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1 Year, 100 Movies: #92 Goodfellas (1990)

by Trey Hock on July 15, 2010

in 1 Year, 100 Movies,Columns

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film will be recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!

Sorry I’ve been away for a few days.  I had to go out of town, and I realize that the relentless pace of movie watching that I’ve set for myself is pretty unforgiving. I have the next few days off, and am motivated to catch up and perhaps get ahead. Now on to “Goodfellas.”

How does a movie that focuses on violence, criminal exploits, drug use, sexual philandering–a movie without a truly sympathetic character–how does this movie succeed in pulling a viewer in and making them love it? Watch “Goodfellas” and learn.

Martin Scorsese starts us out in the middle of the story with one of the most violent scenes in the whole film before bouncing back to the chronological beginning. It is as if to say, “If you can make it through this, then you’re gonna be alright.” It is the movie version of a roller-coaster “chicken” exit. The other interesting thing that this first scene does is to show us the single moment where the entire story turns, the moment when the trio of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and the unbelievable Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) all seal their demise.

But each of the characters are bad people, who do incredibly bad things. So how to make an engaging film that is more than a simple glorification of violence and organized crime?

Scorsese focuses not so much on Hill, but makes Hill’s desire for a life beyond normal a key character. Through voiceover, the viewer becomes attached to a more critical, and perhaps more mature Hill, who lets us know why he wanted to become a gangster, and why in spite of the constant threat of danger, he continued to indulge in the lifestyle.

Within this context, we can see the allure of a life that offers all of the physical trappings that a person could desire. It is not without its drawbacks: Hill says early in the film just after he has taken a brutal beating from his father for not attending school that sometimes you just have to take a beating. He understands that this is part of the deal. But in spite of all of this, the life of a gangster still draws him in.

Scorsese also is able to make his film accessible to his viewers by giving us the character of Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco). When she enters the story, she is a normal person. She has misgivings about Henry and his lifestyle, but she also is intrigued. She is in much the same position as the viewer. She doesn’t participate directly, but derives benefit from her association with her husband and the other criminals around her. Karen, like us, slowly becomes accustomed to the world around her, until it feels normal.

I guess you could say that “Goodfellas” glorifies violence, but with the stress levels that the main characters endure, it feels more like a film about crooked businessmen trying to make a buck.  They are simply trying to enjoy what they can grab for as long as they can get away with it.

More screentime is given to conversations over dinner than violent acts, and a ton of time is spent on characters trying to escape a fate that is closing in on them. We know that everything is going to end badly, and that is why we as viewers don’t choose the life that Hill, Conway, and DeVito have chosen. But still we can all understand, even to a small extent, why that life has appeal. It is, at the very least, more exciting than waking up and getting the newspaper off your front lawn while dressed in a bathrobe.

Next up #91 “Sophie’s Choice.”

1 Year, 100 Movies: #93 The French Connection (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #94 Pulp Fiction (1994)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #95 The Last Picture Show (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #96 Do the Right Thing (1989)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #97 Blade Runner (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #99 Toy Story (1995)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #100 Ben-Hur (1959)

1 Year, 100 Movies: An Introduction

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier July 15, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I do really like goodfellas but it seems to have become almost unopposed as one of scorsese’s best three films, I’ve always preferred The Aviator, The Last Temptation of Christ and even perhaps the Age of Innocence over Goodfellas


2 Eric Melin July 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Wow, Xavier, that’s a tough one. I think Goodfellas is right up there with Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and The King of Comedy. I am obviously a huge fan of The Aviator, which I think is about as personal as biopics can get. Writing this out now as I think about his work, I think its definitely in his Top 3, if not Top 2. Goodfellas is one of those movies hat never gets old. It feels fresh and exciting every time I watch it. It’s so full of life (one of the things I love about The Aviator too).


3 Trey July 15, 2010 at 8:53 pm


I’m not sure I agree with you about your three Scorsese favorites, but you do bring up an interesting point. How many filmmakers have excellent work overshadowed by one or two giant films? Scorsese has three that do this: Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas.


4 Reed July 16, 2010 at 5:33 am

#92 = Underrated


5 trey July 16, 2010 at 7:23 am


I would tend to agree with you, but only because there are some choices higher on the list that I feel are weaker than Goodfellas. Still just getting on the list of 100 films is pretty tough, though I don’t want to sound like one of those “just being nominated is an honor” fools.


6 Xavier July 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Sorry I think I need to clarify those weren’t my top 3 favorite scorsese films, taxi driver then raging bull are my first two, but I just don’t understand why goodfellas is undeniably up there with those two, the films I listed were ones that I thought were better than goodfellas, but aren’t generally considered to be even close by many


7 Trey July 17, 2010 at 7:11 am


Goodfellas is really great. The story’s tight, the characters are real, it’s hard to argue that it’s not great. As far as your three, I think that Last Temptation of Christ gets either unfairly torn down or set on a pedestal, because of its subject matter. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure it’s one of Scorsese best. Age of Innocence and The Aviator have never touch a cord in me. So I have difficulty rooting for either of those films. A film of Scorsese’s that is overlooked is Casino, which I would argue is better than Goodfellas.


8 Xavier July 19, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I’m not debating at all that goodfellas is a great film, it is, I really enjoy watching it every time I put it on, but I just think it seems to be put up with Raging Bull and Taxi Driver to easily. The same way you say that you didn’t connect with Age of Innocence and the Aviator, I’ve always felt that somewhat with Goodfellas. I agree there are many films above it on AFI’s list that I would put Goodfellas above but there’s also a number that aren’t on there that I would put on. I do have some problems with Last Temptation, but it is a fascinating film and a very personal exploration of faith and doubt (I’m an atheist, but I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand just because of that)


9 Trey July 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm


I think you make a good point. Actually I think that the AFI list making panel would agree with you. They put Taxi Driver in the middle, and Raging Bull way at the top, where as Goodfellas is way at the bottom.

Another Scorsese film that I think is flawed, but also completely underrated at the same time is Bringing Out the Dead. it’s a pretty interesting film that not many people think about.


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