The Best of the Prohibition Era Films

I know a strange but sweet gal who just can't abide by period pieces. It doesn't matter if it's a new movie. If it's set in the '40s, she's tuning out. And I mean any period pieces. If it's set 200 years in the future, she ain't watching. She's come to a crossroads recently, because her favorite actress is Angelina Jolie who appears in the Prohibition-era movie, Changeling. She has told me she would have to really force herself to see it -- just to catch the latest from Mrs. Pitt -- and she isn't sure she has the stomach to do it. She doesn't mind modern films in black-and-white or foreign films. But those '80s movies sure are starting to irritate her when she sees them again.

In honor of this strange but very sweet gal, I've decided to compile a list of other Prohibition-era movies she probably will never ever see in her lifetime.

1. Miller's Crossing

This is my favorite movie on this list. I love Miller's Crossing. Barry Sonnenfeld's cinematography is unlike any other when compared to your standard gangster flick. Carter Burwell's glorious score will never leave my head and that's a good thing. Nor will that great "Danny Boy"-Tommy Gun sequence. The acting across the board is top-notch, filled with Coen-brothers regulars. But what I'm really in love with is the dialogue. It snaps, it crackles and it pops. It's like a thousand bowls of Rice Krispies and a few hundred gallons of milk. I can listen and watch this movie anytime.

The Untouchables2. The Untouchables

Brian De Palma's classic take on the Elliot Ness-Al Capone saga might be -- with the sole exception being his terrific Carlito's Way -- the last really good film he's made. I'm fond of some of his other entries since. The first Mission: Impossible is fun. Femme Fatale is a perverse, clever adventure if you're willing to play along. But for the most part, it's been The Black Dahlia. Yeesh. This was Costner in his "Could Do No Wrong" era. De Niro goes Raging Bull again and steals every scene that doesn't feature Sean Connery's Malone. It's got a great score, yet another great De Palma train station sequence and crisp David Mamet dialogue to drive this baby home. Some of the scenes look dated and ridiculous today (like pretty much all of De Palma's movies), but there is no doubt this was the work of a great director.

Road to Perdition3. Road to Perdition

Easily one of the most underrated films in the last six years. Once again, I'm forced to talk about the cinematography. This was Conrad Hall's last feature and boy did he go out in style. There's a scene in the rain, in a darkened street: Tommy-Gun fire explodes from the shadows. Director Sam Mendes chooses to almost completely eliminate the sound. Thomas Newman's score simmers until Paul Newman says, "I'm glad it was you." And then the music swells and I'm putty in this movie's hands. Conrad Hall shoots another scene late in the film in a beach house that is just one of the prettiest things I've ever seen. Yeah, I really like this one.

The Thin Man4. The Thin Man

I honestly can't remember whether or not the movie officially takes place in 1933 or after Prohibition was repealed. I do remember there being a scene in a speakeasy. But the nonstop drinking and ordering of martinis sure make it difficult to discern. The movie is wackier than Dashiell Hammett's book was (which did take place during our last year of Prohibition by the way) but they sure did capture the amount of liquor our heroes Nick and Nora Charles like to throw down. This is a comedy about drunks -- detectives who are clever drunks to be sure -- but I'm not sure a remake would ever work today. If Hollywood does decide to remake The Thin Man, how's about Robert Downey Jr. and Cate Blanchett to play Nick and Nora? I know nobody will ever be able to replace William Powell or Myrna Loy, but those two could certainly take a crack at it.

Once Upon a Time in America5. Once Upon a Time in America

It's one of the great and most unusual gangster epics thanks to Sergio Leone's rather interesting narrative devices and his curious final act, which leaves some viewers scratching their heads. What it all adds up to is either a complete mess or a masterwork, depending on whom you talk to. If you're talking to me, I'd tell you if you have at least four hours of your time to spend with one of cinema's great storytellers, you could do a lot worse than this. Unless, of course, you're that strange girl I mentioned earlier. You'd want no part of this, Missy.