (1983)  (#571)
  • Kalifornia  (#577)
  • Detour  (#584)
  • Super Fly  (#586)
  • Romeo is Bleeding  (#588)
  • Kiss of Death  (1995)  (#589)
  • Training Day  (#591)
  • No Orchids for Miss Blandish  (#594)

The Bottom 10 Crime Films, #609-617 (worst being #10, which is #617 overall)

  1. 99 and 44/100% Dead
  2. Switchblade Sisters
  3. The Sicilian
  4. 3000 Miles to Graceland
  5. Faster Pussycat Kill Kill
  6. Guns Don’t Argue
  7. Mobsters
  8. Dahmer
  9. The Doom Generation
  10. A Serbian Film

The 12 Most Underrated Crime Films

These are all films that I rate at **** or ***.5 that have never appeared in TSPDT’s Top 1000 (now 2000) or their Top 250 21st Century Films (now 1000) or any of the books listed below:

  1. The Lavender Hill Mob
  2. Biutiful
  3. The Town
  4. Clockers
  5. It Always Rains on Sunday
  6. The General
  7. Battles Without Honour or Humanity
  8. Brute Force
  9. Shanghai Triad
  10. The Good Thief
  11. The Cotton Club
  12. The Onion Field

note:  I list 12 films because two of them are from 2010 which gives the books an excuse although they still should definitely be on the Top 1000 21st Century Films list.

Best Crime Films By Decade:

  • 1920’s:  The Penalty
  • 1930’s:  M
  • 1940’s:  It Always Rains on Sunday
  • 1950’s:  The Killing
  • 1960’s:  Bonnie and Clyde
  • 1970’s:  The Godfather
  • 1980’s:  Atlantic City
  • 1990’s:  GoodFellas
  • 2000’s:  No Country for Old Men
  • 2010’s:  The Town

Best Crime Films by Country (**** or ***.5 only):

  • United States:  The Godfather
  • Germany:  M
  • Brazil:  City of God
  • United Kingdom:  The Lavender Hill Mob
  • France:  Shoot the Piano Player
  • Mexico:  Biutiful
  • Austria:  Revanche
  • Australia:  Animal Kingdom
  • Japan:  Battles Without Honour and Humanity
  • Colombia:  Maria Full of Grace
  • South Korea:  Lady Vengeance
  • Israel:  Ajami
  • Italy:  Gomorrah
  • China:  A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
  • India:  Black Friday

The 5 Most Overrated Crime Films

  1. Scarface
    A fairly solid film (mid ***) but not the brilliant film that people like to claim and Pacino is ridiculously over the top
  2. The Roaring Twenties
    Mid *** but a big disappointment given it’s the one Cagney / Bogart pairing
  3. Al Capone
    The worst film (low **.5) to appear in multiple books listed below
  4. Carlito’s Way
    More over the top Pacino and a sub-par film somewhat saved by the Miller and Penn performances
  5. New Jack City
    Meant to see this for years and when I finally did was massively under-whelmed – **.5

The Statistics

Total Films 1912-2011: 617  (5th)

Total Percentage of All Films 1912-2011:  4.68%

  • 1912-1929:  11  (4th)  – 3.66%
  • 1930-1939:  38  (5th)  –  3.65%
  • 1940-1949:  47  (7th)  –  4.33%
  • 1950-1959:  52  (6th)  –  4.10%
  • 1960-1969:  82  (5th-tie)  –  5.51%
  • 1970-1979:  86  (5th)  –  5.73%
  • 1980-1989:  41  (10th)  –  2.41%
  • 1990-1999:  113  (3rd)  –  5.82%
  • 2000-2011:  145  (4th)  –  4.97%

Biggest Years:

  • 21:  2001
  • 19:  1995
  • 16:  1974, 2003
  • 15:  1990, 2002

Biggest Years by Percentage of All Films:

  • 1974:  10.96%
  • 1995:  9.60%
  • 2001:  8.94%
  • 1975:  8.90%
  • 1932:  8.33%

Best Years:

  • 1931, 1990:  3 films in the Top 10
  • 1974:  5 films in the Top 20

Eras:

  • Top 5 Most Films 8 times in 12 years, 1964 to 1975
  • Top 5 Most Films 14 times in 16 years, 1990 to 2005
  • Never in the Top 5 Most Films from 1980 to 1989
  • At least 5 films in every year since 1990
  • 1973-75 is the only three year stretch where every year accounts for more than 7% of total films

Crime started in 4th and stayed that way until the Production Code came into enforcement in 1934.  Then it dropped to 5th but would have enough films to keep it in the Top 5 until 1945 when it was passed by War.  But after the war it quickly moved back up, going back to 4th in 1948.  But Westerns passed Crime in 1949 and War passed it again in 1957 dropping it back out of the Top 5.  It stayed in 6th until 1966 when it passed War again and moved back into 5th with 205 total films.  With high totals in the 70’s until 1975 but until 1976 is passed by Horror.  With the low totals in the 80’s it would take until 1984 before it overcame the even lower totals for Westerns and moved back to 5th with 342 films.  Since then, it has been permanently mired in 5th place, considerably below Horror but still well above Kids.

The Top Films:

  • Nighthawk Winner:  1932, 1933, 1967, 1972, 1990, 1998, 2006, 2007
  • 3 Films in the Top 10:  1931, 1990
  • 2 Films in the Top 10:  13 times
  • Top 10 Films:  56
  • First Year in the Top 10:  1931
  • Latest Year in the Top 10:  2010
  • Longest Streak with at least one Top 10 Film:  1994-98
  • Longest Streak without a Top 10 Film:  1942-47
  • Best Decade for Top 10 Films:  1990’s  (12)
  • Worst Decade for Top 10 Films:  1920’s  (0)
  • 5 Films in the Top 20:  1974
  • 4 Films in the Top 20:  1990, 1995
  • Top 20 Films:  95
  • Longest Streak with at least one Top 20 Film:  1990-98
  • Longest Streak without a Top 20 Film:  1986-89
  • Best Decade for Top 20 Films:  1990’s  (19)
  • Worst Decade for Top 20 Films:  1920’s  (0)

Nighthawk Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  94
  • Number of Films That Have Won Nighthawks:  30
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  72
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  14
  • Best Picture Nominations:  30
  • Total Number of Nominations:  414
  • Total Number of Wins:  88
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Cinematography  (39)
  • Director with Most Nighthawk Nominated Films:  Francis Ford Coppola  /  Fritz Lang  (4)
  • Best Film with No Nighthawks:  Traffic
  • Best Film with No Nighthawk Nominations:  Clockers
  • Number of Films That Have Earned Drama Nominations:  83
  • Number of Films That Have Earned Comedy Nominations:  13
  • Number of Films That Have Won Drama Awards:  23
  • Number of Films That Have Won Comedy Awards:  8
  • Drama Picture Nominations:  39
  • Comedy Picture Nominations:  9
  • Total Number of Drama Nominations:  241
  • Total Number of Comedy Nominations:  57
  • Total Number of Drama Wins:  53
  • Total Number of Comedy Wins:  23
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Director  (41 – Drama  /  11 – Comedy)
  • Best Drama Film With No Nominations:  The Killer
  • Best Comedy Film With No Nominations:  Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
  • Most 2nd Place Finishes:  The Godfather Part II  (9)
  • Most 6th Place Finishes:  The Doorway to Hell  /  Badlands  /  Reservoir Dogs  (4)
  • Most Top 10 Finishes:  The Godfather Part II  (19)
  • Most Top 20 Finishes:  The Godfather  /  The Godfather Part II  (19)
  • Films With at Least One Top 10 Finish:  152
  • Best Film Without a Top 10 Finish:  Sin City
  • Films With at Least One Top 20 Finish:  194
  • Best Film Without a Top 20 Finish:  Black Friday

Most Nighthawk Nominations:

  1. The Godfather  –  18
  2. Bonnie and Clyde  –  17
  3. The Godfather Part II  –  16
  4. GoodFellas  –  13
  5. Scarface  –  10
  6. six with 9

note:  The Godfather is tied for 1st place all-time.

Most Nighthawks:

  1. Bonnie and Clyde  –  14
  2. The Godfather  –  11
  3. M  –  8
  4. GoodFellas  –  8
  5. Scarface  –  5

note:  Bonnie and Clyde is tied for 1st place all-time.

Most Nighthawk Points:

  1. Bonnie and Clyde  –  865
  2. The Godfather  –  815
  3. GoodFellas  –  670
  4. M  –  520
  5. The Godfather Part II  –  520
  6. Scarface  –  500
  7. The Departed  –  460
  8. No Country for Old Men  –  440
  9. Out of Sight  –  390
  10. Fargo  –  385

note:  Bonnie and Clyde is 1st place all-time.

Most Drama Nominations:

  1. The Godfather  –  9
  2. The Godfather Part II  –  9
  3. Bonnie and Clyde  –  8
  4. GoodFellas  –  7
  5. Dog Day Afternoon  –  7

note:  The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are tied for 1st all-time.

Most Comedy Nominations:

  1. The Ladykillers  –  7
  2. Jackie Brown  –  6
  3. Prizzi’s Honor  –  6
  4. In Bruges  –  6
  5. four films with 5

Most Drama Wins:

  1. Bonnie and Clyde  –  6
  2. GoodFellas  –  6
  3. Pulp Fiction  –  5
  4. M  –  4
  5. The Godfather  –  4

Most Comedy Wins:

  1. The Ladykillers  –  4
  2. Prizzi’s Honor  –  4
  3. Jackie Brown  –  4
  4. Out of Sight  –  4
  5. Fargo  –  3

Most Drama Points:

  1. Bonnie and Clyde  –  530
  2. GoodFellas  –  495
  3. The Godfather  –  485
  4. The Godfather Part II  –  390
  5. Pulp Fiction  –  390

note:  Bonnie is tied for 2nd all-time.

Most Comedy Points:

  1. The Ladykillers  –  410
  2. Jackie Brown  –  400
  3. Out of Sight  –  375
  4. Prizzi’s Honor  –  355
  5. Fargo  –  305

All-Time Nighthawk Awards

note:  These are my all-time Top 5 in each category.  But in the Analysis section, I discuss not only how Crime films have done in the Nighthawks but also in-depth discussions of how they have done in all the awards groups.  Films in red won the Oscar.  Films in blue were Oscar nominated.  There are a few lists here that aren’t in my usual Nighthawk Awards.

