Sunday, November 18, 2012

Top 10 Martin Scorsese Pictures

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.

10. Cape Fear (1991)
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.


  1. I love Marty. He's the man. Definitely one of the elder statesmen who has not lost his touch.

    I plan on watching some Scorsese films I hadn't seen for next year as he's among the many filmmakers that I need in my never-ending watch list.

    Here's my Scorsese Films so far...

    1. Raging Bull
    2. Taxi Driver
    3. Goodfellas
    4. Mean Streets
    5. The Last Temptation of Christ
    6. Hugo
    7. The Last Waltz
    8. The Departed
    9. George Harrison: Living in the Material World
    10. Gangs of New York
    11. The Aviator
    12. New York Stories-Life Lessons
    13. Casino

    1. Solid list, love that our Top 4 are the same, but in slightly different order. And I completely agree, Marty has not lost his tough with age at all. Hugo...? Jesus, flick was perfect.

  2. I adore Scorsese. Even though I haven't seen that many of his films, as I wade through his filmography I find that I love him more and more. Goodfellas is definitely my favourite of his, but most of his other work follows closely behind.

    1. Great to hear! Marty is the man for sure. Glad you're a GoodFellas fan. Hope you enjoy the rest of the Scorsese flicks you see.

  3. Scorsese was the first director who I ever got into, absolutely love the man. My top 10 would be:
    1. Taxi Driver
    2. The Departed
    3. Goodfellas
    4. After Hours
    5. Raging Bull
    6. The King of Comedy
    7. The Last Temptation of Christ
    8. Casino
    9. The Last Waltz
    10. Mean Streets

    I was also a big fan of A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies because it introduced me to so many of the classics.

    1. Taxi Driver reigns supreme! Love it. Great top 10 list. After Hours is probably Scorsese's most underrated film, I really enjoy that one. A Personal Journey... man, I haven't seen that since college. I should definitely try to get ahold of that flick.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hands down one of my favourite directors. I think both King of Comedy and Gangs of New York are criminally underrated. I'm missing a couple of his films though, namely The Last Waltz and Casino, so really need to put that right! Nice list!

    1. Thanks! The King of Comedy was probably the biggest surprise for me. I had no idea it was going to be as funny as it is. The Last Waltz is remarkable and Casino is flawless. HIGHLY recommend those two.

  5. Solid list, but I'd swap out Last Temptation (haven't seen it) and put in After Hours a bit further up, because it's brilliant, possibly funnier than The King of Comedy.

    1. Oh yeah. After Hours is incredible, I'd definitely call it the most underrated film of Scorsese's career. Never given its just due.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  6. Hey my favorite active director and easily one of my top three as well... great list. I personally would swap out Casino and Cape Fear and put in Age of Innocence or After Hours. Having Lived in Boston for more than ten years now, I can tell you that The Departed is pretty much a documentary on how language is used in Beantown. Listening to him talk in interviews is like getting a Film School lesson every time, his love for cinema is always present.

    1. Nice, glad you're a Scorsese fan. After Hours and Cape Fear were neck in neck, but De Niro's work in Cape takes the cake for me. As for Casino, man, I love that flick. But Age of Innocence is damn fine as well. Damn fine.

      Loving hearing about The Departed's authenticity, makes that flick even better.

      And I couldn't agree more, listening to old Marty is like free film school lectures. Man is brilliant.

  7. Love that Casino is in your top 5. Nice to see The Departed and Hugo make the list too. I know you think it's his worst, but I'd probably have New York, New York on my list. ;)

    1. Hey man, New York, New York has a shitload of admirers, and it's still one of Scorsese's personal favorites, so that says something. I've only seen it twice, and not for many many years. Could give it another go, but I'm not sure it'd turn out well ha.

      Either way, glad you dig the picks!

  8. I'm a little disappointed in myself for only seeing half of these, but yeah, it really doesn't get much better than Taxi Driver. Probably my top choice as well. Nice job here, Alex!

    1. Thanks man! Hey look at it this way, Scorsese's films will always be here, waiting to be watched. No rush! So glad Taxi Driver is your top.

