“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?”
Bored and Dangerous is usually all about movies I’ve watched of the first time. Sometimes I’ll cheat and re-watch something I haven’t seen in years and remember nothing about. But as I make my way through the AFI 100, it’s inevitable that I’ll run across a few things I’ve seen multiple times. Some, maybe dozens of times. Not only is this one that definitely ranks in the “dozens” category, it’s a movie that only gets better with age. I would even go as far as to say it may be, in my opinion, the greatest film ever made. Screenplay, acting, direction, music, editing… Top to bottom, I love every single detail of Goodfellas.
It’s 1950s New York, and while his father works a thankless, low playing job, young Henry Hill (Christopher Serrone) is obsessed with the local gangsters in his neighbourhood. It’s not long before he’s taken under the wing of local street boss Paul Sicero (Paul Sorvino) and notorious street soldier and killer, Jimmy “the Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro). By the time he’s a young adult played by Ray Liotta, Henry is living the wise guy dream, taking and doing whatever he wants, along with Jimmy and fellow gangster wunderkind, Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito.
Once Henry marries suburbanite WASP Karen (Lorraine Bracco), the world of Goodfellas is fully fleshed out, following Henry over the next several decades as everything intensifies. His crimes, his relationships, his indulgences and the consequences. One of the first lines in this move is, “For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. To me that was better than being president of the United States. To be a gangster was to own the world.” Director and co-writer (and my pick for greatest living film maker) Martin Scorsese spends the next two and half hours showing that world at its best and worst.
I don’t even know where to start with the greatness of this movie. There’s the intertwining narration, introducing us to this world through both henry and Karen’s eyes. There’s the performances from every character, from leading roles down to background extras. But especially the core quartet of Liotta, Di Nero, Pesci and Bracco. All four get the chance to deliver gut punch moments, and none ever overshadows the others.
There’s the epic film making on display in things like the now legendary Copa long take. There’s the usual impeccable music choices from Scorsese. There’s the fact that Goodfellas basically reinvented and reinvigorated the entire gangster genre, the same way Scorsese did with Mean Streets (along with Frances Ford Coppola with The Godfather) almost 20 years earlier. There’s the dozens of iconic images, scenes and quotable lines that refuse to seem dated.
I know this is a less a review and more a hyperbolic money shot of fan boy obsession, but that really is how much I love this movie. After a kind of ordinary period in the 80s, Goodfellas proved Scorsese was still a vibrant, important, limit pushing artist. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, he did it again almost a quarter of a century later, with The Wolf of Wall Street. How can you not love the guy?
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Dances With Wolves
Best Director (Scorsese nominated, lost to Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves)
Best Supporting Actor – Joe Pesci
Best Supporting Actress (Bracco nominated, lost to Whoopie Goldberg for Ghost)
Best Adapted Screenplay (nominated, lost to Dances With Wolves)