A Tribute To Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese. One of the most iconic and influential names in modern cinema. Watching one of his films lights a distinctive cinematic spark that film lovers cannot resist. He is often referred to as a director who only makes crime/gangster films but he’s actually one of the most diverse directors out there. Ranging from gritty character studies, dark comedies, historical pieces, rise and fall biopics, thrillers, rock documentaries, etc.; the man has truly been all over the place with his filmography over the past 50 years. Yet all of his works have a distinctive energy that’s completely unique to him. I imagine anybody will discover at least one Scorsese film they’ll connect with. Or 20 if you’re like me. The man has an endless amount of classics as well as hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. So let’s take a peek at all 30 feature films he has made since 1967!

Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967)

Summary:

A young man struggles with the fact that his girlfriend was once raped.

Primary Cast:

Harvey Keitel, Zina Bethune

The Facts:

Scorsese’s debut was filmed over the course of several years while he was still a college student. It underwent numerous title changes; including Bring On The Dancing Girls and I Call First. Who’s That Knocking At My Door was finally settled, which is a reference to a 1961 song by The Genies. The film instantly received positive response, particularly from famous film critic Roger Ebert, who claimed it as “a work that is absolutely genuine, artistically satisfying and technically comparable to the best films being made anywhere. I have no reservations in describing it as a great moment in American movies”. A few years later, Ebert claimed he slightly overhyped it and that it has a few amateur moments. But claimed, “It is possible that with more experience and maturity Scorsese will direct more polished, finished films”. Ebert would go on to rave just about every Scorsese film on this list, giving most of them a perfect 4/4 score.

My Thoughts:

Even as a 25 year old film student, Scorsese already had a clear vision of the themes and style he would further expand on in his later works. It really does feel like a blueprint version of what’s to come. The classic Scorsese energy is already there: you have Catholic guilt, gangsters and a rockin’ 1960s soundtrack to back it up. It does have moments that drag and it really doesn’t stand out much in the grand scheme of his filmography. However, the fact this is a college student’s film is wildly impressive. This is the vision of a man on his way to becoming one of the all time greats. However, I think I’d only recommend this to huge Scorsese fans or any aspiring filmmakers. Scorsese would go on to do so much better; this is a blueprint of what’s to come. It’s also worth mentioning that fans of The Doors and Apocalypse Now alike will appreciate this films use of The End. Just like the use of the song is very unsettling in Apocalypse Now, it creates the same impact here.

Essential Viewing?: No

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Boxcar Bertha (1972)

Image result for boxcar bertha poster

Summary:

During the Great Depression, a union leader and a young woman become criminals to exact revenge on the management of the railroad.

Primary Cast:

Barbara Hershey, David Carradine

The Facts:

Martin Scorsese was hired to direct this on the strength of his debut film. After the success of Bloody Mama (1970), studios were seeking another gangster film with a female lead. It was shot within a span of 24 days in Arkansas. It was met with mixed critical reviews; ranging from Roger Ebert’s 3/4 rating, claiming it as “a weirdly interesting movie”. Chicago Tribune gave it a 1/4, claiming it “a trashy movie”.

My Thoughts:

I couldn’t get into this one at all. It just seemed like a much lesser Bonnie And Clyde (1967) to me. I can see how this would’ve been intriguing upon initial release, with the cutting edge sex and violence, but it doesn’t have any relevance now, aside from the fact it’s Martin Scorsese before he made it big. It hardly even feels like one of his films; rather just a fill in. I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody except for Scorsese completists.

Essential Viewing?: No

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Mean Streets (1973)

Summary:

A small time hood aspires to work his way up to the ranks of a local mob.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel

The Facts:

Scorsese’s first major film that he made purely on his own design. After Boxcar Bertha, John Cassavetes reportedly told Scorsese, “you’ve just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit.”. This inspired Scorsese to make a film based on his own life experiences. Cassavetes further told him he ought to go back to working on his roots as seen in Who’s That Knocking At My Door. This is said to be one of Scorsese’s most personal works to date, the focus primarily being on what Scorsese would regularly see growing up in New York City’s “Little Italy”. The title is based on a quote legendary noir writer Raymond Chandler coined “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”. It was met with great critical reception. Famous critic Pauline Kael coined it “a true original and a triumph of American filmmaking. Ebert called it a primary source for modern filmmaking. James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame claimed he saw it ten times in a row upon first discovering it.

My Thoughts:

This is the moment when Scorsese really tapped into the style that would make him so huge and distinctive. What I like about this film more than anything is the night time atmosphere created. Above the star making performance from Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, it’s the charm of close buddies hanging out past midnight that makes this film so memorable. Scorsese would go on to further expand on this formula in films such as GoodFellas and generally had better films ahead of him but there is a special intimacy to this one that can’t be missed.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Summary:

A recently widowed woman is on the road with her young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer.

Primary Cast:

Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson

The Facts:

Ellen Burstyn was still in the process of filming The Exorcist (1973) when approached to make this film. Burstyn claimed she wanted to star in something completely different after The Exorcist; something of a character study from a woman’s perspective. Seeking a hot new director to film it, Burstyn immediately wanted Scorsese to direct it having seen Mean Streets and feeling it’s exact the gritty approach a story like she had in mind needed. Burstyn went on to describe her time working with Scorsese as “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had”. Scorsese claimed about it, “We felt like charting all that and showing the differences and showing people making terrible mistakes ruining their lives and then realizing it and trying to push back when everything is crumbling without getting in soap opera. We opened ourselves up to a lot of experimentation.” Critics hailed it, further showcasing that Scorsese was one of the new greats in filmmaking.

My Thoughts:

I feel kind of bad for not being a huge fan of this one. This is the epitome of a film I deeply respect but honestly just couldn’t get into at all. I love that Scorsese went out to make such a fleshed out and honest character study with a female lead, especially for someone who’s known for essentially making only masculine focused films. It further showcases his diversity as a filmmaker and his open mindedness towards the kind of films he would make. However, I felt this was like a middle of the road soap opera. It’s very well made and has all of the ingredients for a great film, I just found it…boring. Then again, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen it, perhaps a rewatch is due soon, especially now knowing Scorsese was adamantly NOT trying to make a soap opera.

Essential Viewing?: No

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Taxi Driver (1976)

Summary:

A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepard

The Facts:

Scorsese claims that Taxi Driver arose from feeling that films are like a dream or drug induced reverie. With this film, he was striving to evoke a mood to the audience of being in a limbo state between sleeping and walking. He collaborated with now famous screenwriter/director Paul Schrader, who wrote the script from the pathology of loneliness. Schrader was at a very lonely and isolated phase in his personal life at the time of writing this. A theory he developed is that, “some young men subconsciously push others away to maintain their isolation, even though the main source of their torment is this very isolation.”

Robert De Niro actually obtained a taxi driver’s license and would drive around New York City as a taxi driver for weeks at a time while on break from shooting other films. He also lost 35 pounds for the role. There were quite a few controversies surrounding the film, including Jodie Foster being 12 years old playing a prostitute, as well as struggles to maintain an R rating instead of an X. Scorsese merely changed the color tone of the blood during a violent scene to keep the R rating.

Ebert instantly claimed it as one of the greatest films he’d ever seen. He said about it, “Taxi Driver” is a hell, from the opening shot of a cab emerging from stygian clouds of steam to the climactic killing scene in which the camera finally looks straight down. Scorsese wanted to look away from Travis’s rejection; we almost want to look away from his life. But he’s there, all right, and he’s suffering”. To this day, it’s still generally considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

My Thoughts:

A strong contender for my favorite film of all time. I have watched this so many times and it never fails to amaze and stun. There are so many rich subtleties put into every moment it which makes each viewing feel fresh as ever. It’s truly one of the most intense cinematic experience I can possibly imagine. It’s frightening just how real this is. I mean, we’ve all felt like Travis Bickle at some point, not in the sense that we have a desire to shoot criminals but in the sense that we’ve felt unable to connect or relate with other people. That right there is ultimately what makes this film so powerful to me. It connects with the darker shades of the human soul we all feel at times.  You don’t watch Travis Bickle lose his mind but you feel it. The visuals are beyond flawless, there is a special feeling put into every moment. The sleazy and gritty atmosphere is plain unique and is completely original to this film. The soundtrack is one of the coolest and loneliness scores I’ve ever heard in a film. Robert De Niro is AWESOME here. I mean in every way. You don’t just watch him gradually lose his mind but you feel it.  It’s both equally disturbing and fascinating at once.  I feel it’s Scorsese’s greatest film to date and is one of the most timeless and personable cinematic experience imaginable.

Essential Viewing?: YES YES YES

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New York, New York (1977)

Summary:

An egotistical saxophonist and a young singer and embark upon a strained and rocky romance.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli

The Facts:

This was considered a disappointing follow up to the masterful Taxi Driver. It was a box office failure and was met with mixed critical reception. This failure drove Scorsese to a spiral of depression and excessive drug use. It is said that Scorsese’s excessive use of cocaine at the time of filming could explain why it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. Scorsese was striving to break away from the gritty realism his last few films had and make an homage to classical musicals. He now acknowledges it as a failed experiment. New York Times claimed, “Why should a man of Mr. Scorsese’s talent be giving us what amounts to no more than a film buff’s essay on a pop-film form that was never, at any point in film history, of the first freshness? Even Ebert saw it as a dud.

My Thoughts:

I couldn’t get into this one at all. The one Scorsese/De Niro collaboration I don’t like. Doing research on the making of, it’s no wonder it was a dud of a film. Especially knowing Scorsese was getting heavy into cocaine while making this. The film just feels awkward. Scorsese was trying to break away from the grittiness of his previous few films but instead made an awkward mix of classic Hollywood and a deeply unlikable De Niro character that fits more along a gritty tone. Scorsese is usually great at making unlikable people fascinating. Not so much here. It’s possibly my least favorite Scorsese film to date.

Essential Viewing?: No

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The Last Waltz (1978)

Summary:

A film account and presentation of the final concert of The Band.

The Facts:

The first of numerous Scorsese’s music concert documentaries. Scorsese was recruited due to his excellent use of music in Mean Streets. Scorsese grew this into a full studio production. Scorsese was using cocaine heavily at this point. There was heavy drug use throughout this concert; there was even a smudge of cocaine in Neil Young’s nose during his performance. It was edited out upon post production. It is considered to be one of the greatest music films of all time. Ironically, Ebert didn’t think that highly of it, saying “These are not musicians at the top of their art, but laborers on the last day of the job. Look in their eyes. Read their body language.”

