1. “Goodfellas” (1990)
Many movies labeled “classics” have trouble existing on this pedestal. Either that oversell ends up making a film seem overrated, or its perfection makes it seem too polished, or almost stodgy. What’s remarkable about “Goodfellas” is how it manages to be so messy and full of wild personality while still maintaining its status as a classic. Scorsese isn’t so concerned with making the film seem polished. He’s concerned with telling the sprawling three decades long story with as much bravado and gusto as possible.
The film follows the life of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) from low-level teenage helper to the mob to the grand mafioso waiting to be toppled. What starts as a glamorous depiction of the criminal lifestyle turns into a frightening tightrope between excess and death. Without creating tonal whiplash, Scorsese makes even the most fun scenes seem as if danger lurks around the corner. In one scene, live wire Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) moves from laughing to interrogating a comrade for his laughter in a split second. The unease felt behind every lavish action is best felt by Henry’s wide-eyed wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco). Her blushing bride becomes attracted to the violent tendencies of her husband’s inner life until they threaten to be the death of her. Every sequence in this two-and-a-half hour movie moves as fast as Scorsese talks. It’s hardly a rote classic; it’s a living, breathing work of manic art.