A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, February 28, 2016

GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)

Considering that it's Oscar night, I suppose I need to observe that 25 years ago tonight, the best picture and best director Oscars went to Dances With Wolves and Kevin Costner. For many this is yet another example of a gaffe by the Academy. I actually remember enjoying Dances With Wolves a great deal, though it has been years since I saw it. I liked Costner's and Mary McDonnell's performances in the movie, appreciated the attempt to see things from the point of view of Native Americans, and found the buffalo stampede thrilling. But I haven't seen it again for many years, and don't really have much interest in doing so: There are other equally enjoyable movies to watch instead. There are people who say that the real test of a movie is whether you want to see it again and again, because each time you do, you either see it differently or get a sense of why you liked it the first time. In the latter case, there's a great pleasure in hearing the dialogue in a movie like Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943) fall into its accustomed place each time you revisit it. But GoodFellas seems to me to fill both categories: You anticipate the "What do you mean, I'm funny?" exchange between Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), while at the same time you see something new each time in the way scenes are staged by Scorsese, shot by Michael Ballhaus, or edited by Thelma Schoonmaker. I will have to say that the Academy's choice this time doesn't seem so egregious to me as does, say, its choice of Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980) over Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980) does. GoodFellas is just a little too clever and showy for its own good: Consider the dazzling tracking shot as Henry and Karen (Lorraine Bracco) enter the Copacabana via the cellars and kitchens, or the fast-paced editing in the climactic scene when the paranoid Henry is dashing around town, keeping an eye on the helicopter above. On a repeat viewing, both scenes maybe draw a little more attention to film technique than is good for narrative coherence. But these are quibbles. GoodFellas won exactly one Oscar, for Joe Pesci's hair-trigger performance. Lorraine Bracco lost to Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost (Jerry Zucker), the adapted screenplay award went to Michael Blake for Dances With Wolves instead of to Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese, and Schoonmaker lost the editing Oscar to Neil Travis for Dances. And Ray Liotta's exceptional performance went completely unnominated. But then, who knows what movie we'll be talking about 25 years from now as having unfairly lost to tonight's winner?

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