Cast what’s left of your mind back to 1990. George H. W. Bush is president, the Berlin Wall is coming down, and Gorbachev wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Saddam Hussein orders the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which is successful until it isn’t. To her family’s regret but her nation’s relief, Margaret Thatcher is introduced to retirement. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is closed due to excessive leaning. Thieves make off with 13 priceless artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which nevertheless remains one of the most charming oases of culture in the United States. The Simpsons begins its joy-giving run on Fox. Milli Vanilli wins the award for best new artist at the Grammys. Popular at the movies: Home Alone, Pretty Woman, Edward Scissorhands, and Dances with Wolves, which inconceivably wins best picture. I say “inconceivably” not because it is inferior to three of its competitors—Ghost, The Godfather: Part III, and Awakenings—but because the fourth contender is Goodfellas.
Widely agreed to be one of the crowning achievements in a career clogged with crowning achievements, Goodfellas was directed by Martin Scorsese, the poet laureate of Italian-American mayhem. It is based on the true-crime book Wiseguy, by Nick Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. (They were nominated for best adapted screenplay, but with the Academy’s uncanny ability to step over the pearl to pick up the empty oyster shell, they lost to the screenplay of Dances with Wolves.)