I come from a place that is embarrassed by the cast of "Jersey Shore," but proud of a new HBO series that glorifies its gangster roots.
New Jersey is a funny place.
I just got back from visiting my family in the Garden State, and they were excited about "Boardwalk Empire," which began a 12-episode run over the weekend.
The series, which stars Steve Buscemi as Prohibition-era mob leader Nucky Thompson (his real last name was Johnson), was written by Emmy-winning "Sopranos" writer Terence Winter. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer on the series, and he directed the first episode.
I read the book upon which the series was based _ "Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City" by Nelson Johnson, a local attorney related to the late Nucky Johnson. I enjoyed the book but, as an Atlantic City native, I already was familiar with the story.
When you grow up in New Jersey, you don't learn about gangsters by watching movies, but there still is a fascination with gangster movies. Yes, I know there is a fascination everywhere with gangster movies. You don't have to be from New Jersey to love "The Godfather."
Even in Orange County, which has never produced a memorable gangster of its own, people love to watch gangster movies.
The reviews of "Boardwalk Empire" have been stunningly good. Many critics believe it is a worthy successor to another Jersey-based gangster series - "The Sopranos." Jeez, if it wasn't for Bruce Springsteen, Jersey would have no positive role models at all.
Anyway, this seems as good a time as any for a list of gangster movies. Who am I kidding - it's always a good time for a list of gangster movies.
Here are my 10 favorites. Let me know what I missed. Keep in mind that I am from New Jersey, and I know my gangster movies.
1. "The Godfather" (1972): It is the standard against which all other gangster movies are compared.
2. "The Godfather, Part II" (1974): Director Francis Ford Coppola tried to convince me that this was the superior "Godfather" movie (he said he could point out 100 mistakes he made in the first one). I disagreed with him. What does he know _ he only directed the movies.
3. "Goodfellas" (1990): I watch Scorsese's masterpiece every six months whether I need to or not. Joe Pesci played the most frightening gangster ever put on film. "What do you mean I'm funny?"
4. "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938): This will be the only Jimmy Cagney film I put on my top 10, although I easily could have added "White Heat," "The Public Enemy" and "Roaring Twenties." I love all of his gangster movies. But I picked "Angels" because of the final scene, when tough-guy Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) faces his execution like a coward. Did he really go out a coward, or was he fulfilling a request from his childhood friend (a priest played by Pat O'Brien) to set an example for the young neighborhood gangster wannabes?
5. "A Bronx Tale" (1993): Robert De Niro made his directorial debut in this film based on a one-man play written by Chazz Palminteri. It's the story of a young impressionable boy who is torn between the examples set by his hard-working father (De Niro) and the neighborhood mob boss (Palminteri).
6. "Scarface" (1983): Brian De Palma directed this remake of the 1932 original (directed by Howard Hawks and starring Paul Muni), and it's so over-the-top that it's a hoot. Al Pacino plays a Cuban immigrant who rises to the top of the Miami cocaine world in the excessive 1980s. Who will ever forget the entrance made by a then-unknown actress named Michelle Pfeiffer on a private glass elevator?
7. "The Departed" (2006): Scorsese finally won his Oscar (he should have won earlier for "Goodfellas"), and the movie took home the Best Picture statue. Jack Nicholson plays an Irish mobster in Boston, Matt Damon is his mole in the state police and Leonardo DiCaprio is an undercover agent inside his gang. The ending is not for the squeamish.
8. "Donnie Brasco" (1997): Johnny Depp plays real-life FBI agent Joe Pistone, who infiltrated the New York mob with the help of an unsuspecting journeyman gangster played by Al Pacino.
9. "Miller's Crossing" (1990): Who would have believed that the wacky Coen brothers could come up with a first-rate drama about the Irish mob? Certainly not me. Gabriel Byrne stars as a gangster with a moral code. Go figure.
10. "Get Shorty" (1995): You were probably expecting "Casino," or some other serious film, but I always enjoy watching this Barry Sonnenfeld-directed romp, and I think it has a lot to do with the cast, from John Travolta and Gene Hackman to Rene Russo and Dennis Farina.