  • Best Picture
  1. The Godfather
  2. GoodFellas
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. Pulp Fiction
  5. M

Analysis:  Of course, the Top 100 is the full ranking for this category.
The top three films here all win the Nighthawk as does M.  Farther down the list also winning the Nighthawk are No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Out of Sight and Scarface.  It’s the luck (or lack) of the competition that my #15 and 19 films win the Nighthawk but not my #4.  It’s the same among the nominees.  Thirty Crime films earn a nomination for Best Picture at the Nighthawks but that includes my #40 (The Public Enemy), #45 (It Always Rains on Sunday) and #51 (Force of Evil) but not my #20 or 21 (A History of Violence, Badlands).  Aside from the 30 winners or nominees another 23 finish in the Top 10 in their respective years although that includes Doorway to Hell which didn’t make my Top 100 but not Road to Perdition and Biutiful which both finish in 11th in strong years.  Another 31 films finish in the Top 20 in their respective years.  Sin City is the only **** film not to make the Top 20 in its year.  In all, 30 films eligible for Best Picture (***.5 or ****) fall outside the Top 20, all of them in 1990 except two films from my combined year of 1912-26 (The Penalty, The Unholy Three).
One film each was nominated for Best Picture at the first three Oscars: The Racket, Alibi, The Big House.  Then, except for Dead End in 1937, it was a massive gap until Bonnie and Clyde in 1967.  Crime finally became the 9th genre to win the Oscar when The Godfather won in 1972 (a year after Action finally won).  But two years later it became only the sixth genre to win multiple Oscars with The Godfather Part II.  It had to wait three decades for another Oscar (The Departed) but the year after that it joined Musicals in 1964-65 as the only non-Drama genre to win back-to-back Oscars with No Country for Old Men.  It is one of only five genres to win four Oscars.  Things would improve slowly for the nominees but after only receiving 4 nominations prior to 1967 and then 6 in the 18 year stretch of 1967 to 1985, it earned 5 more in just seven years from 1990 to 1996.
The Globes wouldn’t nominate a Crime film at all until 1967.  But, beginning with Bonnie and Clyde they would nominate 19 in total through 2011.  That would include three winners (The Godfather, Prizzi’s Honor, Bugsy).  One winner (Prizzi) and three other nominees (Get Shorty, Fargo, In Bruges) would be in the Comedy categories.  In 2007, the Globes would nominate three Crime films (No Country for Old Men, American Gangster, Eastern Promises).
Back in the 50’s, when they had lots of nominees, the BAFTAs would be the one group nominating Crime films with an astounding eight nominations (plus one in 1948 and two more in 1961).  They would also kick in with Bonnie and Clyde though they haven’t been as generous since, only nominating nine since.  What’s more, GoodFellas is the only Crime film to ever win the BAFTA and none of the Godfather films even earned nominations.  Five films have earned BAFTA nominations for Best British Film with The Lavender Hill Mob winning.  In 2007, No Country and American Gangster were nominated for Picture and Eastern Promises for British Film.
The BFCA have been very generous though with three winners (Fargo, Departed, No Country) and eight other winners just since 1995.  No Country on the other hand is the only Crime film to win the PGA though nine others have earned nominations.
The critics have loved Crime films.  GoodFellas won five awards (all but the NBR) while Pulp Fiction and No Country won four each.  Four other crime films have won two critics awards (Atlantic City, Fargo, Out of Sight, The Departed).  Four other films have won at least won Best Picture award.

  • Best Director
  1. Francis Ford Coppola  (The Godfather)
  2. Martin Scorsese  (GoodFellas)
  3. Arthur Penn  (Bonnie and Clyde)
  4. Quentin Tarantino  (Pulp Fiction)
  5. Fritz Lang  (M)

Analysis:  Just like with Picture, Coppola, Scorsese, Penn and Lang win the Nighthawk but Tarantino doesn’t.  In addition, Marty (The Departed) and Lang (You Only Live Once) both win second Nighthawks while the Coens (No Country) and Howard Hawks (Scarface) also win the Nighthawk.  Another 27 Crime films earn Director nominations.  Several films earn Director noms without Picture noms while only The Ladykillers earns a Picture nom without a Director nom.
That’s appropriate because things are similar at the Academy.  Aside from the four early Crime Picture nominees (none of which earned Director noms), every Crime film nominated for Picture has earned a Director nom and seven others (including three in the years between 1937 and 1967 when there were no Picture nominees) earned Director noms without a Picture nom.  Coppola failed to win the Oscar in 1972 but Soderbergh won without winning Picture for Traffic.  Coppola is the only three time Oscar nominee (one win) while the Coens have a win and a nomination and John Huston has two nominations.  In 1990 and 1991 five of the ten Director nominees were for Crime films but all five of them (Scorsese, Coppola, Frears, Levinson, Singleton) lost.
Coppola won the DGA twice and Marty and the Coens also won.  Twelve other Crime films have earned nominations.  Coppola (The Godfather), John Huston (Prizzi’s Honor) and Marty (The Departed) have won the Globe.  There have also been 17 other nominees, though only John Huston for The Asphalt Jungle before 1967.  It really heated up in the early 90’s with seven nominees from 1990 to 1996.  Coppola has actually been nominated four times (the three Godfather films and The Cotton Club).  Huston is the only winner from a Comedy film and the Coens (Fargo) the only other nominee from a Comedy film.  While only one film has won at the BAFTAs, four directors have won: Louis Malle (Atlantic City), Marty (GoodFellas) and the Coens twice.  But there have only been six other nominees.  While there have been 11 films nominated for Picture at the BFCA only four directors have been nominated; however they have all won the BFCA (Traffic, Catch Me if You Can, The Departed, No Country).
Tarantino swept all six critics awards in 1994, the first director to ever do so.  Marty came close with GoodFellas, winning five and Soderbergh would also win five for Traffic.  Marty would win four more awards for The Departed, John Huston would win three for Prizzi’s Honor and the David Cronenberg would win two for A History of Violence and the two Coens would two twice, for both Fargo and No Country (the CFC both times).  Eight other directors win one critics award.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Godfather
  2. GoodFellas
  3. Out of Sight
  4. The Godfather Part II
  5. The Departed

Analysis:  Eight films have won the Nighthawk in this category including all of my Top 5 (as well as Scarface, The Killing and No Country for Old Men).  Another 16 films have earned Nighthawk nominations, 16 more finished in the Top 10 and another 18 beyond that (so 58 in total) make the Top 20.  The two best films that don’t make the Top 20 in this category (and are eligible) are The Night of the Hunter and American Gangster.
Five films have won the Oscar (the three in red above as well as Traffic and No Country).  Another 11 films beyond that have earned Oscar nominations.  There was a gap of 17 years between nominations in this category from 1950 to 1967.  Except for the 20’s, there has been a Crime nominee in this category in every decade, even though there was only one each in the 40’s (The Killers), 50’s (The Asphalt Jungle) and 80’s (Prizzi’s Honor).
In the Globes combined Screenplay category, The Godfather, Traffic and No Country all won while seven other films have earned nominations.
Prizzi’s Honor, GoodFellas and Traffic have all won the BAFTA.  Even though the BAFTAs started the split between Adapted and Original in 1983, no Crime film other than the winners earned a nomination until Catch Me if You Can in 2002, though since then four others have earned nominations.
Crime films have only earned Adapted nominations at the BFCA (no Original nominations at all) with Traffic winning and The Departed, No Country and The Town all earning nominations.
WGA winners include The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (Adapted Drama) as well, after the genre distinction was dropped, Prizzi’s Honor, Out of Sight, Traffic, The Departed and No Country.  Eleven other films have earned nominations with two each (because of old category distinctions) for The Naked City and The Asphalt Jungle.
The critics tend to prefer original scripts but they have given awards to some adapted scripts as well.  No Country won three awards, Out of Sight and The Departed won two each and GoodFellas won one.

  • Best Novel Adapted into a Crime Film:
  1. La Bete Humaine  (filmed twice)
  2. No Country for Old Men
  3. Brighton Rock  (filmed twice)
  4. Clockers
  5. The Great Train Robbery

Analysis:  The top three of these all made my second Top 100 and La Bete Humaine really probably would have made the Top 100 had I read it earlier.  Bete and The Great Train Robbery also have been done as Great Reads.  These are all books I had read before my Adapted Screenplay project.  They are all very different books but all well worth reading.

  • Best Non-Fiction Book Adapted into a Crime Film:
  1. In Cold Blood
  2. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
  3. Wiseguy
  4. Zodiac
  5. Catch Me if You Can

Analysis:  Again, these are all books I had read before I began my Adapted Screenplay project.  Five very different books about five very different types of crimes (horrific murder / bizarre murder / organized crime from the point of view of a gangster / serial killer that was never caught / con man written by the con man himself).