My Thoughts:

I have to agree with the general conscious that this is one fantastic concert film. Watching it is like hanging out with a bunch of your favorite musicians (as a particular fan of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison, this is such a great time for me). However, I wouldn’t say these are necessarily career highlights for any of these great musicians, but rather the charm is from watching all of them perform and hang out together.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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Raging Bull (1980)

Summary:

The life of boxer Jake LaMotta, whose violence and temper that led him to the top in the ring destroyed his life outside of it.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci

The Facts:

This would be the first of a formula Scorsese would re-visit many times in his career and is perhaps what he’d become most iconic for as a filmmaker. The rise and fall biopic. Robert De Niro read a biopic on boxer Jake LaMotta while filming The Godfather Part II (1974). De Niro wanted Scorsese make this all the way back in 1974, although Scorsese never showed interest. Scorsese claimed to not like boxing. He always said, “anything with a ball…no good”. That sums up his viewpoints on sports. At this point in Scorseses personal life, he was close to death from excessive drug use and needed to make this film to release inner demons as well as save his career. Scorsese increasingly found himself immersed into the nature of the film, likening the boxing ring to as a metaphor for anything you do in life. Scorsese claimed, “you make movies, you’re in the ring each time.” This made for a second collaboration with screenwriter Paul Schrader.

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Being a film that gets deep into violence and anger, it wasn’t very successful upon initial release. Scorsese was worried this would be the end of his career as a filmmaker. The initial critical reception was lukewarm, although it’s legendary status would catch up over the years. It’s now widely considered amongst the greatest films of the 1980s. Ebert declared it, “an instant classic and the consummation of Scorsese’s earlier promise. Ebert would go on to deem it the greatest film of the 1980s and among his top ten films of all time.

My Thoughts:

One of the most brilliant character studies and biopics I’ve ever seen. Watching this is practically a cathartic experience. Jake LaMotta is right under Travis Bickle as the most fascinating and layered character in a Scorsese film. Like Travis, Jake is a man who is stuck in his own personal hell. On the surface, Jake is brutish, cold and distant but inside, he’s a scared and lonely man who just wants fit in. He doesn’t know how to love his wife so he beats her whenever he feels paranoid. He cries and disappears whenever he loses a boxing match because he feels like he has no other role in the world. Jake is a repulsive person and deserves everything that ultimately happens to him but you end up feeling bad in a way. Not for his actions as much as the sincere realization that he’s come to grips with the harm he has caused too late. De Niro absolutely kills it here. He throws himself right into the brutal nature of Jake LaMotta. Same with Pesci and Moriarty. This also has some of Scorsese’s greatest cinematography. The boxing scenes look unreal.

Essential Viewing?: YES

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The King Of Comedy (1982)

Summary:

Rupert Pupkin is a passionate yet unsuccessful comic who craves nothing more than to be in the spotlight. He schemes a plan to stalk and kidnap his idol Jerry Lewis to take the spotlight for himself.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott

The Facts:

After Raging Bull, Scorsese contemplated retiring from making films and instead doing documentaries instead because he had yet to find his true inner peace. Scorsese’s health was still suffering from excessive drug use. At the time, he was wanting to tackle what would go on to be The Last Temptation Of Christ, staring Robert De Niro as Jesus. However, De Niro had no interest in doing this project. After the raw style of Raging Bull, Scorsese felt he needed to continue exploring his gritty style, taking cues from early silent pictures for this one. De Niro spent months studying stand up comedians. He went to great extents of method acting for this one, including literally approaching one of Jerry Lewis’s stalkers to get insight on his character. He even declined meeting with Lewis for dinner because he’s supposed to “be ready to kill him for his chance”.

It went on to meet mixed critical response, as the film was a box office bomb. De Niro claimed, “it maybe wasn’t so well received because it gave off an aura of something that people didn’t want to look at or know”. Audiences found it too creepy and abrasive. Even Ebert, Scorsese’s biggest admirer, didn’t give this one full praise. He claimed, “”is not, you may already have guessed, a fun movie. It is also not a bad movie. It is frustrating to watch, unpleasant to remember, and, in its own way, quite effective”.

My Thoughts:

This is the moment when Scorsese fully fused a sense of comedy into his films. A fantastic dark comedy that I find incredibly underrated. Although this has been receiving more attention due to its striking similarities to Joker (2019). It’s one of my all time favorite De Niro’s performances. It’s perhaps more relevant than ever nowadays. People will do just about anything for their 15 minutes of fame, no matter what a fool they have to make of themselves. Rupert Pupkin is one of the these fools. He is so determined to become famous that he goes to sociopathic extents. Nearly every scene with him is painfully cringeworthy to watch. The abrasively uncomfortable tension is more frightening than most horror films. It’s like a more comic, yet equally dark Taxi Driver. The two films parallel each other in several ways. It’s a brilliant satire on obsession with fame.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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After Hours (1985)

Summary:

An ordinary word processor has the worst night of his life after he agrees to visit a girl in Soho who he met that evening at a coffee shop.

