Still obsessed with ‘Goodfellas,’ 25 years later
(CNN) — There’s a scene in season one of “The Sopranos” that thrills diehard fans of the film “Goodfellas.”
In it, Michael Imperioli, as mobster Christopher Moltisanti, shoots a bakery employee in the foot after a profanity-laced tirade — and then deadpans, “It happens.”
The scene is a tribute to “Goodfellas,” in which Imperioli’s character, Spider, is famously shot in the foot by Joe Pesci’s mobster, Tommy DeVito.
It was one scene among many that made the film an enduring classic. (You can probably recite a few.) And yet hardly anyone knew when the Martin Scorsese-directed film was released on September 19, 1990, it would become as renowned as it is. The film was nominated for six Oscars, with Pesci winning best supporting actor.
Scorsese was coming off the tumultuous “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which probably earned more press for the protests it inspired than the box office it generated. He’d made good films in the ’80s — “After Hours” and “The Color of Money” among them — but few predicted a return to the crackle of such classics as “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.”
Based on the book “Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family” by Nicholas Pileggi, the movie recounts the exploits of real-life mobster Henry Hill and his friends.
“It’s just a good movie,” Ray Liotta, who played Hill, told the “Today Show” in April at a cast reunion. “You are finding out and learning about this lifestyle that, thank God, 99% of us don’t know about.”
With it’s violence and abundance of profanity — there are reportedly 300 curse words in the film — some early audiences fled the theaters when it was first shown. It now ranks at 94 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. The Internet Movie Database has it at 17.
There have been plenty of offshoots of the “Goodfellas” franchise, including other books and documentaries about Hill, who died after suffering problems with his heart in 2012.
In honor of the 25th anniversary, the film has been re-released on Blu Ray, Hill’s longtime girlfriend Lisa Caserta has assisted in the publication of a new book by the late gangster and Flavorwire writer Jason Bailey attempted to track down the elusive Pesci, who has retired from acting and all but disappeared.
True “Goodfellas” aficionados are filled with tidbits about the project — everything from the fact that the now famous “You think I’m funny” scene was the brandchild of Pesci and mostly improvised, to how many times it took to perfect the tracking shot of Hill and girlfriend Karen (played by “Sopranos” star Lorraine Bracco) entering the Copacabana (the scene was shot eight times before Scorsese deemed it acceptable).
But it’s the characters from De Niro’s Jimmy Conway to the ill-fated Billy Batts who fans just can’t seem to let go of. In the 2011 book “Conversations with Scorsese” by Richard Schickel, the legendary filmmaker talked about his affection for the characters in “Goodfellas,” many of whom were just like people he knew growing up.
“A lot of the people in ‘Goodfellas’ are not on the upper levels, so they’re not tragic,” Scorsese said. “These guys are dealing on the everyday level. I knew them as people, not criminals. If something fell off the truck, you know, we all bought it. It was part of surviving, part of living.”
Audiences, too, have embraced the characters and the project. So much so that when movie critic Kyle Smith wrote in the New York Post in June 2015 that women couldn’t appreciate the film, the reaction was swift and angry.
Us Weekly’s Mara Reinstein wrote a piece declaring her love for the movie and taking Smith to task.
“The greatest films have the ability to transcend gender,” she wrote. “And to declare that women can’t appreciate a great film is just as condescending as declaring that women can’t be funny. If men could smarten up and stop sending this misogynist message out to the masses … well, that would be just fabulous.”