For Your Consideration: Sep. 12, 2014

This weekend marks something of a sad landmark: with the release of Michael Roskam’s “The Drop,” we’ve hit the last opportunity to see the late, great James Gandolfini on the big screen. It’s perhaps fitting that the man made immortal by playing Tony Soprano will go out with another mob drama; with Scorsese moving on to white-collar crime and De Niro reduced to this, Gandolfini might be the last great gangster (if you’re listening to A.O. Scott, he was certainly one of the last patriarchs). So in honor of Gandolfini and “The Drop,” a selection of classic gangster films, for your consideration.

Ethan

Tokyo Drifter” (1966)

Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tamio Kawaji, Hideaki Nitani, Eiji Gô

Available streaming on Hulu Plus, for rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Time Out famously referred to Seijun Suzuki’s fantasia of crime and color as “inspired lunacy,” and I’m hard-pressed to find a more fitting description. After cranking out yakuza films for about a decade, Suzuki grew tired of the B-movie fare continually handed to him by his studio, and it started to show. The director could not be less interested in the genre conventions of “Tokyo Drifter:” action sequences cut off halfway through, the villain’s scheme is barely comprehensible, and our hero seems more concerned with matching his outfit to the wallpaper than with gunplay. It’s a phenomenally bonkers, gorgeously shot art-pop deconstruction of gangster flicks, just as likely to end with a musical number as with a murder.

Ethan

The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973)

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco, Joe Santos, Mitchell Ryan

Available streaming on Hulu Plus, for rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

A gritty, grimy antidote to the glamorized crime films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a clear forerunner (along with its contemporary “The Godfather,” of course) to the fatalism of Scorsese and “The Sopranos.” Lead Robert Mitchum serves as a link to the genre’s noir history, playing schlubby, overmatched Eddie Coyle, a small-time gun runner trying to avoid jail time and get on the straight and narrow. As you might imagine, the title is something of a red herring: Coyle has no real friends, and Peter Yates’ film (adapted from a George V. Higgins novel) holds no illusions of redemption or even dignity where crime is concerned.

Ethan

Gomorrah” (2008)

Cast: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchetino, Salvatore Ruocco, Vincenzo Fabricino, Vincenzo Altamura, Italo Renda, Francesco Pirozzi, Antonio Aiello, Vincenzo Caso

Available streaming on Hulu Plus, for rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

A broad, tangled portrait of corruption and violence in modern Naples, so on-the-nose that the author of the film’s source novel (Roberto Saviano) was forced into hiding to avoid retribution from the Camorra, the city’s leading crime family. Telling five parallel stories of individuals, each in their own way swallowed by the mob’s financial (and often physical) stranglehold on the populace, Matteo Garrone’s masterwork is both ferocious and despairing. The Camorra is all-encompassing, more an invisible, malevolent force than a tangible group, and no one, from dressmakers to bureaucrats to wayward adolescents, can escape its influence. It’s rare for a film this large in scope to feel so claustrophobic.

Ethan

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