Top Five: Irish Gangster Movies for St. Patrick's Day

He's not Irish, but Scorsese's on the list...twice.
He's not Irish, but Scorsese's on the list...twice.

St. Patrick's Day is one of those holidays, along with New Year's Eve and Halloween, that we refer to as one of the year's annual "amateur nights." Whether you're full-blooded Irish, one-fifth on your mother's side or honorary by marriage, it's pretty much an excuse to start drinking early at the pub, load up the jukebox with U2, the Cranberries and Sinead, and close down the bar blackout drunk, belting a teary-eyed, lyrically improvised rendition of "Danny Boy" with the rest of the pickled masses. By the way, that's the "cool" version of this particular amateur night. The more likely and ubiquitous version inevitably involves "jumping around," spilling a beer on someone's girlfriend and getting your ass kicked.

Do yourself and others a favor: Get drunk at home.

And even better, choose a flick or two from our list of the top five Irish gangster films. If you're going to celebrate Irish culture--the music, the literature and strong drink; you may as well celebrate the Irish's legendary talent for fighting and killing each other, too (spectacularly portrayed in the following list, we might add--we're a little Irish ourselves).

5. Gangs of New York

Irish immigrant Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrates a gang of 19th century "native" New Yorkers led by the scenery-chewing Daniel Day-Lewis in this lavish historical epic that was a years-in-the-making project for director Martin Scorsese. While the film's histrionics can be preachy at moments, the operatic

Braveheart

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-in-the-streets fight scenes are sights to behold.

 

4. Road to Perdition

Director Sam Mendes continued to demonstrate the visual flair that put him on the map with this moody and melancholic portrait of family betrayal and vengeance. Brilliantly cast against type (and right in the sweet spot of his underused strengths), Tom Hanks gives arguably his best performance to date as a hitman out for blood against his former employer, carrying in tow his young son like a Depression-era

Lone Wolf and Cub

. Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Stanley Tucci, newcomer Tyler Hoechlin and a mesmerizing Jude Law round out the stellar cast.

 

3. State of Grace

Strangely, the suck-fest

Godfather Part III

was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar over 1990's

State of Grace

, a better gangster movie by miles. The '90s gentrification of NYC's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood is the backdrop for this gangland tale, anchored by strong performances from Sean Penn as an undercover cop returning to his roots, and Gary Oldman and Ed Harris as mob brothers who deal with the encroaching neighborhood changes in wildly different ways. The climactic slo-mo barroom shootout during the St. Patrick's Day parade is among the best bullet-ballets captured on film.

 

2. The Departed

Screenwriter William Monahan translated the 2002 Hong Kong film

Infernal Affairs

into South Boston, and Martin Scorsese turned in the film that finally won him Best Director and Best Picture Oscars.

The Departed

could be considered an undercover-cop movie rather than a gangster picture, but the Irish mafia plays a major role in the form of Jack Nicholson's anarchic performance as the crime boss Frank Costello, whose gang undercover cop Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrates. Matt Damon is undercover too, as a corrupt detective informing on police activity for Costello. Scorsese's signature style is all over

The Departed

, but its substance places it among the director's best films.

 

1. Miller's Crossing

Hands-down,

Miller's Crossing

is still the Coen Brothers' masterpiece. It may take several viewings to nail down the intricate, seemingly complicated plot, which involves multiple betrayals and turns of loyalty among an unnamed Prohibition-era city's rival gangs and city departments, but the lush visual style, sparkling script and indelible performances make it a pleasurable and rewarding puzzle to solve. The film's centerpiece scenes, including an outrageous "Danny Boy"-scored tommy-gun shootout, and a chilling scene involving a "whack" in the woods, are among the Coens' most iconic cinematic moments. Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Hardin, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi and J.E. Freeman deliver endlessly quotable performances.


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