Today! Because as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster –
Directed by Martin Scorsese (x5)
Starring Ray Liotta (x3), Robert De Niro (x6), Joe Pesci (x3), Lorraine Bracco (x3), Paul Sorvino (x3), Frank Vincent, Mike Starr, Tony Darrow (x2), Frank Sivero, Chuck Low, Gina Mastrogiacomo, Catherine Scorsese, Samuel L. Jackson (x12), Suzanne Shepherd, Debi Mazar (x2), Michael Imperioli, Kevin Corrigan (x3), Tony Sirico (x2), Illeana Douglas (x2), Paul Herman, Tony Lip, Vincent Pastore, Tobin Bell (x2), Vito Antuofermo, Frank Albanese, Johnny Williams, Elaine Kagan, Beau Starr, Welker White, Henny Youngman (x2), Jerry Vale, Isiah Whitlock Jr. (x2)
In the annals of great Oscar crimes, people are quick to jump on 1998, as I guess they feel Shakespeare in Love too frothy and inconsequential to beat the likes of Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, and Terrence Malick’s epic comeback to prominence, The Thin Red Line. I’m sure I’ve brought up Saving Private Ryan before, so I won’t get back into that again. But I think there’s a case that can be made for Shakespeare in Love – maybe not in that deep a year, but in some year. However, the great Oscar robbery of the ’90s and of all times isn’t that – hell, I could come up with a bunch of years more egregious than ’98. No, the worst hit job ever done was Dances With Wolves somehow beating Goodfellas for Best Picture/Director in 1990.
You can say that maybe the Academy didn’t want to go with the violent gangster film – even though they’d handed Best Picture to both the Godfathers by this point – but then the option became the pastoral white savior Native American movie? You’re telling me they didn’t realize how rough they’d snubbed Martin Scorsese all those years and couldn’t recognize his (ever so slightly) waning greatness, and figure maybe it was time to reward him when a truly, truly great film came along, instead of waiting for the next convenient time, which wouldn’t arrive for over a decade and a half? Plus, what, they had to give Kevin Costner an Oscar?? The 1990 Academy Awards make no sense whatsoever, so stuff your Saving Private Ryan griping. That 45 great minutes wrapped around two hours of next to nothing isn’t in the same ballpark.
And so Goodfellas – the second part of the holy trinity of Italian-American mob stories (bookended, obviously, by the Godfathers and The Sopranos) – was roundly robbed at the top awards, after winning virtually everything else that season, and being proclaimed from one end of criticdom to the other as Scorsese’s triumph, in league with the Taxi Drivers and Raging Bulls. While The Sopranos would make frequent references to the Godfather films, they didn’t often bring up Goodfellas, mainly, I’m guessing, because the show featured so many actors from the film. That ’90s New York mob actor scene would provide a bunch of the same folks to Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway four years later, but really, besides the obvious Sopranos folks with significant, memorable parts (Lorraine Bracco, Frank Vincent, and Michael Imperioli), Goodfellas also features the likes of Larry Boy Barese (Tony Darrow), Carmela’s mother Mary (Suzanne Shepherd), Paulie (Tony Sirico), Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore), Beansie Gaeta (Paul Herman), Uncle Pat (Frank Albanese), Carmine Lupertazzi (Tony Lip), Bobby Coniglio (Vito Antuofermo), and Albie Cianflone (John Ciarcia) among, I’m sure, others. And tonally it shares a lot more with Goodfellas than any other mafia project I can think of. People tend to forget how funny this movie can be (and Sopranos too), while also swinging into extremely violent territory.
If not for the towering specter of The Godfather, this would be the quintessential gangster film in history. Hell, it’s pretty rare anyone tries to tackle anything resembling Godfather – almost every mob picture since ’90 has been trying to redo Goodfellas. Let’s take a true (or true adjacent) mob figure from the past forty years and build a basic rise and fall, with flashy acting and wild bloodletting and see if the awards roll in! Black Mass, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Gotti (both the lousy 2018 Travolta movie and the better ’96 HBO version) – people love mafia movies. As of this writing, the Scorsese getting-the-gang-back-together mob effort The Irishman hasn’t been released, but I’m sure it’s fine, right? Those are a lot of pretty long in the tooth actors, so I’m curious about the energy level of that one, but hey, who am I to doubt? Is much of it set in Scranton? It certainly should be!
This is Scorsese’s fifth and final film on the list, following #80 The Departed, #167 Gangs of New York, #388 The Wolf of Wall Street, and #360 Cape Fear, making him only the eighth Five-Timer. I realize this is a curious group of Scorsese films – omitting some giant classics – but what can I say – Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Mean Streets, Raging Bull just were never in a big rotation for me. I clearly went for the more over-the-top performance films. This is also De Niro’s sixth film on the list, after Cape Fear, #127 Brazil, #131 Jackie Brown, #354 The Untouchables, and #82 Godfather II, but it’s his Jackie Brown co-star making the deepest dive, as Samuel L. Jackson rears up again, and blazes a trail to the Twelve-Timers! Twelve! No one else has reached double digits yet, and here’s Nick Fury running up a dozen!
Coming tomorrow! But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself –