‘The Departed’ like much of the work Scorsese has produced since 2000 has been disappointing for his inability to break free of the techniques and kind of storytelling he brilliantly helped to establish with his 1990 gangster masterpiece, ‘Goodfellas’, a film that is perhaps the seminal Scorsese film in terms the influence it had on the new wave of Hollywood film makers like Spike Lee, David Fincher and Paul Thomas Andersen. Personally, for me, his last great film was ‘Kundun’ (1995), a beautifully poetic insight into an alien culture and depiction of the Dalia Lama,
Everybody has a favourite Scorsese film and out of all the films he has directed, ‘Taxi Driver’ is the one film that has become a real audience and critics favourite, regularly appearing in many lists, polls and canons. ‘Taxi Driver’ is a true modern American classic and is one of the few genuinely disturbing and powerful pieces of cinema to have come out of the tumultuous 70’s era. The body of work Scorsese produced in the 1980s is just as adventurous and daring as his early work, but after ‘Goodfellas’, Scorsese seemed to go into auto pilot mode, making flawed films such as ‘Casino’, ‘Cape Fear’ and ‘Bringing out the Dead’.
Many critics have argued that a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese is simply making the same film over and over again. Though this maybe a crude generalisation, it does seem to offer a valid explanation about his status as an auteur, a position that surely must be reassessed considering his long term collaboration with the editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. Whatever Scorsese does today will always be judged against the greatness of his early work in the 1970s, and if this a negative experience, it perhaps provides irrefutable evidence of his evolution as a filmmaker.
What follows next are a list of my 10 favourite Scorsese movies. It was too difficult to put them into some kind of rank order.
1.Taxi Driver, 1976
Many say this is the best film Scorsese ever directed, and though I would agree with such a bold statement, the emotional power of this film comes directly out of the 70’s social and political malaise that was widespread in mainstream American society. Bickle was Schrader, and his rage and violence was undoubtedly a physical manifestation of a nation at war with itself. A masterpiece.
2. Raging Bull, 1980
Stallone’s triumph with ‘Rocky’ in 1977 was enough to give birth to the boxing genre, and though many would say ‘Rocky’ is probably the most entertaining and definitive boxing movie, ‘Raging Bull’, Scorsese’s first film of the 80s is still considered by some critics today to be the best American feature film to have emerged out of the entire decade. Characterised by virtuoso tracking shots and trademark Schoonmaker editing techniques like balletic slow motion, Raging Bull is a film about male identity, sexuality and redemption that is directed with an tangible nod to the great neo realist Italian masters like De Sica and Rossellini. This is a film like the best of Scorsese that transcends genre limitations and becomes much more than just cinema. Compelling.
3. After Hours, 1985
A personal favourite, ‘After Hours’ is the closest Scorsese has ever come to directing an out and out comedy. Shot entirely at night, the narrative follows a lonely desk clerk, Paul Hackett, played superbly by Griffin Dunne, who takes a nightmarish journey through downtown
4. Mean Streets, 1973
The opening of Scorsese’s breakthrough feature film, ‘Mean Streets’ is unforgettable for its use of music, a stylistic technique that would come to define the rest of his work, and provide a future inspiration for Quentin Tarantino and his colourful use of the soundtrack. Influenced by the improvised, realist style of Cassavetes, Mean Streets was the turning point for Scorsese, and though the film has dated in some aspects, it is supported by superlative performances from De Niro and Kietel and boosted by an authentic study of small time criminals that is both personal and cinematic.
5. Goodfellas, 1990
Scorsese reinvented himself with the visceral gangster epic, ‘Goodfellas’, and at the same time rewrote the language of American cinema, creating an entirely new lexicon of film techniques from the whip pan to tracking shots, producing one of the most fast paced and intoxicating narratives ever seen. Scorsese draws upon his love of American film genres and masters like John Ford to paint a deeply powerful indictment of gangster life and hypocrisy. Impressive, ambitious and daring – this is Scorsese at his best with a potent final image of Joe Pesci reminding us of the startling, primitive nature of early cinema.
6. Kundun, 1995
Paul Schrader’s stunning film about the Japanese writer, ‘Mishima’, was a flawed project on East Asian culture, and his collaboration with the minimalist composer, Philip Glass, undoubtedly left a lasting impression on Scorsese who extracted from him a tremendously operatic score that elevates the story of the Dalai Lama to a spiritual plane. ‘Kundun’ is a very spiritual film and proved that Scorsese could confidently work in any genre. A commercial failure at the box office but a real triumph in terms of realising the epic spectacles of the
7. The King of Comedy, 1983
Scorsese’s telling and biting satire on the media, celebrity, fame and loneliness was a film ahead of its time, and features one of De Niro’s darkest and most complex performances as the eccentric and unhinged lonely comedian, Rupert Pupkin, who goes to insane lengths to pursue his obsession with fame and recognition. Intelligently directed by Scorsese, ‘The King of Comedy’ extended his fascination with lonely outsiders who exist on the margins of working class society.
8. The Age of Innocence, 1993
Scorsese’s foray into the period drama was a real achievement in terms of capturing the intricacies and details of
A spectacular failure upon it’s release, ‘