This year saw the 78th Birthday of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time Martin Scorsese. Scorsese is one of those rare truly elite directors who every decade has made at least one or two films that are considered classics and some of the greatest ever made. Even well into his 70s Scorsese is still operating at a high level and simply doesn’t make a bad film. His Filmography is highly varied and impressively consistent, here are my 10 favorites of his work.
Due to the number of amazing movies made by Scorsese, some truly great films didn’t make the list. Here is a small list of some that you should watch.
Bringing out the dead
Number 10- Gangs of New York
At first, Scorsese’s historical epic had a somewhat mixed reception which may have come from high expectations and believing the film was going to be something it’s not. First Daniel Day-Lewis gives a towering supporting performance as Bill the butcher and completely steals the film, DiCaprio for sure holds his own in one of his early post teen idol roles. The film is really a simple revenge tale told in a sweeping fashion and it’s fitting for Scorsese to make a film about the early days of the city he knows so well. The end sequence is extremely poignant and perhaps one of the most epic in Scorsese films, especially when knowing how important the city is to him.
Number 9- The King of Comedy
Almost acting as the comedic version of Taxi Driver for so long The King of Comedy was overlooked and forgotten, but in recent years has gained a strong following and rightfully so is viewed as a masterpiece ahead of its time. The film is essentially a commentary of fame and fandom among other things. Robert De Niro is on top form as Rupert Pupkin, a truly deranged and terrible person who at times you feel strange sympathy for. The film’s themes are more relevant today than ever but the film is still incredibly fun and genuinely hilarious; coupled with After Hours it shows how well Scorsese can do comedy.
Number 8- The Irishman
Scorsese’s most recent film saw his return to the gangster genre and re-teaming with De Niro and Pesci along with finally working with Al Pacino. Based on the life of mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, the film is about the famous disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa but really acts as a meditation on old age and the gangster genre as a whole. The film doesn’t have the same insane energy of Goodfellas or Casino and instead is more about the cost of a life in the mafia and is easily the most tragic of Scorsese’s gangster films. The final act of this film may be the most melancholic of Scorsese’s career and really leaves the impression that this is that last thing he has to say about the Gangster film and it’s a powerful statement in many ways bringing things full circle.
Number 7- The Wolf of Wall Street
Perhaps the most insane film of Scorsese’s career and arguably his funniest film to date. Wolf features an incredible lead performance from Leo DiCaprio as real-life Stockbroker Jordan Belfort as the film tracks his indulgent life filled with money, drugs, booze and prostitutes. The film never stops for a moment and makes you feel like you’re in the moment. It’s so fun that you forget this man is a criminal and ruining people’s lives. The film really is a critique on greed and capitalism, how in society we glorify people like Jordan Belfort who to this day is still living a successful life. Scorsese makes you see the fun in this lifestyle because it would be fun but he never glorifies it and in subtle moments reflects on the lives being ruined to support this lifestyle and how the men at the cause just get away with it. Also the Quaalude scene is one of the funniest pieces of physical comedy you will ever see and the single best sequence of the film. It’s amazing that Scorsese in his old age is still making films with the energy of a 25 year old.
Number 6- Mean Streets
Often mistaken as his first film, Mean Streets put Scorsese on the map and is his first masterpiece. While technically a mafia film, Mean Streets follows the low-level thugs, in particular Harvey Keitel as Charlie, a man looking to move up in the ranks. De Niro steals the film Johnny Boy. Although a crime film it’s not especially thrilling but instead more of a slice of life dialogue based film with some great characters. Mean Streets holds up and is so important to modern movies in a variety of different ways most notably in its revolutionary use of music.
Number 5- Silence
A film Scorsese has been trying to make for decades and eventually pulled off, Silence is a modern masterpiece and in my opinion the best exploration of religion and faith put to film. While not a religious person myself, I have deep respect for religion and faith. Silence shows a man’s faith put to the test in brutal ways and through it shows the power of belief. It’s also a great study of clashing ideologies and so philosophical in nature it gives a lot to chew on after the credits. The film is overwhelmingly powerful and epic providing an experience which is difficult yet rewarding. The directing is so high level here and the use of small spaces is amazing, Scorsese really captures the danger of the environment and the brutality which the characters go through both physically and emotionally.
Number 4- Raging Bull
A boxing movie that isn’t really about boxing yet captures the brutality of the sport better than any other, Raging Bull is one of the all-time great character studies focusing on the real life Middleweight Jake La Motta. The film really is about the inner anger and insecurities of Jake and how he vents these feelings both in the ring and against his loved ones. Robert De Niro’s Oscar winning performance is a marvel as he gives an emotionally detailed performance while also going through the process of getting into extreme shape and then becoming obese. The film’s black and white look is visually stunning, it’s one of those films that’s so raw and brutal yet fascinating – again the central character is not especially likeable but the script finds small doses of humanity to be had and questions if such a man can find any redemption in his life.
Number 3- The Departed
The Departed is an excellent, tightly scripted undercover cop thriller with an all-star cast. This was where DiCaprio truly shed his teen actor image and he’s excellent as the loose cannon underdog cop, Matt Damon is so unlikeable in the film and a true weasel of a character, Mark Wahlberg in a small but hilarious role, and Jack Nicholson is so slimy and creepy as an almost unusual portrayal of a mafia boss. The Departed is so rewatchable due to its perfect pacing and a number of visceral sequences, the film’s final 30 minutes especially are so intense due to the unpredictability of the film, at a certain point you have no idea how the film will end making it the most intense film Scorsese has ever made. It also contains one the greatest openings to a film ever.
Number 2- Taxi Driver
For me, numbers two and one are Scorsese’s true masterpieces and are completely different in style and tone. Taxi Driver is the ultimate character study and presents one of the greatest characters ever put to film in Travis Bickle. Robert De Niro has come close but never been quite as good as here, his performance has so much subtlety and nuance to the point where every time I only see Travis and not De Niro. He is the only person who could have played this role. The character is just fascinating. We learn little about his backstory but so much about who he is and how he views the world. He has many contradictions. He hates the seediness of society yet plunges head first into it willingly, he views himself as some sort of hero in an evil world but really, he just wants to lash out and when he does it’s shocking. The film lives and dies by the character and the top-notch script by Paul Schrader but Scorsese brings a surreal dark atmosphere to the film, like how Travis views his surroundings. Taxi Driver is pretty much a perfect film from start to finish. An art house film so good that it broke to mainstream appeal and with any other director it would likely be their undeniable best film.
Number 1- Goodfellas
It’s hard to even say what is so good about Goodfellas, it’s just a perfect film in pretty much every way. It’s still the best portrayal of the Mafia life showing both the exciting nature of it followed by the awful downfall and betrayal. The directing by Scorsese is perfect with so much style, from pure directing it’s easily his best work. The story is the classic rise and fall story focusing on the life of Henry Hill. The first half is so fun and energetic you want to be one of these men or friends with them, but then the second half kicks in and Scorsese pulls the rug out showing where it all leads too. The film is beyond iconic and has so many memorable moments. Ray Liotta is fantastic as is De Niro but the show stealer is Joe Pesci giving the best performance of his career. Goodfellas is likely the film Scorsese is most known for and it’s for good reason. An American epic that tells an old-fashioned story in such a unique way that has influenced so much of the way films are made.