That Martin Scorsese has yet to win an Oscar for best director is shameful enough. But it's even more outrageous that on the two occasions he was most deserving of that honour - for "Raging Bull" in 1980 and for "Goodfellas" ten years later - he was pipped to the post by two actors making their directorial debuts. Robert Redford and Kevin Costner were hardly upstarts, but will "Ordinary People" and "Dances With Wolves" stand the test of time? Compare them with "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas", movies whose stature and resonance have only increased over the years.
Based on "Wiseguy", Nicholas Pileggi's biography of real-life mobster turned FBI informer Henry Hill, "Goodfellas" is a tour de force that brilliantly evokes both the seductive glamour and moral degradation of organised crime. Following Hill's rapid rise from eager-to-please youth to gang kingpin, and from there to his inexorable descent into cocaine-fuelled mania, Scorsese's fast-paced, violent masterpiece ranks alongside "The Godfather" as one of the most vivid and truthful depictions of the Italian-American Mafia.
Ray Liotta has never been better as Henry Hill, while Robert De Niro continued his fruitful association with Scorsese as the ageing hood who takes Henry under his wing. But both were blown off the screen by Joe Pesci's unforgettable portrayal of psychotic enforcer Tommy, a thrilling performance that won him a well-deserved Oscar for best supporting actor.
Scorsese reunited with Pileggi, Pesci, and De Niro five years later for "Casino", an ambitious but flawed attempt to replicate the success of "Goodfellas".
"Goodfellas" is on Channel 5 at 10.00pm, Monday 5th February 2001.