From the Archive: Goodfellas


Since I invoked Goodfellas as a comparison point for excellence in writing about my clear choice for the best film of 2014, it seems appropriately to reach back to when I wrote about Martin Scorsese’s masterful film for the edition of 90FM’s The Reel Thing that looked back at the top cinematic efforts of 1990. This was my first chance to write about the film (my cohort on the show drew Goodfellas when we originally reviewed it), but it wouldn’t be the last. Though I keep trying, I suspect I’ll never fully do it justice. This is a mediocre piece of writing (sure wish I hadn’t used “unquestionable” twice, or even once, for that matter) but my outsized admiration for the film comes through. 

1990 was overall a weak year for movies. Most of the product that the various major and independent studios were pushing this year was either fair or downright awful. Throughout the show tonight, Steve and I have told you about the slect few that distinguished themselves this year, but none of the very fine films we’ve talked about could even come close to touching this year’s best film, a motion picture that was unquestionably great and put everything else in this already shaky year to shame. That film is Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. No other film in 1990 could claim to be as solidly riveting, captivating, shockingly humorous, or engrossing as this one. Looking at the film in a narrow sense, it relates the story of Henry Hill as he becomes part of the New York mob. It is about his rise and fall. But that is ultimately a short-sighted view. Goodfellas is about the world of organized crime, how it works on the inside and how its members interact. It is about what draws these men to become a part of it and what makes their loved ones withstand the abuse and pain. It makes everything about these people understandable, even when they seem hopelessly complex. And it makes their world seem strangely appealing, without sugarcoating it or disguising it with operatic pretensions. Martin Scorsese has turned to an incredible cast and coaxed from them some of the year’s finest performances. Paul Sorvino is a wall of unquestionable, quiet menace as the mob family’s head. Robert De Niro turns in another of his solid performances as Jimmy Conway. Lorraine Bracco is a bundle of wildly swerving emotions as Henry Hill’s wife, who find her world alternately disgusting, frightening, and appealing. Ray Liotta gives one of the year’s most underrated performances as Henry Hill. The sotry requires him to wear the greatest range of emotions, from jubilant energy to mind-numbing fear to emotional and physical weariness. The film has an even better performance from Joe Pesci, who injects tough guy Tommy DeVito with sharp angles of unmerciful power. It is the year’s best piece of acting. Martin Scorsese’s direction is also the year’s best, making even the most simple and unassuming scenes become important and unflinchingly powerful. He has created a film that has no shortage of incredible scenes as moments and that is so filled with energy and raw power that it takes several viewings to absorb it all. This year and almost any other year in recent memory there has been no film better than Goodfellas.

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