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This is the one that earned Joe Pesci his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. I’ve always thought Ray Liotta deserved an Oscar too, and you can see why from the way his reactions in this scene do so much of the heavy lifting, making the growing menace, and then the resulting hilarity, really play. I remember vividly seeing this for the first time in the theatre, and I was so wound up, dreading what Tommy was going to do next, that I was involuntarily shrinking down in my seat, just about ready to cover my eyes.

Really, this entire movie is one great scene after another, it’s insane, and the performances were so uniformly excellent that it’s a crying shame any awards that year went to anybody who wasn’t in it, and even worse that goddam Dances With Wolves won Best Picture – as Tommy might say, can you believe that shit? There are parts of Goodfellas that stick with you forever because of how funny they are, and others for being so terribly upsetting. Who, having seen it even just once, can ever forget Billy Batts telling Tommy now go home and get your fucking shinebox ? Who doesn’t wince, recalling what happened to poor Spider when he told Tommy, who surely had it coming, to go fuck himself? What about that whole frantic sequence on the day Henry finally gets pinched, as he runs from pillar to post, sweating buckets, trying to sell silencers to a grumpy Jimmy Conway while simultaneously moving drugs, dropping in on his coke-head mistress, and making a proper Italian dinner, all the while being tailed by a paranoia-inducing helicopter that’s always hovering close overhead? Or Tommy going to the ceremony to become a made man, only to get one behind the ear, leaving Henry to narrate, bitterly, that it was among the Italians, it was real greaseball shit. Then, of course, there’s the famous Copa Cabana steadicam shot, featured in this space a while back. One after another, scene after scene, Scorsese builds this strange, immoral, fascinating underground world, and draws you into it. It’s film-making at its most sublime, visceral, immersive, horrifying, even draining. You leave the theatre feeling like you were a low level mobster yourself, in the midst of all those wise guys, feeling lucky to have made it out alive without even doing a stint in the joint.

Still, Tommy in the tiki bar, telling his war stories and messing with Henry’s head, might just be the best of them all. Man, just the script for the story Tommy tells, performed so perfectly by Pesci, which sets up the whole mind-fuck:

What’s really funny was that fucking bank job away in Secaucus. I’m in the middle of the fuckin’ weeds lying down. Cop comes over, he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m restin’.” “Here, you restin?” I’m at a fuckin’ beach, in the park, I said “Yeah, I’m resting!” I know I’m restin’, I’m restin’! They pull me in, they start askin’ me all kinds of questions, you know, this and that, and he says, “Oh, uh, so what are you gonna tell us, tough guy?” I said, “My usual, zero, nothing! Why tell you?” The fuck. He said, “No, you’re gonna tell me somethin’ today, tough guy.” I said, “Alright, I’ll tell ya somethin’, go fuck your mother.” Bing! Pow! Boom! You saw the paper, Anthony, my head was out like this! The prick. So now I’m comin’ around, you know, I start to come out of it, who do I see in front of me? This big prick again. He says, “OK, what do you wanna tell me now, tough guy?” I said, “Mingia! What are you doin’ here? I thought I told you go to fuck your mother!” I thought he was gonna shit! Pow! Bing! Boom! The fuckers! Ming’, I wish I was big just once!

The cadence of it, the way it flows, it’s like music. And it’s frickin’ hilarious! That Tommy, you know, he really was a funny guy, when he wasn’t being a homicidal maniac.

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