One of Scorsese’s three finest films (spending too much time arguing between this Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver isn’t fruitful) which puts it up there all-time with any film (it is my current #22 film of all-time as of 2019). I would argue that it’s the most rewatchable film of all-time- I don’t think there’s a more enjoyable (and faster) 142 minutes in cinema history
some masterpieces have a brilliant narrative, some have 2-3 show-stopping formal or stylistic high-water marks… Goodfellas has one of cinema’s 10 greatest narratives and is wall-to-wall virtuoso-stylistic, auteur cinema — there are a dozen highlights at least
She’s a hell of a writer but you have to laugh at Pauline Kael in the “New Yorker” on it- “Is it a great movie? I don’t think so.” haha
Like Taxi Driver soaked in yellow with a believable color design mise-en-scene motif here we are bombarded with reds throughout the film—the exaggerated red tail lights is the first thing you see after the credits (the simplistic but strong credits by Saul and Elaine Bass)—in that scene when they go around to the trunk, I mean the break is not on so the red is accentuated by Scorsese and DP Michael Ballhaus—and the red is pouring out of the trunk, too
The flashback sequences of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill coming of age act as almost their own short film. It is a series (formally so sound) of voice-over narration with freeze-frames and then killer lines of dialogue like the famous “As far back I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster” and “The way I figure it, everybody takes a beating” and the line about how his mother got respect at the grocery store. I believe there are 6 freezes, the one on Liotta’s face, one of his father beating him, mailman in the oven, car exploding, De Niro handing him $20, and then the “broke your cherry” freeze – the series of freezes in this short film flashback opening marks some of the greatest uses of the freeze frame film technique in cinema history
It is a transcendent narrative– so engaging
the trademark Scorsese pop/rock/doo-wop (from Who’s That Knocking in 1967 it’s been a Scorsese trademark) music, Cadillac’s, nostalgia (while still being a Scorsese film with violence)
After the flashback sequences of Henry Hill’s youth—we get the tracking shot in on Ray Liotta at the airport and the virtuoso style on display, though it pivots in technique (we’re done with the freezes), it doesn’t let up
Scorsese is smart enough to surround himself with an impeccable cast and crew—Pesci puts on an early mesmerizing display (in his Oscar-winning role) with the “How and I funny?” routine. It’s a tribute to De Niro, Liotta, Bracco, Sorvino that Pesci doesn’t blow them off the screen completely
Scorsese switches narrators 29 minutes in passing the baton from the voice-over of Liotta to Lorraine Bracco – she passes the baton back later– -it’s a bold choice and has proven to be incredibly influential (You could do another 2,000 words on the influence of Goodfellas on Hollywood cinema in the last 30 years)
The Copacabana shot is breathtaking. Is it the best oner in cinema? Best 3 minutes in cinema? I think it is. You could justifiably write an entire paper on the shot but it obviously as a technical marvel and whisks you away (like Bracco’s character) which impacts the mood, narrative and character—there’s also Scorsese’s sin motif in the production design and we go from the lush greens at the beginning of the shot as we enter the club and then we’re surrounded by the reds of hell.
We’re off to the shine box scene with Frank Vincent and Pesci’s Tommy—a volcano of Napoleonic rage
In a transition, Liotta’s face is isolated and washed out in red
The camera is always moving- another tracking shot along the bar as they plans the first heist and yet another shot (which would be the best single shot in almost any other film) is the introduction of all the other gangsters at the Bamboo lounge including the “get the papers, get the papers”. You are spinning at this point.
Red lights exploding from the car and earth seemingly as they dig up the body
88 minutes in and we’re doing coke and listening to Scorsese’s Rolling stones
A slow-motion shot at the bar that is a call back to Mean Streets– this time with De Niro smoking
Throughout several times we get the date in the form of black and white titles—the May 11, 1980 113 minutes in is another short film within a film. We’re in the 80’s with blow and the paranoia with the helicopter. Liotta is fatigued, sweaty and Scorsese is utilizing jump cuts galore and wild zooms as the world is closing in on Henry
During the sequence with De Niro and Liotta at the diner Scorsese uses Hitchcock’s zoom-in, track-out Vertigo shot to great effect
And then again we break the rules with Scorsese breaking the 4th wall with Liotta talking to the camera
It makes for such an interesting counterpoint to The Godfather (came out in 1990- the same year as the much anticipated The Godfather Part III)
It is visually and narratively audacious, ambitious muscular filmmaking
Ebert – “Not this film, which shows America’s finest filmmaker at the peak of his form. No finer film has ever been made about organized crime – not even “The Godfather,”
Ebert- “From the first shot of his first feature, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door?” (1967), Scorsese has loved to use popular music as a counterpoint to the dramatic moments in his films.”
Alan Jones- Radio Times “Be prepared to be completely bowled over by a director at the peak of his talents and in full control of top-notch material.”
Wendy Ide- “Observer (UK)” – “For its swaggering energy, the heart-in-your-throat pacing and for some of the most memorable, most imitated scenes in mafia movie history, this must rank as one of Scorsese’s finest films, if not the best.
This Movie is great Should have won best picture over Dances With Wolves.
@ Randy– 100%!! The critics got this one though–
Right now on They Shoot Pictures Don’t They-Goodfellas is #77 (#1 of 1990) and Dances With Wolves isn’t in the top 1000 of all-time or top 10 of 1990.
Such a phenomenal film. Great acting by pesci and de niro and liotta. Great direction by Scorsese too.
What do you mean most enjoyable movie of all time? I LOVE gangster movies but not everyone will find goodfellas to be the most enjoyable. Surely the Godfather with its subtlety is just as enjoyable as goodfellas? Why is loud music, explosion etc more enjoyable than Pacino’s serious, engaging conversation before he kills Sollozo and Mccluskey. Why is GoodFellas more enjoyable to you than the western action in the Searchers? Why do you claim that it’s the most enjoyable?
@Oz— I think it is largely the editing and stylistic flourishes employed so brilliantly by Scorsese. For the record I have The Searchers and The Godfather ranked ahead of Goodfellas but neither are as accessible. Ford and Coppola’s films may be grander and more operatic — but neither have the pulse and pace of Goodfellas.
What other movies would you consider the most enjoyable? I’m looking for a fun movie to watch so I want something similar to goodfellas. I’ve heard of trainspotting? Is it good? Do u know any other enjoyable movies?
It’s funny how human beings find war and crime so entertaining to watch. For me a romantic movie can be just as entertaining as a crime movie. What do you think Drake?
@Azman—- yeah I could watch Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally every day. Those are great romantic movies. To me it is more about the quality of the film and the style used than the genre.
@Oz— Trainspotting is superb. It has a lot in common. I mean it has dark parts that may not fit “entertaining” but Danny Boyle’s style is definitively kinetic.
Big Lebowski I could just watch every day. I think it’s entirely rewatchable and entertaining. Casino flies for a 3 hour movie if you agree with me about Goodfellas. Rio Bravo is a little older but a great hangout movie- I could watch Rio Bravo every single day. If you are looking for more recent ones I think Gone Girl and American Hustle are movies I could watch on a loop just about.
Just finished watching trainspotting…..
What. A. Movie.
@Azman— nice! Trainspotting is special. Happy to hear you were impressed.
Who is the best lead actor in 1990. De Niro in Goodfellas,Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands?
Do you think Lorraine Bracco should have won the academy award for best supporting actress for Goodfellas?
Okay, better uses of the freeze frame? 400 blows, Jules and Jim, Goodfellas
Why is not used so much?
When is it suitable?
@Aldo- Those would be 3 of the first 5 or so that come to mind. Great shots. I’m not sure why it isn’t used more often. It seems to have gone out of “fashion” similar to the zoom. There are various cases of course when it is suitable— some directors opt for a sustained hold long take… I think like any other stylistic or cinematic tool it can be used effectively in the right hands…and in the wrong hands (probably why it went out of fashion) it can feel forced or random
If it was up to you would you have given the academy award for best picture,best director(Scorsese),best actor(Liotta),best supporting actor(pesci),best supporting actress(bracco) and nominated De Niro and Paul Sorvino in the best actor and best supporting actor category?
Do you agree with the above comment?
What are the greatest tracking shots or camera movement long shots, also known as oners, in cinema?
I must note immediately that there are a great deal of films with acclaimed tracking shots that I have not seen, including Weekend, Boogie Nights, The Sacrifice, The Passenger, The Player, Atonement, Gun Crazy, Creed, or any of Bela Tarr.
I feel that suggesting an entire one shot or one shot simulation film would be cheating, though I think a segment of such a movie (Birdman, 1917, Rope, Russian Ark) could be included. A simulated long take including invisible cuts is, I believe, entirely worthy of consideration, because it’s what’s on screen that matters rather than how it got there.
To ease matters, I choose to divide these shots into three categories. First is opening shots. Throughout the history of the artform, this seems to be one of the primary locations where long takes are placed. Second is the action tracking shot. Essentially, the long take in these situations functions as the replacement for an action montage, used to heighten the tension and chaos in a period of high-intensity commotion. And third is everything else, where the purpose may be the opposite of a montage – to envelop us in a steady, more realistic style as if we were in the event ourselves – or to create calm, surreal transcendence.
La La Land – One might find it blasphemous that I list this above Touch of Evil. However, I am absolutely stunned by the shear vivacity and cinematic excitement of this musical scene. Who knew a traffic jam could be so fun and rapturously beautiful?
Touch of Evil – This is perhaps the Hamlet of tracking shots – the most studied, the most famous of all. There is apt reason for this. Welles uses his crane and roving camera with elegant, suspenseful precision. This shot is as explosive as the bomb that appears in it.
Gravity – Expect Cuaron to appear a few more times than necessary on this list. At the beginning of Gravity, he is unafraid to flaunt all his spectacular talent in a marvelous shot, weightlessly flying through space amid rising tension.