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Pulp Fiction
  2. Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Fargo
  4. The Usual Suspects
  5. The Lavender Hill Mob

Analysis:  Pulp Fiction is the most honored original script ever written.  It won eight awards (still tied for the record) and it won every award that existed except the WGA, for which it was not eligible.
Four of my Top 5 win the Nighthawk (Fargo was up against Lone Star) as well as M, Dog Day Afternoon and Miller’s Crossing.  Which means that the Coens still win Nighthawks in both Original and Adapted for Crime films.  Another 20 films earns Nighthawk nominations, 8 more finish in the Top 10 and an additional 22 finish in the Top 20 (so, 58 in all).  The best Crime film with an original script that doesn’t make the Top 20 in its year is Patrice LeConte’s Man on the Train.
Seven Crime films have won the Oscar but they are oddly spaced.  Crime films won two of the first three awards (Underworld for Best Original Story then The Big House for the single category Screenplay).  You have to wait until 1952 for another winner (The Lavender Hill Mob), 23 more years after that for the next (Dog Day Afternoon) and then almost another two decades before you get, astoundingly, three Crime winners in a row (Pulp Fiction, Usual Suspects, Fargo).  For a long time, this was the one thing Crime films did not get nominated for.  In both the 1930’s (6 total nominees) and 40’s (5 nominees), there were more Crime films nominated here than Crime films that were nominated for Oscars but not in this category (4 each).  But that dried up after the 40’s and there are only 8 more nominees that didn’t win with only Dog Day Afternoon and Atlantic City receiving nominations between 1967 and 1991.
Original scripts haven’t done so well at the Globes.  Yes, Pulp Fiction won but until it did, only three Crime films had even been nominated (Bonnie and Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon, Bugsy) and since then only Fargo has been nominated.  The opposite is true at the BAFTAs.  Winners include The Ladykillers, Pulp Fiction, Usual Suspects and In Bruges.  There were four nominees in the old British Screenplay category and two more in the stretch of just Best Screenplay though since the split in 1983 the only scripts to earn nominations but not wins were Fargo and Collateral.  But that’s still better than the BFCA where no film (through 2011) has earned an Original Screenplay nomination.
Bonnie and Clyde won two awards at the WGA (Best Drama, the first winner of Best Original Screenplay) then Dog Day Afternoon and Fargo would later win.  Eight other Crime films have earned nomination though none since 1996.
Pulp Fiction is the grand winner at the critics, sweeping all five awards (the NBR didn’t have an award back then).  Atlantic City won three awards while Bonnie and Clyde and Fargo each won two and The Lavender Hill Mob, Bugsy and Usual Suspects all won one.

  • Best Actor:
  1. Warren Beatty  (Bonnie and Clyde)
  2. Al Pacino  (Dog Day Afternoon)
  3. Marlon Brando  (The Godfather)
  4. Peter Lorre  (M)
  5. Al Pacino  (The Godfather Part II)

Analysis:  Beatty and Lorre are the only two Nighthawk winners in this category though there have been a lot of nominees (31 in all including two from GoodFellas).  In all, 96 performances from 90 different films have landed in the Top 20 in this category.  The grand winners are the three nominations each for James Cagney (2nd place twice for The Public Enemy and Angels with Dirty Faces, 4th place for White Heat) and Al Pacino (2nd place twice for Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather Part II, 4th place for The Godfather Part III).
There have been two Oscar winners: Brando for The Godfather and (ugh), Denzel for Training Day.  There have been another 16 Oscar nominees including Pacino back to back for The Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon.  After five nominations from 1929 to 1938 there would only be one more from 1939 to 1966 (Alec Guinness for The Lavender Hill Mob).  Other than Pacino, the only actor with multiple nominations is Warren Beatty (as Clyde and Bugsy).
Four Crime films have won the Globe but aside from Brando for The Godfather, the other three were in Comedy (Nicholson for Prizzi’s Honor, Travolta for Get Shorty, Farrell for In Bruges).  There have been 20 other nominations with only three other in Comedy.  Pacino has been nominated an astounding five times for Crime films but has never won (all three Godfathers, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface).
Five actors have won the BAFTA though that’s really misleading.  Two of them, Lee Marvin in 1965 (The Killers) and Walter Matthau in 1973 (Charley Verrick) also won for other roles and Al Pacino in 1975 won for both The Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon.  So that really just leaves Burt Lancaster for Atlantic City.  There have also been another 11 nominees.
Only three nominees at the BFCA have been from Crime films and none of them (Terrence Howard for Hustle and Flow, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Departed, Viggo Mortenson for Eastern Promises, all in a row) won.  SAG isn’t much different with Benicio del Toro winning for Traffic (yes, as lead) and Travolta (Pulp Fiction), Denzel (Training Day) and Viggo all earning nominations.
Burt Lancaster is the biggest winner with the critics for Atlantic City (four wins) followed by Jack Nicholson in Prizzi’s Honor (three wins) and Denzel (two wins).  Eight other winners have taken home one critics award though you could count nine because in 1998, Brendan Gleeson won the BSFC for The General and I Went Down, both of which are Crime films.

  • Best Actress
  1. Frances McDormand  (Fargo)
  2. Faye Dunaway  (Bonnie and Clyde)
  3. Anjelica Huston  (The Grifters)
  4. Naomi Watts  (Eastern Promises)
  5. Pamela Grier  (Jackie Brown)

Analysis:  McDormand, Dunaway and Huston all win the Nighthawk.  Ironically, neither Grier nor Watts even earn nominations because they end up in 6th and 7th place in very good years even though there are nine other performances that earn nominations.  In total there are only 27 performances that land in the Top 20 but that’s because this is a male dominated genre.
Fran is the only Oscar winner though Dunaway and Huston both earned nominations.  Other nominations went to Susan Sarandon (Atlantic City), Sharon Stone (Casino) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace).
At the Globes, Stone won in Drama and Kathleen Turner (Prizzi’s Honor) in Comedy.  Other Comedy noms went to Merlina Mercouri (Topkapi), Fran (who lost to Madonna) and Grier.  Drama noms went to Dunaway, Huston, Annette Bening (Bugsy) and Maria Bello (A History of Violence).
At the BAFTAs, Katie Johnson (The Ladykillers) won British Actress while Simone Signoret (Casque d’Or) and Jeanne Moreau (Viva Maria) won Foreign Actress.  There were three other nominations back in those split days but since the drop to one category in 1968 there have been only two nominations: Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction) and Fran.  Fran also won the BFCA while Moreno was nominated.  At SAG, Fran again won and Moreno was nominated, as was Grier.  At the critics awards, Fran won two awards while Huston won three.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Al Pacino  (The Godfather)
  2. William H. Macy  (Fargo)
  3. Kevin Spacey  (The Usual Suspects)
  4. Robert De Niro  (The Godfather Part II)
  5. Joe Pesci  (GoodFellas)

Analysis:  This Top 5 list leaves out all-time great performances like Gene Hackman in Bonnie and Clyde and Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast.  One interesting thing to note about that list, which is that only Kingsley of the seven of them is the lone Supporting Actor to earn points for his performance in that film.  The others all have multiple solid supporting performances while Kingsley gets to muscle through on his own.  Without diminishing Kingsley, I think that says even more about the other six, that they did that with other performances to keep an eye on.  In fact, of the four films to earn 120 points or more in the category at the Nighthawk Awards (the win plus at least two more nominations), two of them are Crime films: The Godfather Part II and the original Godfather, which is the only film with 150 points (win, 2nd, 4th, 5th).  Both those films also have 5 total performances on my list (because I cap it at five) with the second film scoring all five in the Top 7 for the year while the original has to settle for five of the Top 10.  On the weighted total scale, they each 192 points just for Supporting Actor while no other film in history earns more than 160 and only three others are even within 60 points of these two films.  The only person to earn multiple nominations at the Nighthawks is Robert De Niro who actually wins the Nighthawk in back-to-back years for Mean Streets and The Godfather Part II.
Only three films in history have earned three Supporting Actor nominations at the Oscars, two of which were the first and second Godfather films with the second one also winning the award (De Niro), becoming the only film to earn 120 points at the Oscars in this category.  Outside of those two films, six films won the Oscar (Johnny Eager, Topkapi, GoodFellas, Usual Suspects, Traffic, No Country for Old Men) and two others earned multiple nominations (Bonnie and Clyde, Bugsy).  There are another 19 nominees, including at least one in every decade from the 30’s (Algiers) to the 10’s (The Town).  But they are spread out.  Of the 35 total nominees, only eight came before 1972 and there was only one from 1976 to 1989.  However, there were 8 from 1972 to 1975 and another 17 from 1990 to 2007.
There were no Globe nominees until 1967.  But since then, there have been two winners (Traffic, No Country) and three films with two nominees (Dog Day Afternoon, Bugsy, The Departed) as well as 13 other nominees.  In 1990, there were three films nominated in total in this category (Godfather III, GoodFellas, Q & A) though all of them lost.
There have been four winners at the BAFTAs: No Country (which also earned another nomination), Pulp Fiction, Traffic and Catch Me if You Can.  There have also been another 8 nominees, though there were no nominations between 1975 and 1994.  At the BFCA, Kevin Spacey won as one of several films for his award (Usual Suspects) and the same for Joaquin Phoenix in 2000 (The Yards) while Ben Kingsley and Bardem one for single films.  There have also been another four nominations.  Christopher Walken and Javier Bardem also both won at SAG while 8 others have earned nominations.
This category has been the best for this genre at the critics awards.  Joe Pesci and Kevin Spacey each won four awards (though several of Spacey’s awards were shared with his other 1995 films), three awards went Benicio del Toro and Javier Bardem.  A History of Violence won three awards but while the LA and NY awards went to William Hurt, the NSFC went to Ed Harris.  The Godfather split awards (Pacino won the NBR, Duvall won the NYFC), Harvey Keitel won two for Bugsy (though one was shared with his other 1991 films) and Mark Wahlberg won two for The Departed.  Eight other actors have won critics awards in this category.

  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Lorraine Bracco  (GoodFellas)
  2. Annette Bening  (The Grifters)
  3. Anjelica Huston  (Prizzi’s Honor)
  4. Uma Thurman  (Pulp Fiction)
  5. Estelle Parsons  (Bonnie and Clyde)

Analysis:  Bracco wins the Nighthawk while there are 14 other nominees (including all four listed above and two from It Always Rains on Sunday).  Bening, Huston and Thurman all end up second in their respective years.  The only actress to land on my list more than once is Talia Shire, finishing in 3rd for the second Godfather and 15th for the third.  There are 14 more performances than land in my Top 10 and another 8 aside from that that are Top 20 for their respective years.
Huston and Parsons both won the Oscar and there have been eight other nominees.  The 10 total nominees are spaced out quite a bit with a lot of decade plus gaps though never more than 16 years.  Surprisingly, no actress has won the Globe, though there have been seven nominees.  The BAFTAs have been even weaker, with just five nominees, with only Huston and Bening from my top five earning nominations.  At the BFCA only Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) have earned nominations.  At SAG, Thurman was nominated and Ruby Dee (American Gangster) won.
Its the critics who have really rewarded this category.  Huston swept all five existing awards in 1985, Bracco won two awards in 1990 and Jennifer Jason Leigh won two others (for Miami Blues), Bello won two awards and Weaver did as well.  In addition, Bening won one award as did Anne Heche for Donnie Brasco.  While Leigh and Heche’s awards were shared with other films, that’s still 15 awards from the critics as opposed to 3 awards and 26 total nominations among all the other groups.

