Starring: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, half the future cast of The Sopranos
Director: Martin Scorsese
Summary: A young man works up through the New York City mobs
Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Pesci)*, Supporting Actress (Bracco), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing
While The Godfather is an incredible character saga and a definitive gangster film, Goodfellas does the best job of any film in getting the audience to understand what it’s really like to live the life of a gangster and how it always seems like you’re teetering on the edge of oblivion. From a story standpoint, very rarely do you get a woman’s perspective in a gangster movie, which this movie does extremely well through Bracco’s character. It does a good job of showing how someone could be swept up into that world and eventually feel like it’s perfectly normal and rationalize everything, much like someone in an abusive relationship. The violence is also extremely visceral and shocking, something that helps get the audience to really build up a disgust to the characters which is sort of the ultimate point of the film-on the outside, the lifestyle looks glamorous, but there’s an incredible amount of harsh reality and truly monstrous people underneath it.
The acting is strong all-around, with Pesci at his Pesci-ist, intimidating in spite of his height and a human powderkeg being the biggest standout. However, what I noticed this time that I overlooked when I watched it in high school is how incredible the cinematography and editing are. The famous one-shot in the nightclub works not only as something impressive on a technical level for the timing and blocking, but it also puts us in Bracco’s shoes and it makes the audience understand how quickly she could be wooed by seeing Liotta as a big shot in this setting. How did this not get a Best Cinematography nomination? Not just that scene, but there’s lots of them-like with Bracco and the first-person perspective holding the gun and the grave-digging scene.
The editing is stellar, especially the last 30 minutes or so where the previously kinetic pace goes off the rails completely in a wonderful way and it should have easily won over Dances With Wolves. This was far and away the best of the 1990 nominees and should have dominated the ceremony over the inferior Dances with Wolves.