Steven Spielberg on Why ‘Goodfellas’ Is an ‘Epic Masterpiece’ With an ‘Intoxicating Energy’

Steven Spielberg on ‘Goodfellas’
Goodfellas: Everett Collection; Spielberg: Getty Images

This essay is one of several contributed by filmmakers and actors as part of Variety’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time package.

Henry Hill, Jimmy the Gent, Tommy DeVito, Paulie, Karen, Billy Batts, the Lufthansa heist … all someone has to do is mention some of these names and I get the sudden and irresistible urge to watch Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve experienced this epic cinematic masterpiece, which includes a brilliant screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese, and one of cinema history’s greatest acting ensembles: De Niro, Pesci, Liotta, and some of the most memorable supporting roles ever — from Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Chuck Low and Tony Darrow to Catherine and Charles Scorsese … there are no background performances in “Goodfellas.” 

It’s no longer a guilty pleasure to sit for 2 hours and 26 minutes, but rather a master class for any aspiring filmmaker who wants to see a breathtaking balancing act of multiple storylines, timelines, shocking violence and violent humor. The film has an intoxicating energy expressed not only through masterful editing, but also the greatest needle-drop score since “American Graffiti” and the best spoken narrative since Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity.” 

And not since Peter Clemenza instructed Michael Corleone how to cook for a crew in “The Godfather” has food played such a critical role in creating bonds that last a lifetime — or in this case, right up until the time you get whacked. 

Everyone has a favorite Scorsese picture, and this is the one for me, in a photo finish with my other favorite picture of his, “Raging Bull.”  

Steven Spielberg is the director of “Jaws,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List.”