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Sunday, June 26, 2011

AFI/BFI #204: Goodfellas (1990)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Composer: Various Artists
AFI Rank:  94 (1998), 92 (2007)
BFI Rank: -


I usually don't need an excuse to watch Goodfellas but the AFI/BFI list gave me one all the same. It is unimaginable that anybody who loves films and is reading this has never seen it. If you haven't then I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have either been in some sort of coma, incarcerated in a Thai prison or simply avoiding the worlds greatest movies as an ill advised bet. Go buy it now and watch it immediately. You won't regret it.

Goodfellas was nominated for 6 Oscars but Joe Pesci was the only one to take one home as best supporting actor in his role as Tommy DeVito. It is an astonishing performance, of which there are several in this film. Up against Dances With Wolves, Awakenings, The Godfather: Part III and Ghost, it should have done much better and I personally think time has shown it to be the better picture. A fact the british knew even then as it fared much better at the Baftas winning 5 of its 7 nominations. It is interesting that it occupies such a high place on so many top movies lists and yet is all the way down in 92nd place in the AFI Top 100.

This is undoubtedly Ray Liotta's greatest performance, head and shoulders above anything else he has ever done. I would love to see him make a Micky Rourke like comeback because what he delivers in Goodfellas in nothing short of incredible. The whole cast is pitch perfect.

Pileggi and DeNiro deliver an astounding screenplay with perfect pacing that pulls of a difficult blend of dark humor, friendship and love with an ever present underlying threat of violence that bubbles over in several graphic scenes. Scorsese's intention was to show the real unglamorized world of the mob. That is all helped along by a generous 2 f-words per minute, most of them delivered by Joe Pesci. Gordon Ramsay eat you heart out. 

Joe Pesci's unforgettable contribution: Funny how? What's funny about it? 
This is all helped along by Thelma Schoonmaker's ever brilliant editing (the editing of the final sequence is astonishingly effective at creating a sense of irritation and unrest) and Scorsese's choice of music. Certain scenes play out as mini music videos and were even filmed with the music playing on set to help with the timing. You will never listen to Layla the same way again. On top of all of that you have the superb cinematography of long time Scorsese collaborator Michael Ballhaus

There are so many stand out set pieces in this movie it is hard to pick just a few. Watch for one of the longest single shots in film history as they enter the Copa. Breathtaking.

I watched the HD-DVD for this review and it was beautiful. Not overly enhanced with a fair amount of film grain. The blu ray is the same transfer but with a Dolby Digital soundtrack and would be my recommended way to see this if you can. Some great commentaries and some worthwhile, if a little stale, extras. You may not be the kind of person that usually watches the special features but this is one of those movies that leaves you wanting more. This is a true story, however fictionalized, and you will want to hear more about the real people and events behind these characters.

Goodfellas is without a shadow of a doubt Crucial Cinema and one of the greatest american movies ever made.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

AFI/BFI #205: The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

Director: Frank Launder
Writer: Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, Val Valentine
Composer: Malcolm Arnold
AFI Rank:  -
BFI Rank: 94

      No Score Yet...

To anybody under the age of 40 this is going to be a hard sell. The first and best entry in the series was made nearly 60 years ago and was based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle. Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat wrote, directed and produced over 40 films together but they will mainly be remembered for the St Trinian's films. The comedy may come thick and fast but it is gentle by today's standards and a younger audience may have trouble understanding what all the fuss is about. Like many classic british comedies you need to watch with a little pinch of nostalgia. Although people slam the modern St Trinian's and Carry On remakes it is hard to argue that they are truly that different. The formula is the same but they don't have the benefit of that nostalgia and as a result seem dated and flat, unlike their revered originals.

If I could make an argument for watching Belles then it would have to be the outstanding cast and superb performances. A who's who of british comedy led by the incomparable Alastair Sim in dual roles (Alec Guinness channelled him in The Ladykillers and was also brilliant in his own multi-role celluloid excursions), with Joyce Grenfell, George Cole, Beryl Reid, Irene Handl, Joan Sims and Sid James, all showing the expert comedic timing and delivery that made each of them a household name.

Sim was also Cole's off screen mentor
Launder had previously directed The Happiest Days of Your Life four years earlier with Sim, Grenfell and Cole and Belles owes a great deal to its predecessor. It is less risque than you might imagine, although for the time it probably raised a few eyebrows, especially the depiction of the sixth form girls. It is the youngest girls that are the real terrors though and are closer to Searle's strips. They never had nitroglycerin in my chemistry lab... 

It used to be very hard to get a copy of this in the US but that is no longer the case. I watched the US DVD release from Netflix and it looked pretty good for it's age. Amazon also has it for streaming in SD if that is your thing. Overall Belles is still a highly entertaining film and a perfect Sunday afternoon movie. It is vintage british comedy at its best.