GoodFellas

Bottom Line: Goodfellas.  Wise guys.  Fantastic movie.

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Chuck Low, Frank Sivero, Frank Vincent, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Mike Starr, Paul Sorvino, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Tony Darrow

“When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.” –Darth Vader

The above quote applies directly with Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas.  It’s as if the entire film bears a subliminal message to Francis Ford Coppola, one of Scorsese’s largest influences.  The film, at 2 hours and 26 minutes, delivers a story that is essentially the entire multi-decade Godfather chronology in a nutshell; Henry Hill is easily comparable to Michael Corleone, as is Karen Hill to Kay Adams and James Conway to Vito Corleone.  We can’t dismiss this as a misstep.  The Godfather is an apt title for the role it plays in governing the crime genre, and it would take some newly discovered marvel, who works with celluloid just as well as Liberace works with ivories, to direct a film that doesn’t take anything from that criterion.  And I’m not saying that F.F. Coppola handed down everything down to Scorsese for this 1990 work.  After all, the picture still remains his chef d’oeuvre, alongside such unforgettable earlier work as Raging Bull and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

From the very start, GoodFellas guarantees an audience’s undivided attention, all eyes affixed to the screen, no matter how violent it gets.  The in medias res technique is used for the opening sequence, perhaps as a prologue to explain the life of a gangster using as few words as possible.  Most of the film is told by narration from Henry Hill, portrayed flawlessly by Ray Liotta.  Not five minutes have passed before he expresses everything his life has ever meant to him.  “As far back as I can remember,” he narrates, “I always wanted to be a gangster.”  Hill is a Sicilian Mafia member, indulging in NYC crime whenever he gets an opportune moment, regardless of how much this hobby-turned-job whitewashes his personal life, in which he is struggling in finance and as a husband and a father.  The most peculiar component about this all is how harmless he looks, in his adolescent and adult years alike–contrary to what it sounds, this actually makes the film so much more intoxicating.

GoodFellas is the kind of mob movie we rarely ever come across.  Not until 2006 did we get another just as well-made American crime thriller about a Europe-based mob.  Incidentally, Scorsese directed that feat as well, but especially after seeing the mastermind he proved himself in this near impeccable beauty–the one that should have triumphed as The Godfather Part III–it’s not one bit a surprise.

Note: I know I’m not the first person to wonder this, and the billionth probably passed a long time ago, but why did this lose it’s Best Picture nomination, particularly to Dances with Wolves?

2nd Note: Apparently my review was pretty timely.  I believe it is an important note that the film was based on a true story.  Henry Hill, who looks very much like actor Ray Liotta, actually died quite recently: June 12th, just a day after his 69th birthday.

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11 thoughts on “GoodFellas

  1. To help with your Note 1 question: If you read interviews at the time, most everyone knew that Dances with Wolves was going to win Best Picture, and Martin Scorsese was going to win Best Director. Vanity Fair ran a great piece a few years ago in which they interviewed damn near everyone who had anything to do with GoodFellas, and that’s what a lot of them said. Scorsese knew that his flick was too bold and violent and daring. So, come Oscar night, the shock wasn’t that it lost Picture, but that Costner won Director.

    Either way, Dances with Wolves…cut me a f##kin’ break.

    • I can rely on the Academy to grant a film the Best Picture Oscar and not the Best Director, nor vice-versa. Only three films have won BP without a BD nomination (Wings, Grand Hotel, Driving Miss Daisy), and 62 out of 85 films (roughly 73% of the time) received both awards. So I can’t see why everybody would be so positive that Dances with Wolves would win Best Picture and GoodFellas would win Best Director. But I’m right there with you: Dances with Wolves has no right to win Best Picture!!

  2. One of my favorites of all time, and certainly one of the best by Scorsese. I’ve always found GoodFellas to be much different from The Godfather. GoodFellas has always been more about the life of the Mafia, which can be funny and thrilling at times while also being completely frightening, yet Henry Hill never seems to recognize this. I think, especially at the end, that Scorsese is trying to reveal how truly empty the mob life was. Nice review.

