Great Debates: Is the ultimate mob movie 'Goodfellas' or 'The Godfather'?
“Question Everything” opens the floor for debate of pop culture topics–serious to whimsical, sublime to ridiculous—that have no right or wrong answers but certainly elicit a wide spectrum of intense opinions. Hopefully reading these different perspectives will open minds, challenge thinking and maybe even provoke a change in what you believe. Let’s discuss!
Goodfellas or The Godfather: Which Movie Rules?
EW’s Critics Make Their Cases
Leah Greenblatt says:
I love Goodfellas; who doesn’t? It’s so jittery and jazzy and whiz-bang Scorcese-y. (And by “whiz” and “bang” I mean cocaine, but also: brilliant!) It still blows my mind that it only took home one Oscar, for Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito—though interestingly, one of the contenders he beat in that category was Al Pacino, nominated for Dick Tracy (and, incidentally, who also didn’t win for The Godfather).
But I digress. The point is I think we can all agree that Goodfellas and The Godfather are both great films, the twin monoliths of mob cinema. The Godfather, to me, just lives on so many levels: It’s a Renaissance painting, a Shakespearian tragedy (“I know it was you, Fredo!”), a quintessential immigrants’ tale, pulp fiction transmogrified into a celluloid masterpiece. There’s almost nothing it isn’t about—sex, money, class, family, ambition, betrayal, the terrible things people can do with a horse’s head.
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That Francis Ford Coppola, barely into his 30s at the time and with only a handful of films under his belt, could make a movie so fantastically realized, with such a complete and perfect mythology, is bananas. Of course he had help; not just from the crew behind the camera, including the genius cinematographer Gordon Willis and a crack team of casting directors, editors, and designers, but from some of the finest actors we’ve ever had, working at the peak of their powers: Marlon Brando, Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan. (Though it wasn’t exactly a shining showcase for women, and I have to admit I never loved Diane Keaton in this role.)
There’s a reason every guy you know only needs the thinnest reason to quote one of thousand great lines: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse”; “Oh, Paulie? You won’t see him no more”; “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” But also why it stands in the all-time cannon of great American movies, and still feels so real and relevant more than 40 years after its release. It’s a magnum opus for the masses, a work so rich and layered it reveals something new in every viewing. And not be a jerk, but did Scorcese go on to make a sequel that was as good or maybe even better than the original? Show me a Goodfellas II, and I’ll let this argument sleep with the fishes. Otherwise, my cannoli stays with Don Corleone.
Joe McGovern weighs in:
They’re both about life in the mob, though it might just be their alliterative titles that have kept these two rather divergent American masterpieces so ripe for comparison for 25 years. Obviously, I’d be a quack if I slammed Francis Ford Coppola’s mature, mythical, operatic, poetic, philharmonic The Godfather, but the reason my id always goes cuckoo for Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas is because none of those superlatives apply to it. Composed like a rock musical, Goodfellas succeeds because of its absence of somberness, its outbursts of devilish wit, its authentic sense of real lives being lived, and its brilliantly cynical kicker, which turns our protagonist Henry Hill into the one thing he (we) never want to be: a nobody.
Everyone in Goodfellas is to some degree Fredo from The Godfather. They are all just flawed humans. In fact, Goodfellas’ best scene—dinner in the middle of the night at Tommy’s house—is literally imbued with Scorsese’s DNA, as he casts his own mother to play the part of Tommy’s mom. Fans of the film can quote that scene line for line, but a thousand other movies (including The Godfather) would’ve never stopped for a three-minute comic interlude of such improvisational jest. But that’s why Goodfellas dazzles. Shaking to its own rhythm, it never cops the posture of something Important—evidence right there as to why The Godfather and its sequel won Best Picture Oscars and Goodfellas was beaten by the lofty Dances with Wolves.