Primary Cast:

Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette

The Facts:

Scorsese was trying again to make The Last Temptation Of Christ at this point but it had been rejected by major studios. This drove him to focus on more indie films. The screenplay was written by Joseph Minion, who was a college student at Colombian University. Scorsese claimed he largely vented his frustrations for not being able to make The Last Temptation Of Christ into this project. It wasn’t praised highly upon initial release but now goes down as a cult classic. Ebert was a huge fan of this one, claiming, “it continues Scorsese’s attempt to combine comedy and satire with unrelenting pressure and a sense of all-pervading paranoia”.

My Thoughts:

I feel that this is a deeply underrated cult classic. It’s insanely riveting stuff from start to finish. It has a surreal “up all night” vibe where you constantly feel like anything could happen at any given moment; somewhat similar to the feel of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut if that were more of a black comedy. It’s a unique film that I never tire of revisiting. I really enjoy this 1980s chapter of Scorsese’s career where he made plenty of off kilter dark comedies while fighting to make his passion project The Last Temptation Of Christ.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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The Color Of Money (1986)

Summary:

Fast Eddie Felson teaches a cocky but immensely talented protégé the ropes of pool hustling, which in turn inspires him to make an unlikely comeback.

Primary Cast:

Paul Newman, Tom Cruise

The Facts:

As a sequel to The Hustler (1961), it was generally considered a decent film but inferior to the original. It’s one of the few Scorsese films Ebert straight up gave two thumbs down.

My Thoughts:

Well I have a confession to make…I have never seen this film. I’ll freely admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Hustler (1961) (I know, I know), so this has never been a top priority for me. Especially with the general consciousness that it’s one of Scorsese’s weaker projects. Although I’m curious to see what he does with Tom Cruise as well as the fact this came out in his intriguing 80s chapter of making off kilter indie films.

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The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)

Summary:

The life of Jesus Christ as he faces human struggles as well as his final temptation on the cross.

Primary Cast:

William Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey

The Facts:

Scorsese finally got to make the film he’d been trying to make all throughout the 1980s and had dreamt of making since his childhood. Scorsese would reunite with Paul Schrader to write the screenplay. Peter Gabriel also recorded the soundtrack. The film went on to meet great controversy as well as bomb at the box office. It generally received positive response from the critics but was incredibly polarizing among religious leaders. The controversy generally stemmed from the fact that it portrays Jesus as a mortal man who is challenged by his role as the Son of God. It has an extended sequence akin to It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) where, just as Jesus is dying on the cross, He dreams of being a mortal man and escaping the cross and marrying Mary.

Mother Angelica, a Catholic nun, called this “a holocaust movie that has the power to destroy souls eternally”. In Paris, a Catholic group set fire to a theater that was showing the film. The attack injured 13 people, 4 who were severely burned. Many countries banned the film. To the films defense, Ebert claimed, “they have made a film that does not turn Jesus into a garish, emasculated image from a religious postcard. Here he is flesh and blood, struggling, questioning, asking himself and his father which is the right way, and finally, after great suffering, earning the right to say, on the cross, “it is accomplished”.” Gene Siskel claimed, “Dafoe manages to draw us into the mystery, anguish and joy of the holy life. This is anything but another one of those boring biblical costume epics. There is genuine challenge and hope in this movie.”

My Thoughts:

This is my favorite film about Jesus. This generated tons of controversy in 1988 due to being based on a novel, rather than the gospel. It doesn’t portray Jesus as the son of God who only does good but rather as a man who hates the fact he has been given this role. While being hung on the cross, he dreams of being a normal man and throwing away his gifts. The film communicates achieving eternal accomplishment through real man like struggle. This caused outrage upon release. I feel what the haters of the time missed is that isn’t intended or claiming to be based off the Bible but rather it’s a fictional “what if” scenario. Scorsese handles this masterfully, giving it an It’s A Wonderful Life type of structure. Making one wonder what would’ve happen if Jesus decided to become a mortal man. You can tell it’s a film Scorsese had been building up to for a while. I like to imagine Scorsese found something of an inner peace that he’d been seeking while making this. Also, I can’t get enough of Peter Gabriel’s score, giving this film such a great atmosphere. It’s a film that’s deeply spiritual, inspiring, and thought provoking.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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GoodFellas (1990)

Summary:

The story of Henry Hill and his life in the mob, covering his relationship with his wife Karen Hill and his mob partners Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito in the Italian-American crime syndicate.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci

The Facts:

GoodFellas is based off New York’s crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi’s novel Wiseguys. Scorsese read this while making The Color Of Money and became increasingly fascinated with the mob lifestyle. Scorsese felt it was the most honest portrayal of gangsters he’d ever read. Scorsese aimed to pace it as a two and a half hour trailer, to start like a gunshot and only go faster from there. He felt it to be the only way to convey the exhilaration and fast pace of the lifestyle. Apparently Scorsese called Pileggi saying, “I’ve been waiting for this book my entire life.” Which Pileggi replied, “I’ve been waiting for this phone call my entire life.” Scorsese aimed to make the violence feel “cold, unfeeling and horrible”. The film went on to receive massive critical praise and is generally hailed as arguably Scorsese’s greatest achievement to date. Ebert claimed, “”No finer film has ever been made about organized crime – not even The Godfather.” It’s now considered one of the greatest films of all time. It also served as a blueprint for the 1990’s generation of filmmakers, ranging from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