    • Hmm…I actually thought the Godfather and GoodFellas were very similar, like I said in my first paragraph. Henry Hill was comparable to Michael Corleone, though much more willing to live a Mafia life. But yes, it was very thrilling and funny at the same time. No other explanation for Joe Pesci’s Oscar.

      • I feel The Godfather is a story of revenge while GoodFellas is more of an analysis of the mob. Joe Pesci completely deserved his Oscar, though the film should have won Best Picture and Best Director over the poorly paced Dances With Wolves.

        If you liked both The Godfather and GoodFellas, then I’d also recommend Scarface, which stars Al Pacino as a drug dealer. The film is directed by Brian DePalma and written by Oliver Stone. Also great is Bonnie and Clyde, though it’s more of a conventional gang movie.

        • I believe we’re in slight disagreement again, my friend. I actually found The Godfather as much a revenge film (as you point out) as it was an exploration of mob life. Corleone feels coaxed into the crime world for revenge–unwillingly–whereas Hill makes it clear that his lifelong aspiration was to be a gangster, but if nothing else, they’re raised into that more sinister universe by two somewhat similar philosophies: Corleone – Keep your friends close but your enemies closer; Hill – Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.

          I could go on all day with comparisons between the two classics, but in the end, you’ll have a more reliable say than me. Up until your recent post about The Best Films vs. Your Favorites (where you chose Apocalypse Now as your #1), I’ve heard you claim several times that The Godfather was your favorite film ever. I guess you’ve seen it multiple times, and have therefore picked up on more.

          I’ll try to get ahold on those films you mentioned. Bonnie and Clyde is probably, but I don’t know about Scarface. I routinely shout “Say hello to my little friend!” (sometimes in French or Spanish) despite not knowing the context of the line; can’t say when I’ll see it though.

          I’m nodding frenetically at your comment on the Oscar mayhem. I never really liked Dances with Wolves that much (as in neat plot, but awfully boring), but after seeing GoodFellas, this goes up on my “Damn You, Oscars!” list with Million Dollar Baby and A Beautiful Mind.

          Thanks for the comments, by the way. You’ve probably picked up that I’m a huge talker when it comes to movies (loong before now), but this is your comment was the most fun I’ve ever had to answer as far as I can remember. 🙂

          • No problem! The Godfather is a analysis of the mob too but also a revenge film. GoodFellas is about the mob in general and Scorsese does a great job with it by making it different from The Godfather. GoodFellas is one of those movies I could watch over and over again without getting tired of.

            I recently rewatched Apocalypse Now and changed my mind. It has always been one of my favorites, but I think it’s a great accomplishment that pretty much tested the limits of cinema (I’d probably put The Godfather at number 2 now). You’ve got to watch that. That is the golden standard for war films.

            Bonnie and Clyde is great. It’s rated R, but it could probably get a PG-13 rating if it came out today (there’s actually only one violent scene and it isn’t even that violent at all compared to most films that come out today). Scarface is fantastic, though it is pretty graphic. “Say hello to my little friend” is one of my favorite lines of all time (in that scene Pacino’s character pulls out a gun).

            I enjoyed watching Dances with Wolves the first time I saw it but later I started to really dislike it and not just because it beat out GoodFellas. It’s nice to see a movie that doesn’t treat Native Americans as villains, but the film is so poorly paced and the ending is badly written. I just can’t understand how Scorsese has been snubbed so many times by the Academy and it took them until The Departed to finally recognize his genius.

            • Y’know, Oscar Day is my favorite holiday, but I’m starting to wonder about the Academy. It seems sometimes they’re nominating because they really see perfection in a film, and other times they just seem to want shock value of some sort. With GoodFellas, I damn well hope it wasn’t the latter scenario–but you never know. After all, Dances with Wolves winning over proves they all have some huge screw loose.

              My father always says Kevin Costner drank too much while filming Bull Durham (one of his all-time favorites), and his hangover was films like DWW and Waterworld. I do always think he’s joking (though he seems to actually HATE Dances with Wolves), but he really has a point.

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