A sure sign you really like a director is that you can come up with a list of ten films he's directed that you really like. As regular readers of this blog (both of us) know my look at favorite directors has become a weekly series and today's post on Martin Scorsese marks part six. Previous directors that I've recognized are Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wellman, John Ford and Howard Hawks.
I love listening to Scorsese talk about films. He can be seen and heard in film documentaries and featurettes aplenty. His love of and appreciation for films from all parts of the world from all decades is as evident as the brilliance of his directing. Scrosese doesn’t just talk about films and directors and stars, he enthuses about them. This enthusiasm is infectious. I liken it to two people who’ve seen a film that you haven’t caught yet. One tells you, “you’ve got to see it.” The other tells you how great the experience was of seeing it and how much they loved it. Invariably the type of recommendation the second person provided will be the more convincing to me.
Scorsese’s unabashed love of film comes through in his style of film making. He holds nothing back. Stories are told with great verve and excitement. And honesty. Is there now a more honest filmmaker?
Controversy has followed Scorsese, as it does many great filmmakers. In his case because of the violence depicted in some of his movies and the supposed unflattering portrayals of Italian-Americans. Suffice it to say his movies are not politically correct, that would corrupt the process. Many of his films, such as Mean Streets and Goodfellas draw from Scorsese’s own experiences growing up in New York. Along with several of the great gangster films ever made and other dark subjects explored in films like Taxi Driver, Scorsese has made Kundun (1997) about the dalai lama and the The Age of Innocence (1993) a costume drama based on an Edith Wharton novel. He’s nothing if not versatile.
Here are my top ten, as always, in order.
Goodfellas (1990). At the top of my list of Scorsese films and near the very top of all films ever made. Rich with unforgettable scenes, lines and performances. See my post from last February for more.
Raging Bull (1980). Scrosese has had the good fortune and good sense to surround himself with some exceptional talents. Among them actor Robert DeNiro who gave the performance of a lifetime as boxer Jake LaMotta and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, a three time Oscar winner, one for Raging Bull. This is utterly uncompromising film making. Both brutal and balletic. Considered by many critics to the best film of the 1980s.
The Aviator (2004). I seem to love this film more than anyone. I’m so clueless that I’ve never understood why it did not receive more critical acclaim and sweep that year’s Oscars. It’s the story of Howard Hughes over a 25 year period beginning with his filming of Hells Angels. It includes Hughes’ affairs with Kate Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Faith Domergue, his unsuccessful battle with OCD and his successful battle with congress. Most of all the Aviator, as its title suggests, is about Hughes the pilot and innovator in airplanes. Leonardo DiCaprio starred and is letter perfect, as is the film.
Taxi Driver (1976). This is a real poser. I mean trying to summarize Taxi Driver. Jeez, saying anything about in a few sentences seems wrong. Travis Bickle is a mentally unstable cab driver who vacillates between wanting to be an assassin or a vigilante killer. He takes an interest in a beautiful campaign worker and later a very young prostitute. How's that? For chrissakes just see it. DeNiro stars along with Cybill Sheperd, Jodie Foster and Harvey Kietel as one of the slimiest pimps you'll ever see.
Mean Streets (1973). It’s telling that a movie saw raw can be so damn good. An excellent film on its own terms it presaged much more to come. See my post from last Summer for more.
The King of Comedy (1982). Creepy, unsettling, embarrassing, uncomfortable. Yet I love it. Wrote about just the other day, see that post.
Gangs of New York (2002). DeNiro isn’t the only actor who gives brilliant performs for Scorsese. Just say Daniel Day-Lewis in this film. Also see some amazing set designs, costumes and special effects that re-create the Five Points Section of New York in the 1860’s. DeCaprio starred, though Day-Lewis stole the show. Yes its about the various gangs of mid 19th century New York but its also about immigration, city bosses and the draft riots. Wonderful history and story telling.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Immediately raised the hackles of people who hadn’t seen it, never would and wouldn’t understand it if they did. Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis adapted for the screen by paul Shrader, it pictured Jesus as what he was, a man. Some will argue that he was far more and the film allows for that too. Makes all those biblical epics of the 30 years prior seem like cartoons.
The Departed (2006). The only Scorsese film to garner him a Best Director Oscar and his only Best Picture winner too. Featured a rich cast of A list male actors, DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Whalberg, Jack Nicholson and Alec Baldwin. It’s the Irish mob, good cops, bad cops, people working undercover for both sides. Plenty of tension, violence and drama.
Casino (1995). Draws inevitable comparisons to previous gangster film from Scorsese and inevitably suffers as a result. DeNiro and Joe Pesci are back this time the setting is Las Vegas at the tail end of the mob’s control of the gaming industry. A very good film in its own right. That I rank it 10th suggests how much I esteem Scorsese’s other films.
Also be sure to see A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995) in which he discusses some of the American films he has most loved and been influenced by and Il Mio Viaggio in Italia (1999) (aka My Voyage to Italy) a similar look at Italian films.