5. Heat (1995)
Possibly the best cops-n-robbers movie ever made. That's because in Michael Mann's world, cops and robbers battle like Gods. The coffee-shop scene between screen deities De Niro and Pacino makes epic drama of tiny silences. Guns sound like thunder. LA becomes a doomy Valhalla. It's slick, stunning and still rivals any other gangster flick to emerge in recent years.Heat works so effectively, because of the dynamic between De Niro's master robber and Pacino's brilliant detective. Each holds tight to their private lives, never wanting to let their powerful facades fall. It's a densely-plotted thriller, an actioner, and a drama, all rolled into one.
4. The Godfather (1972)
"I felt that I should quit," said Steven Spielberg of the first time he saw The Godfather. "That there was no reason to continue directing because I would never reach that level of confidence." That's quite a write-up.Even if you've never seen Francis Ford Coppola's blistering gangster epic, the saga of Don Vito Corleone's youngest son Michael's ascent from shiftless Ivy Leaguer to ruthless Capo di Capi is so seared into the public consciousness - you'll think you have. Shot in dark, mahogany tones, it's an elegant tale of gentlemanly corruption and honor among crooks, charting the Corleone family's shifting hierarchy. There's so many moments that have gone on to become truly iconic emblems for the wiseguy lifestyle, but it's probably the horse head in the bed you'll remember above all.
3. Reservoir Dogs (1991)
Decades after it first rocked the US indie scene, Tarantino's energetic, tightly-plotted debut still feels fresher than noughties nostalgia trips like Kill Bill and Death Proof. Tarantino never shows the botched diamond-store heist on which the film hinges. This is all about the fallout, as a gang of colourfully-named crooks try to root out the mole in their midst. Confidently laying down the Tarantino template that he's used again and again, Dogs still leaves an indelible impression. "For some people, the violence isn't their cup of tea," said the director, "Thats OK. I wanted it to be disturbing."
2. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Murder, fratricide, damnation: it's all just business in Francis Ford Coppola's sequel.In the past, Vito Corleone (De Niro) rises from anonymous immigrant to Robin Hood hoodlum, while in the present his son Michael (Pacino) broods in darkened backrooms, a troubled conscience the price he pays for the absolute power he possesses. Coppola styles the dynasty's damnation as a massive tragedy - it's an Italian-American Dream turned sour. The moment that becomes a reality for Michael, is when he delivers the kiss of death to his brother. "I knew it was you, Fredo" he tells him. "You broke my heart." It doesn't get much better than that legendary scene.
1. Goodfellas (1990)
Who better than Martin Scorsese, a lifelong New Yorker with a childhood dream to be a priest, to hear the sins of James "Jimmy" Conway, Tommy Devito and Henry Hill?
The real story of Henry Hill was different, though. He was a real-life sinner and his crimes had cost him everything. While he hijacked trucks and robbed airports, gaining considerable wealth, Hill was just another wiseguy until his arrest on narcotics charges in 1980. He was immortalised in crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy: Life In A Mafia Family, and it's that tome which inspires Scorsese's mobster masterpiece. The tale of a young New Yorker who runs errands for the local mafiosos picks up speed as that little kid turns into Ray Liotta - giving a lifetime best performance. From the rest of the cast's killer turns, to Hill's eventual comeuppance, there's so much to savor about this classic piece of cinema.
My favorite part? That lengthy, uninterrupted steadicam shot, following Henry and Karen Hill through the restaurant. Beautiful.