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Revisiting 1990: Goodfellas

August 20, 2010

Considered For: Top 5

“What are you, a fuckin’ sick maniac?”

Interesting. I’ve long thought of Goodfellas as the top film of 1990, but after watching it last night, I realize that I may have never even seen it. I was positive that I had, but nothing about this movie seemed familiar and I know damn well I haven’t seen Lorraine Bracco in a movie since I’ve started watching The Sopranos. I really felt that I’ve seen this movie before, but last night I felt like I was watching it for the first time.

Goodfellas is an epic story, based on a true story, about the Italian mob in New York City from the 1950s through the 1970s. Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill, our “hero,” a kid that grows up wanting nothing more than to be a gangster. He starts off as a delivery boy for respected mob figures Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and works his way up the ranks with friend Tommy DeVito (later played by Joe Pesci) and they both wind up integral parts of the organization by their early 20s (although Pesci was nearly 50 when this movie filmed… LOL). Henry eventually meets Karen (Bracco), they marry, and together they become enraptured and victimized by the ways of the organized crime business and the financial freedom and social dominance it offers.

I hate to say it, but I think Goodfellas might be a tad overrated. For one, I didn’t like it as much as Miller’s Crossing, another 1990 film focused on organized crime. I’ll take Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan over Liotta’s Henry Hill any day, in terms of both character and acting. For two, a #17 of all-time ranking on IMDB’s greatest movies ever list seems overboard. With that said, Goodfellas is still a very good movie and probably deserved more acclaim than 1990’s most highly lauded film Dances With Wolves, a movie noticeably absent from IMDB’s same list.

Goodfellas does feature a stellar cast. I knew before watching that Lorraine Bracco was Oscar-nominated, but watching the film, I kept thinking of what a great job Joe Pesci was doing as the outlandishly violent and explosive Tommy DeVito. When I researched the Oscars after the movie, I was pleased to find out that not only was Pesci nominated, but he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Very deserved. Bracco was also outstanding as Henry’s wife, Karen, dealing with the loose morals of a wiseguy husband, a man that thinks it’s okay to have multiple girlfriends in addition to a wife. She does a great job walking the line between jealous, vengeful wife and drug-addled woman addicted to the life of crime, quick money and supposedly easy living. I find it astonish that in the 9 years between Goodfellas and her role as Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos, the biggest movie she was in was Hackers. Robert De Niro offers a good performance, but it wasn’t much of a stretch for him and I wouldn’t rank it amongst the top five of his career or even his best of the year (check out Awakenings). I’m not sure Ray Liotta was the best choice for Henry Hill. Apparently, Liotta turned down the role of Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s Batman in order to star in Goodfellas, a good move considering no one remembers Harvey Dent in the original Batman and Goodfellas is by far the best film Liotta’s ever worked in. Liotta does a decent enough job, but some of his scenes, mostly when he is laughing hysterically, made me cringe a little bit. Liotta has never really gone on to do anything worthwhile for his career and I wonder if Goodfellas could have been even better with a more capable actor in the lead role.

It would be a fair argument to say that Martin Scorsese should have won his first Best Director Oscar in 1991 for Goodfellas. While Dances With Wolves might have been an easier film for the Academy to swallow, I can’t imagine someone saying with a straight face that it’s a better film, particularly in the directing department. There’s a great scene in Goodfellas where the camera follows Henry and Karen through the back entrance of a restaurant, through the kitchen, and into the dining room where a table is immediately set for them, not once breaking for a separate take. Simply put, Goodfellas was better than Dances With Wolves and Scorsese, long overlooked by the Academy, was robbed.

I don’t want you to come away from this review with the impression that I didn’t like Goodfellas that much. I loved it. Yes, maybe Ray Liotta wasn’t the best choice for Henry Hill; yes, I liked Miller’s Crossing more; but Goodfellas was still a GREAT film, just maybe not as great as some people have made it out to be. If you haven’t ever seen Goodfellas, I’d bump it to the top of your Must Rent list and if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, it’s worth revisiting.

Grade: A
Viewings: maybe 2?
Replay Value: A must for the DVD collection.
Oscars: A Best Supporting Actor win for Pesci. Nominations for Bracco, Scorsese, Best Picture, Film Editing, and Adapted Screenplay.
Sequel Potential: None. Based on a true story.
Nudity? Amazingly, no. Lots of sexual references, but no nudity that I can remember.

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