My Thoughts:

Scorsese revisits the rise and fall biopic structure of Raging Bull and makes an even better film out of it. He replaces the gritty realism of that film with a sense of high energy fun. And that’s exactly what this film is; a non stop roller coaster that I feel is one of the most purely entertaining and rewatch able films of all time. It’s great scene after great scene. It’s basically the film equivalent of diving into one of your favorite classic rock albums. Of course, being a Scorsese film, its focus is on characters who really don’t have much of a place in society, specifically Tommy DeVito. Joe Pesci kills it as a violent psycho really to set loose at any moment. He’s scarier than most horror villains, yet as charismatic as they come. Which makes him all the more terrifying. It’s also hard to forget Ray Liotta’s great performance as Henry Hill. And Robert De Niro collaborating with Scorsese just goes without saying. I feel like this film is a bridge to a different type of filmmaking Scorsese would generally adapt from here on out. One that replaces the gritty realism of his early works with a sense of fast paced high energy.

Essential Viewing?: YES YES YES

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Cape Fear (1991)

Summary:

A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange

The Facts:

A remake to a classic thriller from 1962 starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. It was originally set to be directed by Steven Spielberg, but he found the source too violent and traded with Scorsese to make Schindler’s List (1993). Scorsese looked up to Alfred Hitchcock as a primary inspiration. The film went on to receive positive response from critics.

My Thoughts:

You just know Scorsese was having a great time while making this. The energy just translates through this film. Although it’s by no means a perfect film and is pretty flawed, it’s that level of old school passionate filmmaking that makes this one worth watching. I don’t think De Niro has ever been more terrifying, giving a character Hannibal Lecter-esque levels of horrifying. The Simpsons episode spoofing this is entirely worth watching as well, it’s generally considered to be even better than the film itself.

Essential Viewing?: No

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The Age Of Innocence (1993)

Summary:

A tale of nineteenth-century New York high society in which a young lawyer falls in love with a woman separated from her husband, while he is engaged to the woman’s cousin.

Primary Cast:

Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder

The Facts:

Although considered a wildly uncharacteristic film for Scorsese to make, it was received with great critical feedback. Ebert considered it to be one of Scorsese’s greatest films to date.

My Thoughts:

This is one of those films I wanted to like so bad but I just found it incredibly boring. So many people hail it as one of Scorsese’s low key greatest works but I just don’t personally see that. To be fair, it’s been many years since I’ve last tried watching it. Perhaps a rewatch is due. It seems like his equivalent to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017).

Essential Viewing: No

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Casino (1995)

Summary:

A tale of greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two close friends: a mafia enforcer and a casino executive.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci

The Facts:

While Scorsese was filming GoodFellas, screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi became fascinated by a story he read about an argument between casino owner Frank Rosenthal and his wife Geri McGee, a topless dancer. This gave him ideas to focus his next story on the mobs association with casinos in 1970s Las Vegas. As he approached Scorsese about directing this, Scorsese immediately called this an “idea of success, no limits”. Pileggi initially wanted to make this a novel first but Scorsese convinced him to adapt it into a film screenplay first. They spent a good five months collaborating and fleshing out the story, striving to make a vastly epic rise and fall tale. It went on to primarily receive positive response, although some complained it was Scorsese retreating too much back to the GoodFellas formula and a cheap knock off. It’s more well regarded nowadays, generally seen as another all time Scorsese classic.

My Thoughts:

Although it does share many similarities to GoodFellas as far as casting and structure goes, I think it’s way too great of a film to be dismissed as a weaker GoodFellas. While they are comparable, it stands on its own as one of the most entertaining and larger than life films in Scorsese filmography. It is so endlessly fun and fascinating watching all of the business and personal problems completely spiral out of control. It’s three hours in length, yet never loses its momentum. I also feel that this is Scorsese’s most visceral film to date. More than ever here, you especially feel the violence and downward spiral when the tragedy hits.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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Kundun (1997)

Summary:

From childhood to adulthood, Tibet’s fourteenth Dalai Lama deals with Chinese oppression and other problems.

Primary Cast:

Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin

The Facts:

This project took off when Melissa Mathison, writer of E.T. (1982), met with the Dalai Lama about writing a story on his life. It is said that, “he gave her his blessing and his time, sitting for interviews that became the basis of her script.” She immediately wanted Scorsese to be the one to direct it. China was adamantly against this film being made, and even went as far as to threaten Disney’s (who distributed the film) access to China as a market. Universal Studios turned down distributing the film for that very reason. China went as far as to ban Disney films and pull all Disney cartoons. Disney apologized and swore to make up for the damage by proposing Shanghai Disney, which finally opened in 2016. Scorsese and Mathison are both banned from China as a result of this film. Ebert claimed it to be “made of episodes, not a plot”.

My Thoughts:

Argh you’ve got me again! The other film of Scorsese filmography I’ve yet to see. I am interested in seeing this, it’s just difficult to find a copy of it anywhere, as much as Disney had to keep the DVD release at a minimum due to the tension it caused with China.

