(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Goodfellas (1990)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Martin Scorsese tells the story of Henry Hill, a real life gangster who experiences the highs and lows of what it means to be involved in American crime.
Why It’s on the List: The gangster genre has seemingly been done to death at this point to where even something like The Irishman can gain some traction but get shut out of the Oscars and not be seen in the same light as this or even The Sopranos. There will continue to be movies about crime in perpetuity, but something like this is now much more likely to be on Netflix or HBO as a limited run series. I happen to think Goodfellas works perfectly as a near 2.5 hour crime epic. Very few directors deserve the benefit of the doubt, but Martin Scorsese has earned the right to have any film of his be as long as he wants.
This movie is a great story of one man, Henry Hill. Hill starts out wanting to be a gangster from the time he’s a pre-teen and grows up to be henchmen with a high quality of life. He’s got a great wife and probably could have survived just being where he was, but he had to get involved with drugs and experienced the kind of epic fall so many others have who choose to partake in this lifestyle. Similar to The Godfather, this continues to be one of the more rewatchable movies on the list. Maybe a bit more swearing and a lot more violence to be certain but still a movie that gets heavy rotation on cable.
I think this is a movie that just works on so many levels. Is it a very masculine work that doesn’t exactly have a lot of interest in feminist perspectives? Yes. At the end of the day, this is a product of a certain sensibility and filmmaker. This is a hell of a movie and one that has influenced popular culture in so many ways. Numerous shows have done homages and movies have parodied it.
*This movie is also VERY patriarchal. Just a lot of little comments mostly. There is a bit more agency for the women, especially Karen, who at least gets her own voiceover.
*Also some casual racism here too.
MVP: This is the zenith of Martin Scorsese’s career, and it’s almost insulting this didn’t sweep. This should have won a number of top line awards and a lot of the technical ones too. The Departed is going to be on this list, and it’s a movie I love dearly, but this is a peak moment, an all-time classic that has the distinction of being one of the greatest movies ever and also one of the most rewatchable. This was a masterpiece and one of the great Oscar shames of the 1990s. Even though he has done a lot of other fantastic works that aren’t necessarily in the gangster genre, this will likely be the first line of his obituary.
Best Performance: This movie seemed designed to turn Ray Liotta into a major movie star, and while he is a standout, Joe Pesci steals this movie right out from under him. It’s wild to think he did both this and Home Alone in the same year. Pesci won an Academy Award for his role at Tommy DeVito, and it was well deserved. He ended up being typecast as a mobster before retiring. He only came back for 2019’s The Irishman, which was a very different kind of gangster. Some great casting.
Best Quote: “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.” – Henry Hill
Is there a sequel? Technically no, but Scorsese has returned to the mobster narrative a couple of other times with Casino and The Irishmen. As much as he’s associated with this genre of movie, it’s only about 10-15% of his actual output.