The Oscars are less than a month away, and Everything Everywhere All at Once seems to be the one to beat in most major categories. The film is an unconventional choice for the usually conservative Academy, which usually favors dramas. However, the organization has embraced other genres in the past, most notably the gangster epic.
From timeless films like The Godfather to recent offerings like The Irishman, the Academy has never shied away from acknowledging the gangster drama. These violent but insightful films received multiple nominations and even claimed some major victories, cementing their place in Oscar history.
1 ‘The Untouchables’ (1987)
Kevin Costner leads an impressive cast, including Andy Garcia, Robert DeNiro, and Sean Connery in Brian De Palma’s 1987 gangster film The Untouchables. The story concerns Eliot Ness, a Prohibition-era agent who forms a special task force to bring down notorious gangster Al Capone.
Although criticized for its lack of historical accuracy, The Untouchables received acclaim for its stylish approach and the cast’s performances. The film earned four Oscar nominations, winning Best Supporting Actor for Connery’s portrayal of Jim Malone.
2 ‘Goodfellas’ (1990)
Widely considered among the all-time best mobster films in history, Martin Scorsese‘s Goodfellas stars Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci. The film centers on Henry Hill’s rise in the criminal underworld, centering on his friends and family and leading up to his eventual downfall.
Goodfellas is often ranked as one of, if not the best, film in Scorsese’s long and prolific career. It received universal acclaim, earning six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. However, Pesci’s Best Supporting Actor win for his now-iconic portrayal of the ruthless Tommy DeVito was the film’s sole victory.
3 ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990)
Sixteen years after Part II, Francis Ford Coppola and the main cast returned for The Godfather Part III. The film acts as the final entry in the epic story of the Corleone family and centers on Michael’s attempts to legitimize his criminal empire. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Talia Shire reprise their roles, joined by Andy Garcia as Vincent Corleone.
Although considered inferior to its predecessors, The Godfather Part III still earned the Academy’s favor. The film received seven Oscar nominations at the 1991 ceremony, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Garcia. However, it didn’t win in any category.
4 ‘Prizzi’s Honor’ (1985)
John Huston directs Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner in the black comedy Prizzi’s Honor. The film centers on two renowned mob assassins who fall in love before learning they’ve been tasked with killing each other. Huston’s daughter, Anjelica Huston, also stars.
Prizzi’s Honor remains one of the few crime comedies to receive overwhelming critical acclaim. It received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Nicholson. However, its only victory was for Angelica Huston in the Best Supporting Actress category.
5 ‘Bugsy’ (1991)
Warren Beatty and Annette Bening star in Beaty’s 1991 crime drama Bugsy, based on the life of infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel. The plot focuses mostly on his relationship with actress Virginia Hill and his efforts to turn Las Vegas into a gambling paradise.
Elevated by Beatty and Bening’s electrifying chemistry, Bugsy is a stylish and thrilling crime story. The film received positive reviews from critics and earned nine Oscar nominations at the 1992 ceremony, including Best Picture. It won the Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, famously losing the big award to The Silence of the Lambs.
6 ‘L.A. Confidential’ (1997)
Curtis Hanson directs an all-star cast, including Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and Kim Basinger, in his 1997 neo-noir crime thriller L.A. Confidential. Set in the 1950s, the film follows several law enforcement officers as they individually look into an unsolved murder in downtown Los Angeles.
Widely considered one of the best films of the 90s, L.A. Confidential received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. However, it had the misfortune of going against Titanic, a film that drowned its competition, sweeping the Oscars and winning eleven out of its fourteen nominations. L.A. Confidential‘s sole win came in the Supporting Actress category, where Kim Basinger won her first Oscar.
7 ‘The Godfather’ (1972)
Considered by many to be one of the best films in cinematic history, Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather is a film institution on its own. The film stars Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, the leader of a powerful crime family who prepares his son, Michael, to take over as the new head.
The Godfather received ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Brando. It ultimately won three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor for Brando, and Best Adapted Screenplay. However, Coppola famously lost Best Director against Cabaret‘s Bob Fosse.
8 ‘The Irishman’ (2019)
Scorsese, DeNiro, and Pesci returned to the gangster genre with 2019’s The Irishman. The film tells the story of Frank Sheeran, a truck driver turned hitman for the Bufalino crime family, who worked with and was supposedly involved in Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance.
The Irishman is among Scorsese’s highest-rated movies. The film received near-universal acclaim from critics, who praised its scope, engrossing plot, and the cast’s performances. The Irishman received ten Oscar nominations at the 2020 ceremony, including Best Picture, Best Director, and dual Supporting Actor performances for Joe Pesci and Al Pacino; however, it went home empty-handed.
9 ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ (1967)
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star as the infamous criminal duo of Bonnie and Clyde in the 1967 movie of the same name. The film chronicles their story, from their early meeting to their criminal escapades leading to their eventual deaths in 1934.
Bonnie and Clyde was a controversial film for its time, with some reviewers criticizing it for seemingly glorifying violence. However, many others lauded Bonnie and Clyde as a game-changer when portraying reality in cinema. Bonnie and Clyde received ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Actor, and Actress. However, it only won two trophies: Best Supporting Actress for Estelle Parsons‘ scene-stealing performance and Best Cinematography.
10 ‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974)
Two years later, The Godfather Part II wowed critics and audiences again. The film tells two stories, one following Al Pacino‘s Michael Corleone as he protects his family following an attempt on his life and the other chronicling the rise of a young Vito Corleone, played by Robert DeNiro.
Highly influential and universally acclaimed, The Godfather Part II is among cinema’s most important movies. However, the film initially received mixed reviews, with many contemporary critics comparing it unfavorably to its predecessor. Still, Part II received 11 Oscar nominations, winning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for DeNiro.
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