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Bringing Out The Dead (1999)

Summary:

Haunted by the patients he failed to save, an extremely burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic fights to maintain his sanity over three fraught and turbulent nights.

Primary Cast:

Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman

The Facts:

This would mark the last time Scorsese and Paul Schrader collaborated together. Although it’s a largely forgotten film nowadays, it did receive critical acclaim upon release, Ebert stating, “to look at Bringing Out The Dead, to look, indeed, at almost any Scorsese film—is to be reminded that film can touch us urgently and deeply.”

My Thoughts:

This is another one of Scorseses criminally underrated films. It’s honestly a pretty great one, I’m not sure why it’s so forgotten nowadays. I like to see this as the third of a loose Scorsese midnight trilogy, the other two being Taxi Driver and After Hours. This offers a different perspective of the gritty streets of New York in the late 1990s. It feels like the weird dark comedies Scorsese was making in the 80s. Nicolas Cage is on top form as a paramedic on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Love Scorsese’s unique stylish direction. It has a very good and original atmosphere. Perfect film to watch when you’re feeling beyond tired.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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Gangs Of New York (2002)

Summary:

In 1862, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer.

Primary Cast:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day Lewis

The Facts:

Having grown up in Little Italy, which is in Manhattan, Scorsese has always been fascinated by the history of New York City and had always wanted to make a film around it since 1970.

My Thoughts:

I know this one has a decent fanbase but I’ve just never been able to get into it. I’ve always found the story kind of dull and the film in general to drag. The only aspect that interests me is Daniel Day Lewis as Bill The Butcher, primarily because it foreshadows Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007). Leonardo DiCaprio would go on to do much better collaborations with Scorsese and Cameron Diaz just seems like awkward casting to me.

Essential Viewing?: No

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The Aviator (2004)

Summary:

A biopic depicting the early years of legendary Director and aviator Howard Hughes career from the late 1920s to the mid 1940s.

Primary Cast:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale

The Facts:

This is another project that had been in pre production since the 1970s. Michael Mann was initially set to direct it in 1999 but the project met budgeting issues, eventually landing in Scorsese’s hands. DiCaprio invested hundreds of hours into learning about Howard Hughes incredibly unique and extreme case of OCD. He also met and studied numerous people with the disorder. The film was met with positive critical reception, although it generally seems to be a forgotten film nowadays. Ebert claimed, “What a sad man. What brief glory. What an enthralling film…There’s a match here between Scorsese and his subject, perhaps because the director’s own life journey allows him to see Howard Hughes with insight, sympathy – and, up to a point, with admiration. This is one of the year’s best films.”

My Thoughts:

I’ll admit that I haven’t seen this one since the early days of getting into film (about a good 10 years ago), but I’ve always been a huge fan of it.  It generally seems to be known as lesser Scorsese, and maybe I need to rewatch it to make sure it holds up, but it’s just hard to go wrong with a rise and fall Scorsese biopic starring DiCaprio.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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No Direction Home: A Bob Dylan Story (2005)

Summary:

A chronicle of Bob Dylan’s strange evolution between 1961 and 1966 from folk singer to protest singer to “voice of a generation” to rock star.

The Facts:

Bob Dylan’s manager had been trying to get this documentary made since 1995. Apart from a brief interview in 2000, Bob Dylan didn’t have interest in this project. Scorsese had hundreds of hours worth of footage to work with. Ebert claimed it “creates a portrait that is deep, sympathetic, perceptive and yet finally leaves Dylan shrouded in mystery, which is where he properly lives”. Justin Timberlake studied this film to prepare for his role in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).

My Thoughts:

As a Bob Dylan fan, this is an utterly absorbing documentary. Scorsese paces this fascinating story as if it were one of his own feature film biopics. It especially gets interesting during the second half when Dylan transforms from folk singer to rock star, becoming a polarizing figure to the public.

Essential Viewing?: If you’re a fan of Bob Dylan and documentaries…yes.

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The Departed (2006)

Summary:

An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.

Primary Cast:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson

The Facts:

In 2003, Brad Pitt bought the rights to remake the Hong Kong film Internal Affairs (2002). Scorsese, who absolutely admired William Mohanan’s screenplay, was set to direct it in 2004. Brad Pitt was originally going to play Damon’s character but felt he was too old for the part. Nicholson wanted the film to have more than the usual gangster film tropes. It went on to receive all kinds of critical acclaim, being Scorsese’s biggest hit since GoodFellas. It even went on to be the film that won Scorsese a best picture award as well as he won for best director. Scorsese joked this is because it’s the first film of his to have a plot. To this day, it’s considered an all time crime classic.

My Thoughts:

An absolutely wonderful and endlessly entertaining film. As the one Scorsese film to have a plot rather than an in-depth character study, he knows how to grip with suspense and still provide endlessly engaging characters. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table as much as it showcases a heavily experienced filmmaker on top form. It’s technically the first Scorsese film I ever saw, seeing that I watched it upon its initial DVD release in 2006. This was before I became a serious film nerd and didn’t appreciate the way I do now. But it’s truly a timeless film that is proving to age remarkably well. It goes through all kinds of twists and turns, you never know where it’ll go next.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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Shine A Light (2008)

Summary:

A career-spanning documentary on The Rolling Stones with concert footage from their “A Bigger Bang” tour.

