As we’ve mentioned, this week marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Goodfellas, one of the most influential movies of the modern era — in its photographic style, in its use of music, in the sheer audacity of its storytelling. And it’s also one of the most oft-referenced works in our culture, no doubt thanks to the way it’s idolized by those who’ve made film and television in its aftermath. Here are just a few of its most memorable shout-outs in subsequent media.
The 1996 breakthrough picture for director Doug Liman, writer/star Jon Favreau, and co-star Vince Vaughn is a unique mixture of heartfelt personal storytelling and clever inside jokes/homage. The latter is mostly present in a sequence in which Favreau, Vaughn, and their struggling-actor buddies discuss their favorite shots and films — photographed in a style that echoes the opening sequence of Reservoir Dogs, which they discuss. Also in that conversation is a reference to the legendary unbroken take of Henry Hill and date Karen entering the Copacabana club through the back door, tracking with them through the kitchen and into the club, where front-row seats are created for them on the spot. So it’s only appropriate that later in the film, when our protagonists visit the famed Brown Derby, they get a rougher, handheld, low-budget, through-the-back-door entrance of their own, complete with an unbroken shot all the way in. (Watch it here.)
The final Daily Show
Jon Stewart never made a secret of his Goodfellas fandom; his run at The Daily Show was peppered with “get your fuckin’ shine box” and “funny how” references, and a few months before his departure from the show that bore his name, he hosted an anniversary/reunion screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. So perhaps it was inevitable that his final Daily Show would include an extended tribute to the aforementioned Copa sequence — cleverly used to acknowledge the entire behind-the-scenes crew — complete with a green room cameo from Mr. Scorsese, who growls, “Jon, you’re rippin’ me off for the last time!”
“Contemporary American Poultry” (Community)
One of the joys of Community is the way in which showrunner Dan Harmon and his gifted writers brought their extended parodies in from out of nowhere — you just didn’t expect an episode about a pillow fort to become an extended riff on Ken Burns’ Civil War miniseries — to the extent that they were eventually doing bait-and-switch shows, promoting an episode as a Pulp Fiction homage that turned out to be a full-on tribute to My Dinner with Andre. But their finest show of this sort may well have been the second-season “Poultry,” which begins as a commentary on the inedibility of cafeteria food and slowly becomes a hilariously detailed Goodfellas recreation.
“I have a lot to do tomorrow,” tweeted someone who called himself Henry Hill, late in the evening of Saturday, May 10, 2014, and thus began one of the savviest joke accounts in all of Film Twitter. You see, the centerpiece sequence of Goodfellas’ third act — an extended deep dive into plate-spinning, coke-snorting, sauce-making, and drug-induced paranoia, culminating in our protagonist’s arrest — is set (according to on-screen titles) on Sunday, May 11th, 1980. In 2014, May 11th also fell on a Sunday, so our anonymous Twitter hero tweeted as Henry Hill all day, with time-stamps lining up with the events in the film. It’s a little masterpiece of micro-niche comedy, with the 140-character-or-less missives getting mileage out of film familiarity (“All day long my poor brother has been watching helicopters and tomato sauce. LOL!”) and Twitter conventions (“RT if you love cocaine!”), even including some of the sequence’s many soundtrack cues (“I guess it’s just a Rolling Stones kind of day! http://youtu.be/GcB-JTAZQow”). And, after 30 hours and 43 tweets, the account was done forever, seized by ICE.
“Pallies” (Mr. Show)
One of the most discombobulating experiences for a Goodfellas fan is stumbling upon one of its many screenings on basic-cable nets like AMC, and discovering a hilariously different movie, thanks to the substitutions required to clean up its copious profanity. In this brief but uproarious sketch from Mr. Show’s fourth season, the “Edited for Television” clip from a Pallies airing on “The Sunday Sunshine Motion Picture Show” includes not only such badly dubbed faux-fanities as, “Hey, kiss my aunt, you mother-father,” but also several jarring violence edits and a creative “fix” for an extended middle finger.
Warner Brothers and Steven Spielberg’s much-missed five-season animated series was a joy for kids and parents alike — the kids got a funny, charming cartoon show, while the adults could enjoy the sly references and parodies (much like the original Looney Tunes cartoons) that flew right over the kiddies’ heads. And one of the best was the recurring characters of “The Goodfeathers,” a trio of pigeons clearly modeled (and uncannily voiced) after the Pesci, De Niro, and Liotta characters in Goodfellas, with shout-outs to the Liotta narration, Pesci’s rants, and more.
“Bart the Murderer” (The Simpsons)
Marion Anthony “Fat Tony” D’Amico made his first appearance in this third-season Simpsons episode, and if his look was reminiscent of Paul Sorvino’s Paulie in Goodfellas, it was no accident; this first episode is an extended riff on the opening scenes of Goodfellas, with Bart picking up a lucrative part-time job at the “Legitimate Businessman’s Social Club,” serving drinks and parking cars for “Fat Tony” and the local Mafioso (all the sounds of vintage pop tunes), before his work there causes a conflict with the school he’s supposed to be attending. (Watch a clip here.)
The most frequently referenced dialogue scene in Goodfellas is Joe Pesci’s aforementioned “Funny how?” bit, which has popped up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Homicide, Shark Tale (which features voice work by De Niro and Scorsese), Semi-Pro, Lilyhammer, and on multiple editions of the “Joe Pesci Show” sketch from Saturday Night Live. But its most interesting appearance is in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the Broadway jukebox musical Jersey Boys, in which Joe Pesci appears — as a character, played by actor Joseph Russo. According to the film, young actor (and, then, nightclub performer) Pesci was buddies with Four Seasons founding member Tommy DeVito, and introduced him to songwriter and future member Bob Gaudio — a key moment in their career. Years later, Pesci paid tribute to his friend by naming his Goodfellas character after DeVito (and the group’s vocalist gets name-checked by Lorraine Bracco’s Karen: “Who the hell do you think you are, Frankie Valli or some kinda big shot?”), and the Pesci character in Jersey Boys foreshadows that connection by asking another character, yes, “Funny how?”
There’s not a lot to recommend about Luc Besson’s strained 2013 Mob comedy, save for one tiny, meta-movie touch. Its plot concerns Giovanni Manzoni, a mob boss whose family is relocated to Normandy via the FBI’s witness protection program. While there, he finds himself at a particularly appropriate screening for the local cinema club: they’re runinng Goodfellas, which strikes particularly close to home, for not just the actor but the character playing him: the same one who plays Jimmy “The Gent” Conway in Goodfellas, Robert De Niro.
My Blue Heaven
This 1990 Steve Martin/Rick Moranis comedy would seem technically ineligible, since it was released a month before Goodfellas hit theaters (from the same studio, even). But there’s undeniably a Goodfellas influence here, seeing as how it’s a comedy about a former mobster (Martin) who goes into the suburbs via the witness protection program, just as Henry Hill does at the end of Goodfellas; the movie is basically a feature-length, broad-comedy version of his closing dialogue. So how is such a thing possible? Easy: My Blue Heaven was written by Nora Ephron, whose husband Nicholas Pileggi not only co-wrote Goodfellas, but wrote the book Wiseguy that the Scorsese movie was based on. In other words, she’d been living in the same household as the Henry Hill story for years; it’s no wonder it sparked something in her, prompting this comic companion piece.