TV & Movies

Michael Ballhaus' Legendary 'Goodfellas' Tracking Shot and the Films It Inspired (Videos)

The late cinematographer influenced David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson with his three-minute one take

German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus — who passed away at 81 in 2017 — was nominated for three Academy Awards for “Broadcast News,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and “Gangs of New York.” He never won, but the shot that defined his career didn’t even earn him a nomination: He’ll forever be best remembered for his legendary tracking shot in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mob classic “Goodfellas.”

Known as the “Copa Shot,” the take is one of the few shots in the history of cinema readily identifiable by name. The three-minute scene boasts no memorable dialogue in one of the most quotable films of all time — yet it’s still regarded as the signature scene of “Goodfellas.”

In it, gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) leads his wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), through the back entrance of New York’s Copacabana nightclub, as the pair walk through the kitchen to the their table for two. With the help of Steadicam operator Larry McConkey, Ballhaus pulled off a balletic shot, breathtaking in its execution, that sets the mood without calling too much attention to itself.

The sequence’s influence is felt to this day, with everyone from Quentin Tarantino to David Fincher tipping their hat to the shot with similarly long takes that try to emulate it.

1996’s “Swingers” contains a spot-on tribute to the Copa Shot slipped in near the end, as the group of aspiring actors and big band music fanboys, led by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, skip the line to get into former Los Angeles nightspot The Dresden, and instead get in through the employee entrance and the kitchen.

Four years after “Goodfellas,” Tarantino wowed with “Pulp Fiction,” a film that recalled Scorsese’s classic with its profanity-laden dialogue, and boundary-pushing form. The tracking shot of Bruce Willis heading back to his apartment to retrieve a watch, announced him as a master.

In 2012’s “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Derek Cianfrance kicked off his drama with an uninterrupted shot of Ryan Gosling making his way through a bustling fairground.

Fincher used digital trickery to pull off his popular tracking shot from 2002’s “Panic Room.”

Arguably the one to pull it off best is Paul Thomas Anderson, whose three-minute one take (shot by Robert Elswit) around a pool party in 1997’s “Boogie Nights” advances the plot in hallucinatory fashion. Watch it below:

16 Biggest Oscar Snubs and Surprises, From Ruth Negga to Amy Adams (Photos)

  • This year’s Oscars field is out, and its one of the strongest — and most diverse — that we’ve seen in years. But as always, there are nominations that surprised us and absences that left some grumbling. Here’s a short list of those.

  • SURPRISE: Ruth Negga nominated for “Loving”

    Emma Stone, Natalie Portman and Amy Adams were early and clear frontrunners in this category, so while Negga’s performance in “Loving” was lauded by critics, it was surprising to see her replace Amy Adams in the final ballot.

  • SNUB: Annette Bening for “20th Century Women”

    The actress was nominated for her role for the Golden Globes (but didn’t win) and was completely overlooked by the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Turns out, Bening’s role as the mother of a male teenager coming of age in “20th Century Women” didn’t impress the Academy enough to score a nomination.

  • SURPRISE: Victory for “Hidden Figures

    The feel-good drama about a group of African-American female NASA scientists topped the box office for two consecutive weeks and has now piloted itself to a Best Picture nomination. Awards favorite Octavia Spencer landed an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress

  • SNUB: Amy Adams for “Arrival”

    Amy Adams had been a clear frontrunner for her leading role in “Arrival,” especially after having been nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG Award in the same category. But the Academy left out the actress.

  • SURPRISE: Lucas Hedges for “Manchester By The Sea”

    Odds-on Best Actor favorite Casey Affleck has dominated the coverage of Kenneth Lonergan’s beautiful and tragic drama, but Hedges’ breakout performance as 16-year-old Patrick Chandler added an element of levity and innocence to the film. While he didn’t manage to get a Golden Globes nomination, the Academy took note of Hedges’ performance.

  • SNUB: “Birth of a Nation” strikes out

    Consider this one an expected snub. After its mammoth success at Sundance, “Birth of a Nation” was seen as the film that was going to carry the Academy out of its #OscarsSoWhite debacle. Instead, its wide release brought weak box office returns, historical accuracy criticism, and bad publicity after rape allegations surrounding director Nate Parker resurfaced. Instead, “Moonlight,” “Fences,” “Hidden Figures’ and “Lion” are the movies that are bringing diversity to the Oscar race.

  • SURPRISE: Mel Gibson for “Hacksaw Ridge”

    It seems that Hollywood is finally ready to take Gibson back. After getting a standing ovation at an Academy screening last fall, Mel Gibson has landed a Best Director nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge” in a competitive field that includes Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins

  • SNUB: “Silence”

    Despite its enormous critical acclaim, “Silence” will be only the second Scorsese film in the last 15 years to not get a Best Picture nomination. Weak box office numbers and late screening releases hampered the film’s campaign, and it will have to settle for just a Best Cinematography nomination

  • SURPRISE: Isabelle Huppert for “Elle”

    The French actress was a surprise winner for the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for her star turn in “Elle,” after most people assumed the ceremony would be another coronation for “Jackie” headliner Natalie Portman. And she continues to defy predictions, landing an Oscar nomination as well.

  • SURPRISE: Viggo Mortensen for “Captain Fantastic” 

    Mortensen continues his surprise run for his work in the hidden Sundance gem “Captain Fantastic,” adding to his Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA nods.

  • SNUB: Tom Ford for Adapted Screenplay

    It probably wasn’t easy for the famous designer to take Austin Wright’s novel “Tony & Susan” and adapt it for the big screen. The film was lauded by critics and Ford was nominated for two Golden Globes for writing and directing the film — yet the Academy left him off the list.

    Getty Images

  • SURPRISE: “Passengers” nominated for Original Score

    The film score nomination went to “Passengers” starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, shutting out other contenders like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” 


  • SNUB: Best Director for “Hell or High Water” 

    David Mackenzie didn’t receive a nomination for directing “Hell or High Water,” one of the most critically successful films of 2016. Instead, Mel Gibson snagged a nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge.”

    CBS Films

  • SNUB: “Gleason”

    Amazon’s heart-wrenching and inspiring documentary about former National Football League player Steve Gleason, who is paralyzed from the neck down due to complications from ALS, scored big with audiences — including Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Shannon — but failed to pick up an Oscar nomination in one of the deepest documentary fields in years.

  • SNUB: “Deadpool” gets zilch

    Sorry, comic book fans. The Merc’s run ends here. Surprising nominations at the Golden Globes and the Producers’ Guild Awards couldn’t be converted into Oscar nominations, and we sadly won’t see Ryan Reynolds in full Deadpool uniform goofing around on the red carpet. Unless, you know, he decides to show up anyway and demand an explanation for why he wasn’t nominated.


  • SNUB: Taraji P. Henson

    The “Hidden Figures” star may have gotten a Golden Globes nomination, but she fell short with the Academy.

“Hidden Figures” and Ruth Negga are pleasant surprises while Annette Bening and Martin Scorsese are left out in the cold

This year’s Oscars field is out, and its one of the strongest — and most diverse — that we’ve seen in years. But as always, there are nominations that surprised us and absences that left some grumbling. Here’s a short list of those.

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