In honor of master Marty’s recent 70th birthday, here’s a list of his films that have inspired me most. Scorsese is one of my top three favorite directors of all time, and I’ve seen all of his films many times over. These are the ones that never dare go away.
Scorsese’s Cape Fear is one of the finest remakes I’ve ever seen, with Robert De Niro fearlessly stepping in the shoes of a psycho played to perfection by Robert Mitchum, and Nick Nolte fiercely taking over Gregory Peck’s lawyer role.
What makes Marty’s film work so well is that he’s so hell bent on staying rooted to the source. The frenzied cinematography, the jazzy score, the sense of impending doom, hell, Scorsese even has Mitchum and Peck pop in for cameos to make this thing sing. And sing it does, all the way until its never-ending, overbearing, nearly movie-killing finale. True, the final sequence of this film is a needless wash, but I’m able to forgive it.
9. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Scorsese’s decades-long passion project is so far unlike any other religious movie ever made. Scorsese, a man of considerable Catholic faith, dared to pose the question What if? What if Christ experienced sin? What if Christ was able to live and indulge? What if Christ was to live as just a man?
Now, The Last Temptation is… out there. David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, Harvey Keitel as Judas, Peter Gabriel scoring the music – but somehow, everything works to achieve Scorsese’s unyielding vision. The final act of this film remains some of the best, most daring content Scorsese has ever put on screen.
8. The King of Comedy (1983)
I honestly had no idea how funny The King of Comedy was going to be. The film tells the story of Rupert Pupkin (played flawlessly by Robert De Niro, in what has to be the most overlooked role of his career), a pathetic man-child obsessed with TV personality Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis, impeccably playing a presumed version of himself).
From frame one, we sense Rupert’s desperation, and grow increasingly wary of it as time goes on. What can obsession lead a man to do? Show up unexpectedly at a summer home? Kidnap? Kill? Find out all that and more, once you tune in to Scorsese’s fantastic Comedy.
7. Hugo (2011)
I ended my full review of Hugo last year by saying it reminded me why I love the movies. It is, in a sense, a gift to cinema itself. In telling the story of an orphaned boy who whimsically comes to befriend Georges Méliès, one of the pioneers of cinema, Scorsese gave us a piece of the inspiration and undying love that he continually achieves from the medium. It’s a personal film of such fantastical mystery, that I find myself falling deeper in love with it everytime I watch it. A joyful work of art.
6. The Departed (2006)
After two great films that no one cared to see (Kundun, Bringing out the Dead) and two great films that nearly got there but didn’t (Gangs of New York, The Aviator) I imagine Scorsese had had enough and said something to the effect of, Fuck it, let’s go all in and give ‘em what they want. The result is as fine a gangster film since, well, Scorsese’s own GoodFellas, which is sure saying a whole hell of a lot.
Moving from his familiar New York streets to the alleys of Boston, The Departed ingeniously depicts a cop vs. con vs. con vs. cop game of cat and mouse that never fails to amuse. Equipped with a wicked good cast and a spectacularly dry sense of humor, The Departed deserved everything it had coming to it. And then some.
5. Casino (1995)
Casino marks what has to be the fastest three hours of consecutive movie screentime in the history of cinema. It speeds and speeds, accelerating to the point of delirium before hastily coming to a halt and picking on the pieces. The story of Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein’s rise and fall on The Strip marks what could (arguably) be considered Scorsese’s most entertaining film. Sure, when ranking these films, I prefer the next four more than Casino, but I can say with perfect certainly that there is no film on this list that I can watch over and over more than Casino. You can bet the house on that.
4. Mean Streets (1973)
Although Mean Streets wasn’t technically Scorsese’s first film, it is certainly evidence to the crime-laden mob stories so rooted in reality that would ultimately make Scorsese a household name. Moving up and down the block, scamming, shooting the shit, fighting, anything to make a thieving buck, Scorsese depicted the mob world in such a documentary form, that its authenticity still bleeds through some 40 years later.
The tumultuous relationship between levelheaded Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and psychopath Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) is one of the best Scorsese ever depicted. That, along with an iconic soundtrack, have allowed Mean Streets to stand the test of time in the rawest way possible. In Charlie’s words: “Let’s go to da movies!” That’s damn right.
3. GoodFellas (1990)
From its first gut-wrenching scene (which I still consider the best movie opening in the history of film) onward, GoodFellas has you hooked. You simply can’t take your eyes off the wiseguys that so charismatically occupy the screen. Their rise is as entertaining to watch as their impending downfall. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not glad that Henry Hill and his boys go down, but knowing that they must go down, I can think of no more captivating way to put it on screen than this.
2. Raging Bull (1980)
A story: after the release and subsequent bombing of New York, New York, Scorsese fell into a debilitating depression (fueled much in part by cocaine and alcohol abuse) that eventually landed him in the hospital. His good friend Robert De Niro came to visit him often and one day, De Niro came with a crudely-written autobiography on Jake LaMotta called Raging Bull. De Niro handed Scorsese the book and said, “We can do this.”
And did they ever.
1. Taxi Driver (1976)
Taxi Driver is my favorite film of all time, so it may seem less than obvious that it top this list. No matter, New York seen through the eyes of Travis Bickle (through Robert De Niro, through Paul Schrader, through Martin Scorsese) is the finest portrayal of a man in turmoil that I’ve witnessed. Even though Travis clearly has, uhh, issues, I find myself continually on his side, hoping that everything will be okay. Now, I’m not exactly what that says about me personally, but, yeah, I like Travis. I think he’s a tortured soul, but a kind one at that.
You take it easy there, old boy, you’ve got a hell of a way to go.