The Earrings of Madame de… – When listing the freest auteurs, the most untethered to rigidity and stagnancy, Ophuls must appear. Few other directors know what on what to focus, how to move to the next item, and how to establish a plot point such as the ownership of earrings so gracefully
The Hill – Sidney Lumet grasps clear inspiration from Touch of Evil at the beginning of his wildly underrated military prison film. We begin on the titular topographic feature and are introduced to the intense deprivation of the soldiers, and rise away to gain a larger view of our setting.
*Honorable mention: Rear Window. The opening sequence of the film contains a few longer shots, rather than one, and thus I’m not sure it’s eligible to be included as the greatest single shot is not the very first one. However, it showcases a brilliant use of the cinematic technique.
Children of Men (car scene) – The camera doesn’t need all that much actual locomotor movement to produce immaculate choreography. Instead of floating around, Cuaron traps us within a harrowing dystopian ambush, furiously twisting along the way.
The Revenant (Arikara Battle) – Essentially, the inciting attack on the fur traders here is the anti-movie battle. There is no montage, no ruler-straight lines of soldiers together, no victors, no good and evil. There are only tracking shots of superior craftsmanship, one of which in particular must be considered among the best.
Children of Men (climactic cease fire) – Yes, I listed this movie already, and it’s returning for another triumph. Drenched in drab dryness, Cuaron gives us ironically despairing hope in the eventual transition from needlessly conflict to the realization of new life.
Paths of Glory (trench march) – It’s pretty unfair that Kubrick is so unbeatably skilled at everything. Perhaps I wish he couldn’t capture the sentiment of the soldiers and monitor Douglas’ brilliant performance and design such a great set and this… and that… and… or perhaps we should simply marvel at the wonderful art.
1917 (fire scene) – Here’s my one inclusion from a one-shot illusion film. Mendes’ and Deakins’ entire creation is stunning, but the burning town sequence is truly extraordinary. It’s a display of nearly unparalleled chaotic beauty and graceful tension in gorgeous dark orange.
Goodfellas (Copa shot) – Certainly this would be Drake’s choice, as he has often stated – and it’s a splendid one. Scorsese whisks us through the outrageous and perhaps frivolous life of our entertaining gangsters, choreographing cooks, tables and patrons along the way.
Roma (beach scene) – Every great artist knows that the intimate is the most epic, but few know how to craft a scene like this. It’s a fitting climax to an intensely personal story… and there may be no single tracking shot image in history as memorable as the tearful embrace on the beach.
I Am Cuba (tie – rooftop party, funerary march) – Kalatozov is both distinctively unique and singularly brilliant. At one point, he gives us everything – tilted close-ups, musical energy, a graceful camera drop, a dive into a pool – and later, everything else – a transcendent camera rise, workers inside, and a solemn solidarity.
The Shining (tricycle shot) – What horrors lie in Room 237? That’s less important a question than what wonders lie in Kubrick’s eerie, pioneering pursuit of the boy’s tricycle throughout the unendingly mystifying floors of the haunted Overlook hotel.
Nostalghia (candle walk) – No other director I have experienced, and I mean truly none, has this breed of boldness. Who else would ponder, “Let’s show a man walking back and forth with a candle for nine minutes. Let’s glide the camera around with effortless simplicity to show this trivial event.”
@Graham- this is fantastic! Great work here! I kept wanting to add one but they were all on your list you hadn’t seen yet. Keep updating this as you go along in your studies. Please keep it elsewhere too– I would feel terrible if if it was deleted from the site and you didn’t have it backed up somewhere.
Good call on the early part of the film functioning as a film within a film. A Bronx Tale (1993) is similar, obviously it is not at the level of Goodfellas (although I think it’s a great film). So many great freeze frames, like the one where they throw the mailman into the oven for bringing Henry Hill’s family letters from his school. I think the early section works so well in setting up not only the narrative but for establishing the world Henry Hill in entering; the gambling, scams, stealing, booze, and good food. The appeal of this world to the young Henry Hill character is obvious even without the voiceovers. Obviously the film still works without the opening 15 minutes but I think it definitely takes it to another level.
This may be along with The Godfather the greatest Youtube film of all time, meaning that you can just watch individual scenes all day long. There are certain films that are all timers like Stalker (1979), Aguirre (1972), or Tokyo Story (1953) that are amazing but are more of “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. Then there are films that probably have some great individual scenes but for whatever reason feel a little disjointed.
I think Goodfellas is the ultimate individual scene film plus the fact that all the individual scenes adds up to becoming one of the best films of all time.
What are some examples of films with great scenes but for whatever reason doesn’t work as a cohesive whole? Anyone feel free to chime in.
@James Trapp- I’ll chime in with two that come to mind (and the acknowledgement that there are hundreds I’m omitting). Spectre (2015) and The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) had sensational opening scenes but then fell very flat. I look forward to a second watch of both films- but it is regrettable that neither film could keep the cinematic energy from their opening shots going.
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