  • Best Ensemble
  1. The Godfather
  2. The Godfather Part II
  3. The Departed
  4. Bonnie and Clyde
  5. GoodFellas

Analysis:  This is based on the total points for acting for all members of the cast.  The top three films are all tied and they are tied for second place all-time behind only The Return of the KingBonnie and Clyde is tied for 8th place all-time.  GoodFellas is tied for 11th place all-time.  There is a massive drop after these five films.

  • Best Editing:
  1. The Godfather
  2. GoodFellas
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. The Usual Suspects
  5. Out of Sight

Analysis:  There are far too many great Editing jobs to fit into a Top 5.  Just look at what didn’t make the Top 5: M, Point Blank, The Godfather Part II, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, City of God, The Departed and No Country for Old Men, all of them “perfect 9” Editing jobs.  Not all of those films win the Nighthawk (Point Blank loses to Bonnie and Clyde while The Godfather Part II, Fargo and City of God all go up against other perfect 9 films).  But in addition to these films, Scarface also wins the Nighthawk.  Overall, there are 10 winners and another 25 Nighthawk nominees.  There are another 9 films that come in 6th, 24 more beyond that that earn Top 10 finishes and a total of 103 films overall that earn a Top 20 spot.
The Oscars don’t have the same level of respect for Crime in this category as I do, but it’s decent.  Three films have won the Oscar (The Naked City, Traffic, The Departed) and another 14 have earned nominations, though before 1972 there were only two nominees (The Killers was the other).
The BAFTAs have been more generous, with Dog Day Afternoon, GoodFellas, The Usual Suspects and City of God all winning and 11 other films earning nominations even though the category has only been around since 1968.  No Crime films has ever been nominated at the BFCA but they only started the category in 2009.
Even though ACE began in the 60’s, only The Departed has won and before 1990, only three Crime films had even been nominated (Bonnie and Clyde, The Boston Strangler, The Godfather), though since 1990, 10 other films have earned nominations.

  • Best Cinematography:
  1. The Godfather
  2. GoodFellas
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. Road to Perdition
  5. The Godfather Part II

Analysis:  Another category where I actually have more “perfect 9” scores than Top 5 slots.  I had to cut M and No Country for Old Men.  But again, there are only five Nighthawk winners and they aren’t the same (M, You Only Live Once, Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, GoodFellas).  There are also another 35 Nighthawk nominees, 28 more Top 10 finishers and 39 more Top 20 films.
At the Oscars, Naked City, Bonnie and Clyde and Road to Perdition all won the Oscar while 10 other films earned nominations, though in spite of the brilliant 70’s films, no Crime film earned a nomination between 1967 (when two earned nominations with In Cold Blood also earning one) and 1990.  At the BAFTAs, Road to Perdition, Collateral and No Country for Old Men won the award with six others earning nominations including two (The Running Man, Cul-de-Sac) earning them back in the British Cinematography days.  No film has earned a BFCA nom.  The ASC gave awards to Bugsy and Road to Perdition and nominations to four other films.  Even the critics haven’t been big for Crime films with Shanghai Triad winning two awards and The Godfather Part II, GoodFellas and Collateral all winning one each.

  • Best Original Score:
  1. The Godfather
  2. Fargo
  3. Battles Without Honour and Humanity
  4. Catch Me if You Can
  5. Bonnie and Clyde

Analysis:  My top three are also the only three Nighthawk winners.  There are an additional 18 Nighthawk nominees but there is a sharp drop off from the last two categories for Top 10 (an additional 12) and Top 20 finishers (another 15).
The awards groups haven’t loved Crime films here either.  The second Godfather won the Oscar while seven other films have been nominated, which doesn’t include the original Godfather whose nomination was withdrawn or The Sting II which was nominated in the Adapted Score category (For that matter, why is that film a Crime film when the original is a Comedy?  Perhaps because this film wasn’t funny?).
The Globes didn’t care about the re-use of Rota’s music because the original Godfather is the only winning score from a Crime film.  Nine other films have earned nominations including both subsequent Godfather films.  The BAFTAs likewise awarded Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America while nominating seven others.  Catch Me if You Can won the BFCA while The Departed was nominated.  Once Upon a Time in America won the LAFC while Fargo won the CFC.

  • Best Sound:
  1. Bonnie and Clyde
  2. The Godfather
  3. GoodFellas
  4. Heat
  5. No Country for Old Men

Analysis:  I am much more impressed with the Sound in Crime films than the awards groups are.  Neither GoodFellas nor No Country win the Nighthawk (because of great films in their respective years) but the other three do as do The Public Enemy, Scarface, You Only Live Once and Brighton Rock.  In addition, a whopping 30 other films earn Nighthawk nominations, 35 more finish in the Top 10 and another 29 in the Top 20 for 101 Top 20 finishes overall.
All of that is compared to just three winners: The Big House wins the Oscar in 1929-30 and Road to Perdition and No Country both win the CAS.  And there are not that many more nominees, with 5 more Oscar nominees (only three since 1947 and two since 1972), five BAFTA nominees and two other CAS nominees.

  • Best Art Direction:
  1. The Godfather
  2. Bonnie and Clyde
  3. The Godfather Part II
  4. GoodFellas
  5. Bugsy

Analysis:  Because of the period setting for many Crime films, they tend to do well with Art Direction.  M, Dead End, Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather all win the Nighthawk while 10 more earn Nighthawk nominations.  There are a grand total (including nominees) of 41 Top 10 finishes and 73 Top 20.
Overall, there are only five award winners: The Godfather Part II (Oscar), Bugsy (Oscar), Road to Perdition (BAFTA), Catch Me if You Can (ADG) and No Country (ADG).  There are also 8 additional Oscar nominees (though not Bonnie or Godfather), one BAFTA nominee for British Black & White Art Direction (Rotten to the Core) and seven ADG nominees.

  • Best Visual Effects
  1. Natural Born Killers
  2. Heat
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. Sin City
  5. The Godfather

Analysis:  Visual Effects don’t usually go hand in hand with Crime films.  These five films are the only ones that have earned points in the category from me.  Because of small competition in older years, Bonnie wins the Nighthawk and Godfather earns a nomination while Killers and Heat are Top 10 finishes and Sin City barely makes the Top 20.  And except for the various categories that only existed in the 1930’s, it is the only Oscar category that has never had a nomination for a Crime film.

  • Best Sound Editing
  1. Heat
  2. No Country for Old Men
  3. The Killer
  4. Bonnie and Clyde
  5. The Usual Suspects

Analysis:  A lot of this is all about shots being fired.  Bonnie, The Godfather and Heat all win the Nighthawk while there are 19 other nominees.  But, because this category is usually much more empty than most Nighthawk categories there are only 9 Top 10 finishes outside of the nominees and an additional 5 Top 20 finishes (all from 1995 or later).

  • Best Costume Design:
  1. The Godfather
  2. Bonnie and Clyde
  3. The Godfather Part II
  4. Once Upon a Time in America
  5. Bugsy

Analysis:  Costumes, of course, are often great in period gangster films.  The Cotton Club is the sixth place finisher here.  Bonnie and The Godfather are the king period pieces, the only Crime films to win both Art Direction and Costume Design.  Casque d’Or and Bugsy also win the Nighthawk.  There are a grand total of 13 nominees (including winners), 18 Top 10 and 23 Top 20 finishes.
There is surprisingly little overlap with Art Direction at the Oscars.  Bugsy is the one Crime film to win both Art Direction and Costume Design and the second Godfather won Art Direction while earning a Costume nomination.  But the other five Costume nominees failed to earn Art Direction noms (including Bonnie and Godfather).  No Crime film has earned a nomination since Bugsy in 1991.  Three films have won the BAFTA (Once Upon a Time in America, The Cotton Club, GoodFellas) while two others have earned nominations.  The CDG is much newer and only seven Crime films have earned nominations with no winners all of them except Road to Perdition have been in the Contemporary Costume categories.

  • Best Makeup
  1. No Country for Old Men
  2. Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Sin City
  4. Shanghai Triad
  5. The Godfather

Analysis:  When I write about Makeup in Crime films, it’s usually all about blood.  The only Nighthawk winner is Bonnie while four others have earned nominations and a total of 15 films have landed in the Top 10.  But the awards groups have mostly shrugged, with an Oscar nomination for Il Divo and Makeup Guild nominations for The Thomas Crown Affair (winner), Road to Perdition and The Italian Job (2003 version).

  • Best Technical Aspects
  1. Bonnie and Clyde
  2. The Godfather
  3. The Godfather Part II
  4. Road to Perdition
  5. Miller’s Crossing  /  No Country for Old Men

Analysis:  This is based on looking at the totals for all the technical categories, based on the individual film.  Bonnie and Clyde has a total of 65 out of 81, which is about as high as you can get without being a special effects film.  The descending totals from there are 61, 57, 49 and 46 for the two in a tie.  Then comes GoodFellas with 45 while after that there is a drop of six points.  When doing the points on a weighted scale, Miller’s Crossing finishes several points higher than No Country but the others are all in the same order.  On the weighted list, GoodFellas is just a few points behind and then there’s a 25 point drop.

  • Best Original Song:
  1. “Cancion del Mariachi”  (Desperado)
  2. “Live to Tell”  (At Close Range)
  3. “Two Hearts”  (Buster)
  4. “Windmills of Your Mind”  (The Thomas Crown Affair)
  5. “The Killer”  (The Killer)

Analysis:  “Cancion” wins the Nighthawk while “Two Hearts” come in second.  “Windmills” earns a nomination as does “Promise You’ll Remember Me” from The Godfather Part III in a weak year.  “Live to Tell” actually doesn’t earn a Nighthawk nom in the incredibly competitive year of 1986, coming in sixth.  “The Killer” doesn’t even make the Top 10 though “Siente Mi Amor” from Once Upon a Time in Mexico does.  It’s just the breaks of what year you land in.
“Windmills” won the Oscar as did “It”s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (Hustle and Flow) while “Two Hearts” and “Promise You’ll Remember Me” were nominated.  “Windmills” and “Two Hearts” won the Globe while “Promise” was nominated.  “Pimp” also won the BFCA while “Do You Feel Me” (American Gangster) was nominated.