The Facts:

Scorsese filmed a Rolling Stones concert in late 2006. Mick Jagger joked with Scorsese that it’s the only film of his to not include their song, “Gimme Shelter”. It was met with overall positive reviews.

My Thoughts:

It’s a well made concert film but it’s no The Last Waltz. While I do love The Rolling Stones, they are entirely too elderly to conjure up the energy they had in their prime. Perhaps a Scorsese documentary for The Stones would’ve been better.

Essential Viewing?: No

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Shutter Island (2010)

Summary:

In 1954, a U.S. Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderer who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.

Primary Cast:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer

The Facts:

This adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel had been in pre production since 2003. Scorsese and DiCaprio were both brought to this production in 2008. Scorsese returns to his Hitchcockian thriller influences, which he showcased earlier in Cape Fear. It was met with positive critical reception overall, although most agreed it isn’t one of Scorsese’s best works. Ebert stated, “the movie is about: atmosphere, ominous portents, the erosion of Teddy’s confidence and even his identity. It’s all done with flawless directorial command. Scorsese has fear to evoke, and he does it with many notes.” Roger Moore stated, “”It’s not bad, but as Scorsese, America’s greatest living filmmaker and film history buff should know, even Hitchcock came up short on occasion. See for yourself.”

My Thoughts:

Even if it isn’t one of my all time favorite Scorsese films, it’s incredibly fascinating to see him branch out to Hitchcockian mystery. He does quite a fantastic job at it; genuinely keeping us on the edge of our seats and always second guessing what’s going on. The mystery aspect is its strong point, further unraveling subtleties upon repeated viewings. I also have a special place for this one because I saw it in theaters right at the time I was getting serious into film.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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George Harrison: Living In The Material World (2011)

Summary:

An examination on life of musician George Harrison, weaving together interviews, concert footage, home movies and photographs.

The Facts:

This is a documentary that had been in pre-production every since Harrison’s death in 2001. Scorsese claimed he was interested in directing this documentary because, “”That subject matter has never left me…The more you’re in the material world, the more there is a tendency for a search for serenity and a need to not be distracted by physical elements that are around you. His music is very important to me, so I was interested in the journey that he took as an artist. The film is an exploration. We don’t know. We’re just feeling our way through.” Throughout 2008 and 2009, Scorsese went back and forth on working on this and Shutter Island.

My Thoughts:

This is a fantastic documentary on George Harrison and his personal life. As a huge Beatles fan, of course I’m going to really dig this.

Essential Viewing?: If you’re a fan of The Beatles and/or documentaries…yes

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Hugo (2011)

Summary:

In 1931 Paris, an orphan living in the walls of a train station gets wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.

Primary Cast:

Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Mortez, Christopher Lee

The Facts:

This went into pre-production in 2007, shortly after the release of the book The Invention Of Hugo Cabret. Although it met positive critical feedback, it was a box office bomb. Producer Graham King takes full responsibility for the lack of success, claiming that he rushed production too much and underestimated how complicated the 3D aspect would become. Ebert praised it, coining it as, “unlike any other film Martin Scorsese has ever made, and yet possibly the closest to his heart: a big-budget, family epic in 3-D, and in some ways, a mirror of his own life. We feel a great artist has been given command of the tools and resources he needs to make a movie about—movies.”

My Thoughts:

A family friendly Scorsese film…who ever would’ve guessed?? And even more surprisingly is that it’s actually one of Scorsese’s most personal projects. This is primarily down to the fact it’s essentially a love letter to cinema. Although I don’t feel the plot is all that great, there is a sincere love for filmmaking that I find highly satisfying and lovable.

Essential Viewing?: I’m not sure if it’s actually that great of a film…but it should satisfy film buffs for the film history aspect. I’ll say no. But still see it if you’re a film nerd like me.

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The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

Summary:

Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Primary Cast:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill Margot Robbie

The Facts:

A film adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoirs had been in pre production since 2007. Scorsese was instantly the director wanted for the project. The film has set a Guinness World Record for the most “fucks” to be uttered in a major motion picture; totaling 507. It was met with positive critical response but a polarizing audience response. Those who didn’t like it simply found it too vulgar and interpreted it as a celebration of bad behavior. Those who did like it considered it to be one of the greatest and most enjoyable American films to come out in 2013.

My Thoughts:

It’s a fantastic third take on the GoodFellas and Casino structure, only this time involving stockholders instead of gangsters. This is the funniest and craziest film Scorsese has made to date. How does somebody at the age of 70 make a film this energetic?? DiCaprio is absolutely fantastic as someone who just might be the most loathsome character to appear in a Scorsese film, and that’s a huge thing to say. He obnoxiously thrives in his twisted deeds and never shows any form of regret. It’s three hours long and never loses its momentum. It’s a wild, fun, twisted ride.

Essential Viewing?: Yes

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Silence (2016)

Summary:

In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumored to have committed apostasy, and to propagate Catholicism.

