100 Movies You Need to See Before You Die

Goodfellas (1990)

Country: USA
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriters: Martin Scorsese, Nicholas Pileggi
Stars: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino

In the pantheon of American mobster movies, Martin Scorsese’s 1990 drama is the most cinematically accomplished. At 146 minutes, the director allows himself enough time to pull out every device in his toolkit, from freeze frames to jump cuts to fourth wall-breaking monologues to tracking shots. Oh, that tracking shot.

Easily the film’s most memorable scene, it took several days and eight takes to get Henry and Karen Hill’s (Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco’s) Steadicam-shot stroll through the Copacabana just right. And it had to be right, because it functions as a visual metaphor for the first first part of the story—the wonderful world is wide open to this couple.

As the film progresses, so too does the pacing, mimicking the speed at which Henry’s life is spiraling out of control. It’s frazzled and frenetic. Scorsese himself intended “to begin Goodfellas like a gunshot and have it get faster from there, almost like a two-and-a-half-hour trailer. I think it's the only way you can really sense the exhilaration of the lifestyle, and to get a sense of why a lot of people are attracted to it.” —JW

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