  • Best Animated Film:
  1. n/a

Analysis:  There are actually two Animated Films I have seen that I classify as Crime films.  One of them was even nominated for an Oscar (A Cat in Paris) while the other pre-dated the Oscar category and wouldn’t have been nominated even if it was (Coonskin).  Both are pretty bad.

  • Best Foreign Film:
  1. M
  2. City of God
  3. Shoot the Piano Player
  4. Elevator to the Gallows
  5. Biutiful

note:  I have seen 201 foreign language films that I classify as Crimes films.  Of those, 25 of them earned **** (8) or ***.5 (17) and thus qualify for this list.  Four of them win the Nighthawk (M, The Crime of Monsieur Lange, La Bete Humaine, Biutiful) while 10 others earn nominations.  Ironically, The Crime of Monsieur Lange is the lowest ranked film to even earn a nomination (see the full list above) while Rififi, which ranked above it, is the only one of my Top 14 to not earn a nomination (it finished 9th in 1955).
There have been 44 Crime films submitted to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film including just 5 of my Top 25.  Of those 5, three earned nominations (Biutiful, Revanche, Ajami) and the best (City of God) and weakest (Gomorrah) failed to earn nominations.  Of the other 39, five earned Oscar noms and one was a semi-finalist (The Trap).  Of the other four nominees, three of them were among the best 16 submitted (The Gates of ParisThe Devil Came at Night, The Glass Cell, Big Deal on Madonna Street) and the final one was 36th out of 44 (The Baader Meinhof Complex).
One Crime film has won the Globe (Any Number Can Win) while 10 more have earned nominations, though three of those were English language films.  Two films have won the BAFTA (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet) and four others have earned nominations.  Four films have earned BFCA nominations.  City of God won two critics awards while one each were won by Pepe le Moko, Shanghai Triad and Man on the Train.
Biutiful is the only film to receive all four award nominations (Oscar, BAFTA, Globe, BFCA) because, in spite of being submitted, City of God and Gomorrah were both passed over by the Academy.

  • Best Film (by my points system):
  1. Bonnie and Clyde
  2. The Godfather
  3. The Godfather Part II
  4. GoodFellas
  5. The Departed

Analysis:  Bonnie ranks at 6th all-time and The Godfather, one point behind, is in 7th.  The Godfather Part II is tied for 10th.  Lots of great acting really helps you climb the list.

  • Best Film  (weighted points system)
  1. Bonnie and Clyde
  2. The Godfather
  3. The Godfather Part II
  4. GoodFellas
  5. The Departed

Analysis:  This often won’t be the case with the two lists being the same.  Bonnie is 5th all-time, The Godfather is sixth and The Godfather Part II is eighth (they all move up the all-time list from the list above because of how much is in the acting which is weighted more).  There’s almost a 100 point drop to the next film (No Country for Old Men) and over 50 more points to the rest of the list after that.

Best Films With No Top 5 Finishers:

  • Traffic
  • Mean Streets
  • Scarface (1932)
  • The Killing
  • Miller’s Crossing
  • Boyz N the Hood
  • A History of Violence
  • Badlands

Worst Film with a Top 5 Finish:

  • At Close Range

Note:  Of the 35 films that make the Top 5 in any category above, 24 are **** and another six are high ***.5.  The remaining five are high *** (Natural Born Killers, Desperado, Buster, The Thomas Crown Affair) or mid *** (At Close Range).

Nighthawk Notables

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  GoodFellas
  • Best Line  (comedic):  “That must have been your accomplice back there in the woodchipper.”  (Frances McDormand in Fargo)
  • Best Line  (dramatic):  “My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”  (Al Pacino in The Godfather)
  • Best Opening:  GoodFellas
  • Best Ending:  The Godfather
  • Best Scene:  the baptism / assassination scene in The Godfather
  • Most Gut-Wrenching Scene:  The needle to the heart in Pulp Fiction
  • Most Heart-Wrenching Scene:  the death of Fredo in The Godfather Part II
  • Best Use of a Song:  “Then He Kissed Me”  (GoodFellas)
  • Best Soundtrack:  Pulp Fiction
  • Best Ensemble:  The Godfather
  • Funniest Film:  The Lavender Hill Mob
  • Most Over-Rated Film:  Scarface (1983)
  • Worst Film:  A Serbian Film
  • Worst Film I Saw in the Theater:  Mobsters
  • Worst Sequel:  The Blood of Fu Manchu
  • Worst Remake:  Kiss of Death
  • Best Remake:  The Departed
  • Best Sequel:  The Godfather Part II
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Naomi Watts in Eastern Promises
  • Sexiest Performance:  Annette Bening in The Grifters  *
  • Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio:  Halle Berry in Swordfish
  • Most Surprisingly Good Performance in an Otherwise Terrible Film:  Brad Pitt in Snatch
  • Coolest Performance:  George Clooney in Out of Sight
  • Best Tagline:  “They’re young, they’re in love and they kill people”  (Bonnie and Clyde)
  • Best Cameo:  Michael Keaton in Out of Sight
  • Sexiest Cameo:  Audrey Hepburn in The Lavender Hill Mob
  • Funniest Cameo:  Harvey Keitel in Get Shorty

*:  On my list of Sexiest Performances of All-Time Bening finished one spot higher than Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight.

At the Theater:  By the end of 2011, I had probably seen over 1000 films in the theater at some point or another.  I had certainly been to the movies well over 1000 times.  I had only seen 30 Crime films, which was a lot less than I thought it would be.  The biggest stretch, by far, was late 1994 to early 1996 when I saw nine different films that I classify as Crime (Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Get Shorty, Clockers, Casino, Dead Presidents, Heat – twice because I kept throwing up the first time and Fargo).  The other 21 stretch across 15 years and that’s about right because it seemed I usually saw 1 or so a year.  Other than 1995, the only year where I saw more than two films was 1991 when I saw three (Mobsters, Boyz N the Hood, Bugsy).  The 30 number includes M, which I saw at Cinema 21 at some point.  Once I got to Massachusetts, the number plummeted.  From summer of 05 through the end of 2011, I saw two Crime films in the theater, both of which won Best Picture (The Departed, No Country for Old Men).

Awards

Academy Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  87
  • Number of Films That Have Won Oscars:  23
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  40
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  11
  • Best Picture Nominations:  18
  • Total Number of Nominations:  227
  • Total Number of Wins:  45
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Screenplay  (24 Original, 17 Adapted) / Supporting Actor (35)  *
  • Number of Films with Nominations I Haven’t Seen:  1
  • Directors with Most Oscar Nominated Films:  Francis Ford Coppola  (4)
  • Best Film with No Oscar Nominations:  M
  • Best English Language Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Mean Streets

*:  I included Screenplay because of the total, but for one category it’s Supporting Actor.

Oscar Oddities:

  • Francis Ford Coppola’s four films won 9 awards and earned 30 nominations.  That accounts for less than 5% of the films but 13% of the nominations and 20% of the wins.  But he also directed The Godfather Part III, the only film with more than 5 nominations to win no Oscars.
  • Of the four Crime films to win Best Picture, all four were directed by a director who also lost Best Picture for a Crime film (Coppola twice, Coens, Scorsese).
  • Four films won all of their nominations but only The Usual Suspects won all of its nominations with multiple nominations (two).  The three to win their only nomination are Underworld (Screenplay), Johnny Eager (Supporting Actor) and Topkapi (Supporting Actor).
  • Traffic won more Oscars than The Godfather but its only loss was Best Picture.
  • Traffic and The Departed were nominated for the same five Oscars and each won four but Traffic won Supporting Actor instead of Picture.
  • Of the 87 nominated films, 47 of them only earned one nomination.  The 54.02% is close to the average (52.49%).
  • Four directors have directed multiple Oscar winning films (five if you count the Coens separately).  Three are easy: Coppola, the Coens, Scorsese.  The fourth is Jules Dassin (The Naked City, Topkapi).
  • The quality of the average Oscar nominated Crime film is quite good (79.97), much higher than the average Oscar nominated film (71.9).  The average Oscar winning Crime film is even better (85.3) in spite of Training Day, the worst Crime film to ever earn an Oscar nomination being among them.  Thirteen of the 23 Crime films to win an Oscar are ****.

Oscar Nominees I Haven’t Seen:

  • The Devil Pays Off  (1941 – Sound)

Most Oscar Nominations

  1. The Godfather Part II  –  11
  2. Bonnie and Clyde  –  10
  3. The Godfather  –  10
  4. Bugsy  –  10
  5. Prizzi’s Honor / No Country for Old Men  –  8

Most Oscar Wins:

  1. The Godfather Part II  –  6
  2. Traffic  –  4
  3. The Departed  –  4
  4. No Country for Old Men  –  4
  5. The Godfather  –  3

Most Oscar Points:

  1. The Godfather Part II  –  560
  2. The Godfather  –  445
  3. No Country for Old Men  –  420
  4. Bonnie and Clyde  –  390
  5. Bugsy  –  350
  6. The Departed  –  350
  7. Traffic  –  330
  8. Fargo  –  325
  9. Prizzi’s Honor  –  300
  10. Pulp Fiction  –  295

Critics Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Won Critics Awards:  38
  • Number of Films With Multiple Awards:  25
  • Best Picture Wins:  25
  • Total Number of Awards:  166
  • Category With the Most Awards:  Director  (37)

Most Awards:

  1. GoodFellas  –  19
  2. Pulp Fiction  –  16
  3. Prizzi’s Honor  –  12
  4. No Country for Old Men  –  12
  5. Atlantic City  –  10
  6. The Departed  –  10

Most Points:

  1. GoodFellas  –  1415
  2. Pulp Fiction  –  1301
  3. No Country for Old Men  –  915
  4. Prizzi’s Honor  –  824
  5. Atlantic City  –  769

note:  GoodFellas is #4 all-time and was #1 at the time, crushing the old record.  Pulp Fiction is #6 all-time and was #3 at the time.

Most Points by Critics Group:

  • NYFC:  No Country for Old Men  –  330
  • LAFC:  GoodFellas  –  360
  • NSFC:  Atlantic City  –  340
  • BSFC:  The Departed  –  330
  • CFC:  GoodFellas / Fargo  –  390
  • NBR:  Pulp Fiction  –  190

note:  Atlantic City is tied for #1 all-time at the NSFC.  The NBR is the only group not to have a Crime film in its all-time Top 6.

Golden Globes

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  55
  • Number of Films That Have Won Globes:  13
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  28
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  4
  • Best Picture Nominations:  19
  • Total Number of Nominations:  138
  • Total Number of Wins:  22
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Actor  (24 – 6 in Comedy)
  • Best Film with No Globe Nominations:  Mean Streets

Globe Oddities:

  • Crime has over twice as many Globe nominations as Westerns but only two more wins.
  • Close to half of the Globe wins are with two films: The Godfather and Prizzi’s Honor.

Most Globe Nominations:

  1. Bugsy  –  8
  2. The Godfather  –  7
  3. The Godfather Part II  –  7
  4. five films  –  6

Most Globes:

  1. The Godfather  –  5
  2. Prizzi’s Honor  –  4
  3. Traffic  –  2
  4. No Country for Old Men  –  2
  5. nine films  –  1

note:  The Godfather is tied for 1st place all-time.

Most Globe Points:

  1. The Godfather  –  455
  2. Prizzi’s Honor  –  400
  3. Bugsy  –  340
  4. The Departed  –  275
  5. Pulp Fiction  –  270
  6. Traffic  –  265
  7. Bonnie and Clyde  –  235
  8. The Godfather Part II  –  235
  9. No Country for Old Men  –  235
  10. Dog Day Afternoon  –  230

note:  The Godfather is tied for 1st place all-time.

Guild Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  70
  • Number of Films That Have Won Guild Awards:  18
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  33
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  9
  • Best Picture Nominations:  7
  • Total Number of Nominations:  161
  • Total Number of Wins:  35
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Sound Editing  (34)
  • Best Film with No Guild Nominations:  The Killing

Most Guild Nominations:

  1. No Country for Old Men  –  12
  2. Road to Perdition  –  9
  3. Fargo  –  7
  4. Traffic  –  7
  5. The Departed  –  7

Most Guild Wins:

  1. No Country for Old Men  –  6
  2. Bonnie and Clyde  –  3
  3. Traffic  –  3
  4. Road to Perdition  –  3
  5. The Departed  –  3

Most Guild Points:

  1. No Country for Old Men  –  630
  2. The Departed  –  370
  3. Traffic  –  355
  4. Fargo  –  325
  5. Bonnie and Clyde  –  275
  6. Road to Perdition  –  265
  7. Pulp Fiction  –  215
  8. The Godfather  –  195
  9. American Gangster  –  190
  10. The Godfather Part II  –  170

Highest Guild Percentage of Total Points:

  1. Bonnie and Clyde  –  19.78%
  2. The Godfather  –  13.83%
  3. The Godfather Part II  –  12.78%
  4. Prizzi’s Honor  –  12.14%
  5. Fargo  –  10.89%

note:  No Country, with the highest point total, was in sixth in percentage with 10.84%, though it had the highest in its year.

The BAFTAs

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  59
  • Number of Films That Have Won BAFTAs:  26
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  34
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  10
  • Best Picture Nominations:  21
  • Total Number of Nominations:  149
  • Total Number of Wins:  40
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Film  (21)
  • Best Film with No BAFTA Nominations:  Mean Streets

Notes:  While 21 Crime films have been nominated for Best Film at the BAFTAs, none of the Godfather films have done so.  On the other hand, GoodFellas is the only Crime film to win the BAFTA though The Lavender Hill Mob won Best British Film.  Since 1990, six Crime films have earned Best Film nominations at the BAFTAs, all in bunches: three in a row from 1994-96 (Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Fargo) and then three in 2006-07 (The Departed, No Country for Old Men, American Gangster).  Before that, from 1962 to 1989, only three Crime films were nominated (Bonnie and Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon, Atlantic City).

Most BAFTA Noms:

  1. Pulp Fiction  –  9
  2. No Country for Old Men  –  9
  3. GoodFellas  –  7
  4. four films  –  6

Most BAFTA Wins:

  1. GoodFellas  –  5
  2. No Country for Old Men  –  3
  3. eight films  –  2

Most BAFTA Points:

  1. GoodFellas  –  410
  2. No Country for Old Men  –  395
  3. Pulp Fiction  –  375
  4. Dog Day Afternoon  –  275
  5. Fargo  –  265
  6. The Ladykillers  –  250
  7. Atlantic City  –  250
  8. The Departed  –  225
  9. Traffic  –  210
  10. Collateral  –  210

Broadcast Film Critics Awards  (Critic’s Choice Awards)

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  22
  • Number of Films That Have Won BFCA:  9
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  11
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  5
  • Best Picture Nominations:  11
  • Total Number of Nominations:  42
  • Total Number of Wins:  15
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Picture  (11)
  • Best Film with No BFCA Nominations:  Jackie Brown
  • Most Nominations:  The Departed  (6)
  • Most Wins:  No Country for Old Men  (3)

BFCA Points:

  1. The Departed  –  320
  2. No Country for Old Men  –  290
  3. Traffic  –  220
  4. Catch Me if You Can  –  190
  5. Fargo  –  170

All Awards

Most Nominations:

  1. No Country for Old Men  –  55
  2. The Departed  –  45
  3. Pulp Fiction  –  44
  4. GoodFellas  –  40
  5. Fargo  –  35
  6. Traffic  –  33
  7. Prizzi’s Honor  –  30
  8. The Godfather  –  27
  9. Bugsy  –  27
  10. Bonnie and Clyde  –  26

note:  No Country, Pulp Fiction, GoodFellas and Bonnie lead their respective years in nominations.  GoodFellas set a then record and Pulp Fiction was #3 all-time at the time.  No Country was 4th all-time at the time.

Most Awards:

  1. No Country for Old Men  –  32
  2. GoodFellas  –  25
  3. Traffic  –  22
  4. Pulp Fiction  –  20
  5. Prizzi’s Honor  –  19
  6. The Departed  –  19
  7. Fargo  –  16
  8. The Godfather  –  14
  9. Atlantic City  –  12
  10. The Godfather Part II  –  11

note:  No Country, GoodFellas, Prizzi and The Big House (2) all lead their respective years.  GoodFellas was #3 all-time at the time.

Total Awards Points

  1. No Country for Old Men  –  2717
  2. Pulp Fiction  –  2381
  3. GoodFellas  –  2330
  4. The Departed  –  2140
  5. Traffic  –  1930
  6. Fargo  –  1805
  7. Prizzi’s Honor  –  1667
  8. Atlantic City  –  1381
  9. The Godfather  –  1286
  10. Bugsy  –  1178

note:  The Top 4 films are all #1 in their respective years as is Prizzi’sGoodFellas was #1 all-time when it was released and Pulp Fiction was #2.  No Country is #9 all-time.

Highest Awards Percentage:

  1. GoodFellas  –  18.36%
  2. Pulp Fiction  –  16.86%
  3. Prizzi’s Honor  –  14.21%
  4. No Country for Old Men  –  13.81%
  5. The Godfather  –  13.78%
  6. Atlantic City  –  13.18%
  7. Bonnie and Clyde  –  11.81%
  8. Fargo  –  11.62%
  9. The Big House  –  11.20%
  10. The Departed  –  10.76%

note:  This is why I do the percentage, because it gives a historical perspective.

Lists

I won’t do a lot of lists, because that’s the whole point of TSPDT – they put a ridiculous amount of lists in the blender and come out with the “definitive” one.  Their lists includes lists by genre, so you can always go there and look at their source lists.

The TSPDT Top 25 Crime Films:

  1. The Godfather  (#6)
  2. Breathless  (#17)
  3. The Godfather Part II  (#21)
  4. The Night of the Hunter  (#43)
  5. M  (#53)
  6. Pulp Fiction  (#75)
  7. GoodFellas  (#77)
  8. Pickpocket  (#81)
  9. Close-Up  (#88)
  10. Once Upon a Time in America  (#102)
  11. Badlands  (#125)
  12. Rocco and His Brothers  (#176)
  13. Fargo  (#194)
  14. Le Samourai  (#204)
  15. Bonnie and Clyde  (#235)
  16. Mean Streets  (#239)
  17. Reservoir Dogs  (#312)
  18. Dog Day Afternoon  (#322)
  19. City of God  (#330)
  20. The Crime of Monsieur Lange  (#333)
  21. Heat  (#345)
  22. Shoot the Piano Player  (#357)
  23. Salvatore Giuliano  (#382)
  24. Casino  (#506)
  25. Down by Law  (#537)

note:  These are the current (2018) rankings from TSPDT.  If I used their initial 2007 list, Casino wouldn’t barely be in the Top 40 and Dog Day Afternoon would be just outside the Top 30 but The Asphalt Jungle, White Heat and Casque d’Or would all be on the list.  Pulp Fiction has been moving up the list but inexplicably, Bonnie and Clyde has been moving down.  But The Asphalt Jungle has dropped over 300 spots in less than a decade and out of the Top 25.  Also, their 21st Century list doesn’t match their main list, with their Top 5 21st Century films being City of God, No Country for Old Men (#26 on the main list), A History of Violence, Zodiac and The Departed but Memories of Murder is on their Top 2000 overall and The Departed isn’t.
note:  As always, I use my own determination for what genre a film belongs in.  See some of the Not Crime films listed at the bottom for other films that could have been on this list.

AFI’s Top 10 Gangster Films:

  1. The Godfather
  2. GoodFellas
  3. The Godfather Part II
  4. White Heat
  5. Bonnie and Clyde
  6. Scarface
  7. Pulp Fiction
  8. The Public Enemy
  9. Little Caesar
  10. Scarface  (1983)

The IMDb Voters Top 10 Crime Films:

  1. The Godfather
  2. The Godfather Part II
  3. Pulp Fiction
  4. GoodFellas
  5. City of God
  6. The Usual Suspects
  7. The Departed
  8. Once Upon a Time in America
  9. Reservoir Dogs
  10. M

note:  While for the Westerns list, I clicked on the actual genre on the IMDb, for this one, I just went down their all-time Top 250 list and grabbed the films I classify as Crime.  It didn’t take long since these are all in the Top 78 (as of March 2018).

