After Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, let’s now move on to another celebrated filmmaker, who also happens to be my all time favourite! Late last year, we saw two Hollywood kingpins, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro star in The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese. So those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of watching a Scorsese movie, please use this list as a guide to get started.
Unlike Nolan and Tarantino, Scorsese’s filmography spans even further back, as far as the late 60s. That’s more than 50 years of experience in the film industry. In that period of time, we have seen some of the finest films to ever grace a theater screen. Due to his extensive filmography, we’re going to limit this list to a top 11.
11. Casino (1995)
A Goodfellas-esque setting, except it’s in Las Vegas. Which isn’t a bad thing, of course. Scorsese may have been a little off-colour compared to Goodfellas, but that in itself was far, far better than any other filmmaker’s best work. It tells a time when Las Vegas was different, not the family friendly modern version, but a city which was controlled by the mafia.
At the heart of it is a bloody love triangle with Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone all giving grandstanding performances. It was a classic Scorsese gangster drama, with all the Scorsese elements we know and love – tracking shots, voice-over narration, freeze frames and kickass jazz/rock soundtracks.
Watch Casino on Amazon Prime
10. The King of Comedy (1982)
If you ask me, The King of Comedy is one of Scorsese’s most special films, and a personal favourite of mine. It doesn’t show that outward burst of rage you see in Scorsese characters (mostly Joe Pesci types), but rather a more complex, passive-aggressive satire that probes into the dark reality of celebrity culture.
Robert de Niro gives a cringy and disturbing performance (in a good way) of Rupert Pumpkin, a comic with delusions of grandeur who stalks a talk show host (Jerry Lewis). It wasn’t celebrated much at the time of release, but as time went on, people started to realize the underlying notions behind the movie. It was truly well ahead of its time.
9. The Age of Innocence (1993)
This isn’t your typical Scorsese movie. It doesn’t have the typical pointers of a film associated with him. However, this is one of his lesser known works that deserves a lot more attention. Based on the 1920 novel by Edith Wharton, Scorsese reimagines the source material for the big screen right down to the letter.
The movie tells a story of restrained love in the high society of New York in brutal fashion. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Newland Archer, a man torn between his love for another woman and the ‘moral constraints’ of high society, and he plays it, as always, to great effect. This is as uncharacteristic a Scorsese movie you’ll find, but trust me, it’s one you don’t want to miss out on.
8. The Aviator (2004)
The second collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese produced one of DiCaprio’s finest performance. This is, once again, an examination of a person’s increasingly unstable psyche, like in Taxi Driver, except it was about real-life aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes.
The film portrays Hughes’ life between the late 1920s and late 1940s, during which time he became a successful film producer and an aviation magnate, all while constantly battling a severe case of OCD. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Actor for DiCaprio, Best Director for Scorsese, Best Picture, as well as a win for Cate Blanchett for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
7. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
And we’re back to classic Scorsese. DiCaprio and Scorsese team up once more in probably the most fun movie Scorsese has ever made. The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the memoir by corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort is a tale of fraud, scandal, criminal investigation and a LOT of partying.
Scorsese held absolutely nothing back with profanity leaking every which way, from drug addiction to endless cursing to nudity. But hell, it was a bucketload of fun. DiCaprio was at his flamboyant best, along with an equally strong performance by Jonah Hill, which saw the duo entertain throught the duration of the film. The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s highest grossing film worldwide, and has become an instant classic. It definitely ranks as one of his finest works.
6. Mean Streets (1973)
Mean Streets was Scorsese’s big break. Up until then, he was a small time filmmaker who made mostly dramas. But that changed with this small film with its not-so-famous cast. Mean Streets also brought to the attention of the cinema industry an actor by the name of Robert de Niro. This was their first (of many) collaborations and introduced two future legends to the world.
Mean Streets was a story of guilt, sin, loyalty and friendship which circled around the relationship between Charlie (played by Harvey Keitel), a Catholic who works for the Italian Mafia and his friend Johnny Boy (played by de Niro), a gambling addict with countless debts to loan sharks. Mean Streets helped shape Scorsese’s signature style which he’d use for future movies. Cinema would never be the same again.
5. The Departed (2006)
God, I love this movie. The Departed holds special significance to me as it was the first Scorsese movie I ever watched. This cat-and-mouse (well, rat) crime drama was Scorsese’s return to the gangster genre after more a decade. It saw him win Best Picture and Best Director for the first and only time in his career.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg play cops and gangsters who have moles in both sides. Wildly entertaining with engaging performances from almost everyone, The Departed is Scorsese’s best movie this century.
4. The Irishman (2019)
Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated Netflix original gangster epic thankfully lived up to its hype. This sweeping tale of infamous criminal figures hits on themes not usually encountered in gangster genre. Scorsese and Zaillian’s contemplative tone showcases the inviolable connection between crime and politics. They also subtly explore the burden of taking a darker path in life. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci’s fantastic performances definitely make this an unforgettable work in Scorsese’s oeuvre.
3. Raging Bull (1980)
A complex look into the life of famed boxer Jake LaMotta, Scorsese gives us one of the best sports dramas ever made. Robert de Niro’s is one of the greatest character portrayals in cinematic history. He had to gain a ton of weight as well as get himself into shape to learn the art of boxing.
Unlike Rocky, brilliant as it was in its own way, Scorsese gives us a more brutal look into the world of boxing as well as a look into the mindset of Jake LaMotta, giving it a more intense vibe with the black-and-white setting.
2. Taxi Driver (1976)
No movie captured the dark, eerie side of the 1970s than Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver was and is THE definitive psychological thriller. Scorsese was building a growing reputation after his success with Mean Streets, but only after the release of Taxi Driver did the whole world realize that they were in the presence of greatness. The movie takes a contemplative and disturbing look at the devolving psyche of Travis Bickle, a taxi driver who drives a cab through the dark seedy underbelly of 1970s New York, who then resorts to vigilantism as a means of rebelling against the system in his crusade to ‘cleanse’ the streets of New York. This movie requires more than one watch and hours of contemplation and analysis to dissect its entire meaning, not to mention the incredibly complex character of Travis Bickle and his perceptions of good and bad.
“You talkin’ to me?”
Absolute masterpiece of a scene. Absolute masterpiece of a movie.
1. Goodfellas (1990)
“As far as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
Goodfellas stands with The Godfather Part I and Part II as one of the greatest gangster epics of all time. While The Godfather trilogy dealt with themes of family, betrayal and humanity, Goodfellas gives us the whole shtick. It gives us the suits, the cars, the Italian food, the glamour of being a mafioso.
That whole movie has more iconic moments than most directors’ entire filmography. The ‘funny guy’ scene, the walk into the restaurant, the pistol whip on the neighbour, the shine box scene. That’s what I got off the top of my head. I’ve seen the movie so many times I could replay it scene-for-scene in my head.
One of the greatest achievements in cinema, it has had influence on all cultural levels, from Tarantino movies to The Sopranos. They even did a parody of the restaurant tracking shot in an episode of Family Guy.
To be fair, any one of the top 3 can be called Scorsese’s magnum opus, but overlooking the others would be an injustice. That’s the pedigree of Martin Scorsese. We may never have the privilege of watching movies of such class after he passes on. His influence spreads across all age groups even today.