Primary Cast:

Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

The Facts:

Scorsese had been trying to make this since 1990, when he read the Shusaku Endo novel of the same name. He read this while he was working Akira Kurosawa on Dreams (1990). In this, Scorsese had a cameo as Vincent Van Gogh. When asked why Scorsese had been passionate about making this for so long, Scorsese answered, “As you get older, ideas go and come. Questions, answers, loss of the answer again and more questions, and this is what really interests me. Yes, the cinema and the people in my life and my family are most important, but ultimately as you get older, there’s got to be more … Silence is just something that I’m drawn to in that way. It’s been an obsession, it has to be done … it’s a strong, wonderful true story, a thriller in a way, but it deals with those questions.”

My Thoughts:

This is a film I need to see again. It’s a powerful and heartbreaking story that I’m not sure was made with as much investment into the characters as it could’ve had. Although it does come with some truly spectacular and heartbreaking moments. I can’t help but feel that Andrew Garfield was a slight miscast. This is a decent film that hasn’t really stuck with me over time. I feel Scorsese handled religious themes so much better on The Last Temptation Of Christ. What could’ve been a masterful film ends up being a decent film; I just feel like it could’ve been more considering how much it deals with themes Scorsese spent his entire career exploring.

Essential Viewing?: No

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Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story (2019)

Summary:

A reflection of Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

The Facts:

This project was spawned from Dylan’s manager, who approached Scorsese with the footage shortly after completing No Direction Home. Scorsese claimed it was a project he would tackle once he knocked out other projects he had lined up. Critics praised it, The New York Times hailing it as, ““at once a celebration and a rescue mission (it draws heavily on restored film footage), as well as another chapter in Scorsese’s decades-long chronicling of Dylan.

My Thoughts:

Scorsese strikes back with another Dylan documentary and it’s absolutely fantastic. What makes this one so great is that it dives into a phase of Dylan that was relatively underground. This contains footage and stories that had rarely been documented publicly all of this time. Dylan essentially brings together all kinds of artists to express that its the here and now that counts. It’s so much fun seeing all of these artists hang out together (includingAllen Ginsberg and Patti Smith.)

Essential Viewing?: For fans of Dylan and documentaries…yes.

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The Irishman (2019)

Summary:

A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.

Primary Cast:

Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

The Facts:

Robert De Niro instantly wanted Scorsese to make this after reading the novel I Heard You Paint Houses in 2004. Scorsese immediately became interested in making this and casting De Niro, Pacino and Pesci all together. Scorsese claimed that De Niro was incredibly emotional about the nature of the story and character. It ended up being a 118 day shoot, which is a record for Scorsese films. Which especially makes sense considering it’s a 3 1/2 hour film. The films $35 million budget primarily went into de-aging of these actors, as it is primarily told in flashback. Pacino and De Niro both consider it to be one of their most special achievements to date. Pacino said the entire process reminded him significantly of his filmmaking experiences back in the 1970s. It will officially be released exclusively on Netflix on November 27th.

My Thoughts:

I actually just caught a screening of this the other day and…I’m still reeling in how incredible and magical of a cinematic experience this was. Scorsese blends the energetic pacing of GoodFellas with the tragic and contemplative nature of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America (1984) to create one of the greatest films of this century. It’s easily the best Scorsese has been since GoodFellas, and I don’t say that lightly. While that film has an energy that is like rock and roll, this one is very contemplative. It has the same high energy and endlessly engaging characters you’re used to from Scorsese, but it’s a unique shade that has never been seen by him. A shade that could only come from a man of old age; it adapts a contemplative state. With a running time of 209 minutes, every moment feels immersive and jam packed with content to keep you consistently engaged. The story of Frank Sheenan, De Niros character is more focused on a tale of morality rather than simply an observation of a mobster.

I cannot express enough how good Al Pacino is here as Jimmy Hoffa. I’d even say it’s my second favorite character he’s done after Michael Corleone from The Godfather films. It’s pure Scorsese brilliance but with a unique element never seen before in any of his other films: a true sense of melancholy and existentialism. It feels very much like a goodbye from Scorsese as well as seeing these actors perform together one last time. It’s like saying goodbye to an era of New Hollywood filmmaking in a sense; a movement that started around 1967 at the time Scorsese made his debut. I’m already firm in saying this is one of Scorsese’s greatest achievements; right up there with his greatest films. Fans of Martin Scorsese, crime films and pure cinema like, you have no idea what a brilliant piece of cinema you have ahead of you!!

Essential Viewing?: YES YES YES

As I come to the end of the list, here is my official ranking of the 28 films:

  1. Taxi Driver *****
  2. GoodFellas *****
  3. The Irishman *****
  4. Raging Bull *****
  5. Casino ****1/2
  6. The King Of Comedy ****1/2
  7. The Wolf Of Wall Street ****1/2
  8. The Departed ****1/2
  9. After Hours ****1/2
  10. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan ****
  11. The Last Waltz ****
  12. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story ****
  13. George Harrison: Living In The Material World ****
  14. The Aviator ****
  15. The Last Temptation Of Christ ****
  16. Mean Streets ****
  17. Shutter Island ****
  18. Bringing Out The Dead ****
  19. Hugo ****
  20. Cape Fear ***1/2
  21. Silence ***1/2
  22. Who’s That Knocking At My Door ***1/2
  23. Gangs Of New York ***
  24. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore **1/2
  25. The Age Of Innocence **1/2
  26. Shine A Light **1/2
  27. New York, New York **
  28. Boxcar Bertha *1/2

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