Top 10 U.S. Domestic Box Office  (1979-2011)

  1. The Godfather  –  $134.96 mil
  2. The Departed  –  $132.38 mil
  3. American Gangster  –  $130.16 mil
  4. Pulp Fiction  –  $107.92 mil
  5. Collateral  –  $101.00 mil
  6. Public Enemies  –  $97.10 mil
  7. The Town  –  $92.18 mil
  8. Payback  –  $81.52 mil
  9. 2 Guns  –  $75.61 mil
  10. Heat  –  $67.43 mil

note:  Box Office Mojo only lists from 1979 to the present but they also list grosses for any film that, adjusted for inflation, makes their all-time list.

Top 10 U.S. Domestic Box Office (all-time, adjusted to May 2018)

  1. The Godfather  –  $720.40 mil
  2. Bonnie and Clyde  –  $300.00 mil
  3. The Godfather Part II  –  $232.88 mil
  4. Pulp Fiction  –  $232.54 mil
  5. Dog Day Afternoon  –  $225.00 mil
  6. The Departed  –  $184.30 mil
  7. American Gangster  –  $173.20 mil
  8. Collateral  –  $148.98 mil
  9. Payback  –  $147.00 mil
  10. The Godfather Part III  –  $144.90 mil

note:  This only includes what Box Office Mojo has information on (and I had to put some of it together myself).  The Numbers, which has less reliable information but has more info on pre-1980 films is used to create estimates for any films with a big round number.

Books

The Rough Guide to Gangster Films

A fantastic book that is a really great guide to the genre.  It has a Top 50 list and has a good history of the genre, talks about international crime films, the major stars and the major aspects of the genre.  A must have for any serious Crime film fan.

101 Gangster Movies You Must See Before You Die, Steven Jay Schneider, 2009

Part of the series of books which are all worthwhile.  Of the 101 films in the book (presented chronologically), I only consider 84 of them to be Crime films and several that I don’t are below on the 10 Great Non-Crime Films list.  The list is mostly pretty good (44 of the 84 films are **** or ***.5, another 17 are high ***) though there are a couple of duds (Bloody Mama, the Japanese film Brother).  Since “Gangster” doesn’t necessarily mean “Crime”, I can forgive most of what it is missing but there are three films that absolutely should be in the book that aren’t: The Asphalt Jungle, Shoot the Piano Player, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Bullets Over Hollywood: The American Gangster Picture from the Silents to “The Sopranos”, John McCarty, 2004

A solid survey book that covers the whole scope of the genre.  Like most books, it is a bit generous in what it considers a “Gangster” picture (anything with a gangster in it at all, apparently, including, say Beverly Hills Cop) but a very good book that isn’t too exhausting or simplified.

Gangsters and G-Men on Screen: Crime Cinema Then and Now, Gene D. Phillips, 2014

Phillips was more known for writing biographies but he actually wrote a number of more academic studies of film and this is a good one (and one of his last books before dying in 2016).  It focuses specifically on pairings of several gangster films, although it does less comparing and more just discussing them.

Crime Films, Thomas Leitch, 2002

A book that is most interesting for what it includes specifically because it discusses the whole notion of what a Crime film is.  It’s fairly academic and most of the book takes a specific film and then uses it discuss types of Crime films even when they might not be Crime films (for example: “Chinatown and the Private-Eye Film” or “Bullitt and the Police Film”).

Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil, Nathan Munby, 1999

As the title kind of gives away, this isn’t a whole study of Crime films but rather just a look at a specific era of Crime films (which means being dated doesn’t hurt it).  But it also means it is limited in its scope.  It is also quite academic (example sentence from the Introduction: “Consequent analyses of the gangster film are apt to prioritize continuity over change, and similitude over difference.”).

The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies Featuring the 100 Greatest Gangster Films of All Time, George Anastasia & Glen Macnow, 2011

Not horrible but its list hardly lives up to its title.  At least it includes The Asphalt Jungle and The Friends of Eddie Coyle even if it is still missing Shoot the Piano Player.  I consider 81 of the films to be Crime films.  But this list is ranked.  It includes M, but way down at #45 while having Donnie Brasco in the Top 10 (perhaps because Joe Pistone wrote the Foreward).  It has Snatch (not in my Top 400) ranked one spot above The Killing (in my Top 20).  I will give it credit for sending me to see some films I actually hadn’t seen like Kill the Irishman and The Valachi Papers.

Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934, Thomas Doherty, 1999

A very academic book (published by a university press) but a valuable one for the Pre-Code Era which also happens to be the Era where the Crime film really began and flourished for a few years before the Production Code started to be enforced and changed things.  Especially valuable is Chapter 6: Criminal Codes: Gangsters Unbound, Felons in Custody.  This book I actually own and have for many years.

Reviews

The Best Crime Film I Haven’t Yet Reviewed

Badlands  (1973, dir. Terrence Malick)

Was 1974 an attempt to catch up to 1967?  In 1967, Bonnie and Clyde was released to extraordinary acclaim (and repulsion).  Yes, there were five people in the gang, but really it was mostly about a couple on the run from the law.  So, in 1974, we got Thieves Like Us, a Robert Altman film based on the novel which while about three bankrobbers, also focused on a couple on the run, The Sugarland Express, the feature directorial debut of Steven Spielberg which was about a true couple on the run and Badlands, the directorial debut of Terrence Malick about a true couple on the run.

Badlands was a bit different than the other two films.  First, Badlands was actually a 1973 film (it had closed the New York Film Festival in October) but didn’t get theatrical distribution until the spring of 1974 when it was put on a double bill with Blazing Saddles.  That sank the film, since it was so discordant with the other film and it was a massive box office failure.  But it is also, by far, the best of the three films.  Sugarland Express showed that Spielberg had talent but Duel (on television) had already shown that and it wouldn’t be until Jaws the next year that Spielberg would really break through.  Thieves Like Us showed that Altman could still make solid, dark films that didn’t have a consistent audience.  But Badlands showed that Malick was a director with a serious vision and could really go places if only he could focus and get the films made.  That last line is partially about how Malick encountered serious problems with crew issues while making this film and how it would be five years before his second and 25 years before his third (which, ironically, would also be released in the same year as a Spielberg film with a similar theme).

Badlands would have a bit of a critical divide but it wouldn’t be long before it was treated as an important film by an important filmmaker.  It’s the kind of film with such a lasting impact that it would inspire not one but two different Springsteen songs (“Badlands”, “Nebraska”).  It would show that Malick, even when working with ideas that weren’t new (the true crime couple, in this case Starkweather and his girlfriend, on the run from the law) that he could still find new ways to approach it.  In the quick edits, in the voiceover that provides an interesting neutral point of view from a character who shouldn’t be neutral, in its use of music, in the way that it made Martin Sheen seem like the second coming of James Dean, this is a director with a rare vision.  Most notable is the remarkable cinematography, something that would be a hallmark of every Malick film, no matter the quality of anything else in the film.

What separates this film from the two other films like it from the same year are the performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, two of the best of the year.  In fact, while Sheen has continued to be a great presence on film and television for the last 45 years, I don’t think he’s ever equalled this performance, not even in Apocalypse Now.  But what also separates it is the cold detachment on the part of the two leads.  They aren’t in this for the thrill of a crime.  They aren’t robbing banks.  They aren’t trying to right any wrongs.  They happen to kill people who are in the way of what they need, which is to be together.  They are just two kids who are in over their heads.

Note:  So, it turns out I had already reviewed Badlands, in my Malick piece here.  But, having written this review, I am letting it stand.  But, since it wasn’t actually the Best Crime I Film I Hadn’t Yet Reviewed, here is another one.

The Best Crime Film I Actually Haven’t Yet Reviewed

Eastern Promises  (2007, dir. David Cronenberg)

Meryl Streep is rightfully revered for many reasons, one of which is that she’s brilliant with accents in spite of being from New Jersey of all places.  There are not many who can do what she does with accents.  The male who is the best with accents doesn’t have her pedigree, only having earned two Oscar nominations (though more Nighthawk nominations).  But he is a true renaissance man.  Viggo Mortensen is not just an actor, but also a poet, a photographer, a musician and even a publisher.  He was born only about 20 miles away from where Streep was but he’s Danish-American (not by descent, but by birth, as his father is Danish).  He’s lived all around the world.  He is fluent in four languages, conversational in another and understands two more.  What’s most amazing is that Russian isn’t on that list even though he spends a considerable amount of time speaking Russian in this film with a flawless accent (but then again, he also spoke Elvish with a flawless accent in three films).

Here, Mortensen plays a chauffeur for a member of the Russian mob but his duties also extend to being a bodyguard for the man’s son, cutting off fingers so corpses can’t be identified by prints and disposing of bodies in the Thames.  He has his hair brilliantly pushed back, a way of talking through his cigarettes and an aura of menace that palpably runs through the film.  Mortensen had been brilliant two years before in A History of Violence, another collaboration with director David Cronenberg and it’s not a coincidence that these two films are the best that Cronenberg has ever made.  Mortensen’s performances lend an air of authenticity to them, a level of depth, not only in his performance but in the character itself, that takes the strangeness of Cronenberg’s films and adds to them something that made them among the best of the year.

If we just had Mortensen’s performance in this film, his amazing naked fight scene in a bathhouse that is unlike anything ever filmed and should always be remembered as a remarkable and original scene and the things that we learn about him in the last 20 minutes of the film that make us rethink everything that has gone before (I won’t tell you because if you haven’t actually seen the film it’s worth seeing it without knowing anything) that would be enough to make this a worthwhile film.  It was written by Stephen Knight who also written Dirty Pretty Things, another brilliant film about the undercurrent of life among immigrants in London and the film is at once compelling and disturbing.  But Mortensen, believe it or not, is not even the star of the film.