  9. Hmmm ... I've only seen a few of these movies. I'm going in right now to hand in my movie buff card. ;-)

    Thumbs up for Taxi Driver and Hugo. I loved the way Hugo captured the sense of wonder, whimsy, and endless possibilities that the earliest films must have evoked in viewers. And while I don't love Travis Bickle the way you love Travis Bickle (well ... who does?) he's one of the most damn unforgettable characters I've ever seen. Irredeemably fucked up in the best possible way.

    The only thing I remember about The Last Temptation of Christ was the controversy ... never saw it. From what I can recall, people were spectacularly pissed off by the idea of Jesus acting and feeling like a human being. Which is odd since, if I understand Christian scripture correctly, that was kinda the whole point.

    1. Ha, yes, few love Travis Bickle more than I do, so that's fair. I'm so intoxicated with his anguish. It just feels... real.

      Interesting thoughts on Last Temptation, ones I agree with completely. I just think it's so funny that people flipped out over that movie. It isn't nearly as bad as fanatics made it out to be. (sigh), Oh well.

    2. These things are rarely as bad as fanatics make them out to be. On the flip side, I bet the self-righteous furor was responsible for loads of ticket sales.

  10. I would throw in a film I saw recently but absolutely loved: The Age of Innocence. Come to think of it, that film doesn't get the love it should. Maybe because it's very un-Scorsese?

    1. Oh god, Age of Innocence is perfect, loved that flick. That and After Hours were tossed around for the 10th spot on this list. Interesting fact: Scorsese has called Age of Innocence the most violent film he's ever made. That man digs emotional torture.

    2. That was a terrific movie, Anna ... of course I love Edith Wharton's novels, so a well crafted adaptation couldn't miss with me. I need to see it again.

      "That man digs emotional torture." Hah! That is classic. And so true. Of course he had great source material to work with. No one digs emotional torture like the authors of the classics ... y'know?

    3. Oh, I couldn't agree more with that. Those authors lived on articulating emotional torture.

  11. Love Marty's films and his WCF.

    My top 5 MS:
    1.Raging Bull
    2.Taxi Driver
    4.The Aviator
    5.Mean Streets

    I still need to see King of Comedy,I've heard great things about it.

    1. Great picks, David! The King of Comedy is definitely as great as you've heard. That one seriously surprised the hell out of me. Highly recommend it.

  12. I did my own list on his birthday and agonized over it for weeks. There's such a wealth of material, so many criminally underrated works behind the classics that stand up to intense scrutiny, that picking only 10 was a nightmare. I'm still kicking myself for not picking one of his many superb documentaries.

    Not much a fan of The Departed, though. Feels like Scorsese on autopilot and belongs with The Aviator and certain compromised elements of Gangs of New York as Scorsese's Oscar campaign of the early to mid '00s. Both Shutter Island and Hugo, though the latter is maybe the most Oscar-friendly movie he ever made, feel so liberated compared to the few features that preceded them.

    My own list is here:

    1. Hey man, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

      See, that's funny, I actually don't dig Shutter Island at all, aside from the acting. To me, that final "twist" was about as hidden as any film M. Night Shyamalan has made since Signs. But taking the end out of it, I just thought it was long and slow and kind of boring. Weird.

      Fuckin' love The Departed, and I actually have my issues with GoNY and The Aviator. But really, we're talking about solid films through and through, no doubt. Love old Marty.

  13. I think Goodfellas is the best Scorsese' film, so far.

    1. It's right by there for me - third just behind Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. A masterpiece.

    2. But, wow. DeNiro and Scorsese did a very great job togheter. New York, New York isn't so good. But Cape Fear, The King of Comedy, Casino, Mean Streets, GoodFellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver all are masterful fims. 7 out of 8. Sadly DeNiro and Scorsese didn't make films for years. Do you are excited by The Irishman and Silence.

    3. I'll be thrilled for The Irishman, if it ever happens. He's been trying to do it for years, don't know if it'll actually happen. Silence doesn't exactly sound like my cup of tea, but if Scorsese's name is attached to it, I'm there.

  14. You could make the argument that Scorsese is THE BEST living director, and I'm sure that its true. But Scorsese never made a bad film (NY, NY isn't like AWFUL, its just a misstep). But he new films aren't like he's old ones (Mean Street is way better Shutter Island); but he made some great stuff lately (Hugo & The Wolf of Wall Street).
    The man is responsible for nearly the best '70s film; the best '80s; the best '90s; and the best '10s (The Wolf of Wall Street (maybe tied by Interstellar))
    For my money and my time I think his best are: Mean Streets (very great one), Taxi Driver (too much to say about this one), Raging Bull (the best sport/box/addiction/'80s film), King of Comedy (I laugh so hard...), GoodFellas (this is the best gangster/'90s film), Casino (the fastest time of my life),Hugo (I love this one very great), TWofWS (FUCK, I FUCKING love this FUCKING film so FUCKING much).
    (Note: I didn't saw The Departed)

    1. Oh wow, you HAVE to see The Departed. It's so devilishly entertaining, really great work by everyone involved. And I agree, Scorsese is probably the best living filmmaker. No one tops him.

  15. Johnny Boy: You too good for this ten dollars? It's a good ten dollars. You know Michael, you make me laugh. You see, I borrow money all over this neighborhood, left and right from everybody, I never pay them back. So, I can't borrow no money from nobody no more, right? So who would that leave me to borrow money from but you? I borrow money from you, because you're the only jerk-off around here who I can borrow money from without payin' back, right?
    Travis Bickle: You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you're talking to? Oh yeah?
    Jake La Motta: I remember those cheers They still ring in my ears After years, they remain in my thoughts. Go to one night I took off my robe, and what'd I do? I forgot to wear shorts. I recall every fall Every hook, every jab The worst way a guy can get rid of his flab. As you know, my life wasn't drab. Though I'd much... Though I'd rather hear you cheer When you delve... Though I'd rather hear you cheer When I delve into Shakespeare "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse", I haven't had a winner in six months.
    Rupert Pupkin: Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.
    Henry Hill: For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. To me that was better than being president of the United States. To be a gangster was to own the world.
    Jimmy Conway: I'm not mad, I'm proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man and you learn two great things in your life. Look at me, never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.
    Ace Rothstein: When you love someone, you've gotta trust them. There's no other way. You've got to give them the key to everything that's yours. Otherwise, what's the point? And for a while, I believed, that's the kind of love I had.
    Hugo Cabret: I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.
    Jordan Belfort: Let me tell you something. There's no nobility in poverty. I've been a poor man, and I've been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.
    Jordan Belfort: My name is Jordan Belfort. I'm a former member of the middle class raised by two accountants in a tiny apartment in Bayside, Queens. The year I turned 26, as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.
    Jordan Belfort: I fucked her brains out... for eleven seconds.
    Jordan Belfort: Sell me this pen!
    Jordan Belfort: Her pussy was like heroine to me. And it wasn't just about the sex either. Naomi and I got along. I mean, we had similar interests and shit.
    Jordan Belfort: Fun coupons!
    Jordan Belfort: The quaalude, or lude, as it is commonly referred to, was first synthesized in 1951 by an Indian doctor, that's dots, not feathers, as a sedative and was prescribed to stressed out housewives with sleep disorders. But pretty soon someone figured out that if you resisted the urge to sleep for just fifteen minutes, you got a pretty kick-ass high from it. Didn't take long for people to start abusing ludes of course. And in 1982 the U.S. Government Schedule one'd them, along with the rest of the world. Which meant there was only a finite amount of these things left. No shit, you can't even buy 'em anymore. You people are all shit out of luck.

    1. So many great films, so many great characters, so many classic lines. The impact one man has had over one artistic medium is astounding.

  16. 10.The Departed
    9.Cape Fear
    8.King of Comedy
    6.Mean Streets
    4-3.Raging Bull & The 'fucking' Wolf of 'fucking' Wall Street
    2.Taxi Driver

    1. Love it. So great that one of the best directors of violent cinema made a truly amazing children's film.