The film centers around Anna, a British-Russian midwife who ends up trying to find the family for a baby when the mother has died during childbirth.  But her investigation takes her into some very dirty and dangerous places and unknowingly, directly to the man responsible for raping the girl and getting her hooked on drugs.  So what had been a drama or even a mystery becomes a very disturbing crime film with one of those great Naomi Watts performances that she seemed to be giving every couple of years in the decade (Mulholland Drive, 21 Grams, King Kong).  There is also the ever dependable Armin Mueller-Stahl as the mob member and the always untrustworthy and often dangerous Vincent Cassell as his waste of a son, who might, in some ways, be the most dangerous person in the film because he is a waste and he knows it.

It took me a long time to really get into Cronenberg because I don’t like his early films and because one of the first Cronenberg films I ever saw was Crash and I really hate Crash.  But Cronenberg had talent and it was finally fully realized in these two brilliant films and it’s good that the Academy finally realized Viggo was brilliant as well.

The Worst Crime Film I Haven’t Yet Reviewed

The Doom Generation  (1995, dir. Gregg Araki)

Getting this out of the library again, this time so I could review it, I started looking at the back of the dvd case.  “This is the story about this hot chick and her loser boyfriend that begins one night at a nightclub where they listen to techno music.  So anyway, they leave the club only to have this bleeding dude jump into the back of their car.”  There is more like that but that’s enough to give you a taste.  I wasn’t necessarily thinking that the ridiculous drivel on the case could be blamed on the director but it seemed to fit in with what was so distasteful about the film.  Then I went and read Roger Ebert’s review of the film.  In the Ebert review, he lambasts the ridiculous press kit for the film which says things like “As the youthful band of outsiders continues their travels through the wasteland of America, Amy finds herself (having sex with) both Jordan and Xavier, forging a triangle of love, sex and desperation too pure for this world.”  Ebert also doesn’t necessarily blame Araki but he points out “Directors may not write their press kits, but they are responsible for them”.

So what do we have in this film?  In one sense, is it so different from A Clockwork Orange, a film I am an ardent admirer of?  Both films have young people who commit senseless violence and atrocities.  But in Clockwork we had a director who was known as precise and cold but his characters were not.  Alex was firmly passionate about everything he did and that especially included the violence.  That’s not the case in this film.  Araki wants to step back and not only be a dispassionate observer himself but try to pretend that his characters are as well if characters is what they can even be called.  Alex was a complete character – he was young, learning who he was, but smart, interested in music, cunning, devious, manipulative.  These characters are none of that.  They barely exist as characters at all.  They wander through the world and kill people.  The idea that they are too pure for this world is not only hipster bullshit, it’s not even true.  There’s no purity involved in these characters at all.

Like Ebert, I could take this as a film and as a story if Araki weren’t so full of shit about it.  He wants his hipster characters to be too cool because he had been hyping himself on Tarantino films, not only the great two that he had already directed but also the two very flawed films that he had written but hadn’t directed (True Romance, Natural Born Killers).  But what Araki never grasped is that Tarantino was writing characters who actually had something to say.  What they did and how they did it mattered and they weren’t dead to the world, they were so involved in the world that they didn’t see what they were doing to themselves and others.  That was also what Scott and Stone never got about the Tarantino characters to the detriment of their films.  It’s too bad Araki never really understand that and wasn’t able to mature as a filmmaker.  The rest of his film might not have been anywhere near this bad but he still, over two decades later, has yet to make an actual good one.

Bonus Review

Dead Presidents  (1995, dir. Hughes Brothers)

I decided to review this film for a few reasons.  The first is that, like Young Guns II, which I reviewed for my Westerns piece, it was a film that I saw in the theater.  The second is that I thought this was a pretty good film (high ***) that really didn’t get a whole lot of attention (or, to put it another way, it made less money than Operation Dumbo Drop).  The third is that it is a follow-up to a remarkable film and it has some interesting parallels to another film which I will discuss below.

Think about the disadvantages that go along with being raised suburban but never feeling like you fit in, getting an education that you want nothing to do with and instead hanging out with some low end criminals.  Now imagine that you’re also black and all of the social disadvantages that come with that.  Now, add being a Vietnam vet who found somewhere that he kind of belonged on the other side of the world and came home to a world that didn’t value anything that he could do.  All of this is the story of Anthony, played very well by Larenz Tate who finds himself and then looses himself just as quickly.  He runs off to Vietnam because he doesn’t want to go to college (there’s an edit that really floored me when I was watching the film in the theater when Anthony is leaping across fences after leaving his girlfriend’s house in the morning and suddenly he’s still leaping but this time it’s over logs and we’re in the jungles of Vietnam in a single cut) but when he gets back from the hell he found there (even if he found a place in it) he drifts towards crime with some friends and a mentor that he had known before he ever left.  Anthony’s story is inspired by the real story of Haywood T. Kirkland whose story was one of several told in Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans.

Anthony’s story isn’t the most original narrative ever told (in the way he gravitates away from his family and what they can offer him and towards the petty gangsters in the neighborhoods as well as the way the crime at the end of the film devolves into various characters selling each other out reminds you of GoodFellas) but, told by the Hughes Brothers, it is given to us with verve and energy.  The Hughes Brothers had burst on the scene in their early twenties in 1993 with Menace II Society, a devastating film about inner city youth and their struggles with crime that unfortunately existed in the shadow of Boyz N the Hood.  But what made it interesting was the excitement that came along with those two films and the letdown people felt after Dead Presidents and Poetic Justice (much more deserved for Poetic Justice) and how neither the Hughes Brothers nor Singleton ever really recovered from those sophomore slumps.  Dead Presidents, while not strong in narrative, did show that the Hughes’ had ambition.  What’s more, it also showed that they had a remarkable ear for music.

Menace II Society had a hit hip hop soundtrack but for Dead Presidents the brothers raided the best of funk, soul and R&B.  The soundtrack, with the likes of James Brown, Barry White, Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield went up to #14 on the Billboard charts (and #1 on the R&B / Hip-Hop chart), finding much more success than the film itself did and even spawned a second soundtrack.

Actually, I’ll say this one last thing about the film and you can decide for yourself what it says.  This film has Chris Tucker in a major role (one of Anthony’s friends who also goes to Vietnam and participates in the heist with him at the conclusion of the film) and I am still recommending it.

Not Crime Films

Like I said at the beginning, I focus on films in which the criminal is the protagonist.  So, films about crime or even featuring gangsters in which the protagonist is not the criminal (usually it’s some member of law enforcement trying to catch the criminal) is not one which I consider a Crime film.  Some examples, several of which have appeared in lists of “Great Gangster Films” including the books above, are on the list below.  One other film I feel the need to mention is Key Largo.  It’s a solid film (high ***) but not a great film, so I don’t list it below nor would it make my list of great Crime films (or Gangster films, if I classified it that way) but it was one of two films that were in all three books listed above that I don’t classify as Crime.  The other was The Big Heat, which is listed below.

A Chronological Baker’s Dozen of Great Films I Don’t Classify as Crime Films

  1. The Petrified Forest  (Drama)
  2. The Big Sleep  (Mystery)
  3. Night at the City  (Suspense)
  4. The Big Heat  (Mystery)
  5. On the Waterfront  (Drama)
  6. Touch of Evil  (Mystery)
  7. The French Connection  (Action)
  8. The Sting  (Comedy)
  9. Mona Lisa  (Drama)
  10. The Untouchables  (Suspense)
  11. Bullets over Broadway  (Comedy)
  12. L.A. Confidential  (Mystery)
  13. Gangs of New York  (Drama)

Post-2011

In total I have seen 53 Crime films that have been released since 2011.

I have seen three Crime films in the theater since 2011: American Hustle, Black Mass and T2 Trainspotting.  All three of them actually factor into the all-time Top 5 Lists.  Amy Adams would be #5 in Actress and Jennifer Lawrence would be #3 in Supporting Actress.  American Hustle and Black Mass would both make the Top 5 in Makeup while T2 would make the Top 5 in the very weak Visual Effects field.  Black Mass would have appeared in the Top 5 Best Non-Fiction Books Adapted into a Crime Film.  Eva Green beats out Halle Berry for Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

American Hustle would make the Top 20 (and replace The Town as the best of the decade).  Hell or High Water, Black Mass and T2 would all be in the Top 50.  Logan Lucky would be down around #90.  On the other hand, Only God Forgives and Spring Breakers would both land in the bottom 10; Spring Breakers would possibly be on the Most Overrated list.  Kills on Wheels would be on the Country list as the best Crime film from Hungary.

Steven Soderbergh is the only one of the major directors still working but he is also still making crime films, with the hilarious Logan Lucky coming in 2017.  Robert De Niro has also added on another film with his small role in American Hustle.

Warners has added two more Crime films, one mediocre (Live by Night) but one great (Black Mass).

American Hustle lands in the Top 5 most Nighthawk nominations with 11 though it doesn’t win any.  It earns the most Comedy nominations with 8, though again, it doesn’t win any.

With American Hustle, Hell or High Water and Baby Driver, it’s just easier to link to the pages on the IMDb for their awards than to list all the ones they were nominated for.  Aside from those three films and their wealth of awards and nominations, there are also Seven Psychopaths (BAFTA nom – Best British Film), Metro Manila (BAFTA nom – Best Foreign Film), Black Mass (BFCA nom – Best Actor, SAG nom – Best Actor), 80 Million (MPSE nom), Dias de Gracia (MPSE nom) and Spring Breakers (two of the most bizarre critics wins ever for Best Supporting Actor).

American Hustle deserves special mention for its awards, landing on the list for most Oscar noms (10), most Oscar points (325, especially impressive since it didn’t win anything), Globe noms (7), Globe wins (3), Globe points (380), guild noms (11), guild wins (3), guild points (410), BAFTA noms (10 – a record), BAFTA wins (3), BAFTA points (390), BFCA noms (9 – a record) and BFCA points (290).  It ended up second all-time in total nominations (51), tied for 8th in wins (14) and 6th in points (1914).

American Hustle, with $150.11 million becomes the new box office champ although that only adjusts to $170.56 which is 8th.  Baby Driver makes $107.82, which also makes the all-time list.