“All my life I’ve wanted to be a gangster” will always ring true to most of deep down even when we won’t admit it, but we’ve also wanted to be boxers, cops, and our generation’s version of Howard Hughes and it comes to life for us because of Marty Scorsese. As one of the heads on the Mount Rushmore of directors, he has changed the world of film making while giving us some of the most iconic characters in history.
DISCLAIMER: I am not counting his many documentaries, but rather his feature length films.
It would make sense for a guy like myself, who uses Travis Bickle as his more or less mascot, to discuss the best Martin Scorsese films. Of course, all film is subjective and this is a personal list going from ten to number one, starting with:
10. The Color of Money (1986)
Only older generations or raging film fans will know of the 1961 film ‘The Hustler’ starring Paul Newman as a smooth talking, con-artist in the world of pool. Fast forward 25 years with a big haired Tom Cruise and an always suave Paul Newman as the iconic “Fast” Eddie Felson we are treated to one of Scorsese’s most underrated films and arguably one of Tom Cruise’s best acted performances.
9. Hugo (2011)
The confusion and backlash for supposed Martin Scorsese fans was heard loud and clear when it was announced Marty was going to be tackling a PG-Rated book adaptation, but it turns out, Marty really is as great as his resume. What turns out to be an homage to film itself while telling it’s own unique story through film, the cast is astounding, the visuals splendid, and the direction is to a Scorsese standard that people tend to glance over because it lacks the traditional New York setting, gangsters, and F-bombs.
8. Gangs of New York (2002)
I mean this in the best way, but this was nothing short of Scorsese wet-dream. A period piece that may have marinated a tad too long in the mind of Martin Scorsese, it still boasts some of the most impressive performances, and that includes everyone around the film’s A-List stars like DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s violent, but elegantly shot with a story that wraps up everything Scorsese is known for and that is telling the stories of twisted and troubled characters only for us the audience to be enamored by. Character studies are all too apparent in this nearly 3 hour run-time carries flaws, but compared to any other film, it is still a masterpiece.
7. Cape Fear (1991)
Though a remake from a 1960’s classic, I can’t help but compare Jared Leto’s Joker to what DeNiro sort of was in Cape Fear. The tattoos and psychotic tendencies are creepy enough to warrant such a comparison, but it’s the old school Hitchcockian style of directing that makes this remake so intriguing to watch. This is a healthy reminder that Bob DeNiro can be as good a bone-chilling villain as he can be a likable gangster and it cements his legacy as an acting great no matter the era.
This might not be Scorsese’s best, it might not even be better than the original, but it gives us something special that only Marty can give us, if I can figure out exactly what that is I will gladly tell you.
6. The Aviator (2004)
People don’t really know when DiCaprio began his run as one of the best actors of his time, it’s fair to say it started way back when he was in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but I think is turn to Hollywood stud to “world class actor” was as the eccentric billionaire turned OCB madman Howard Hughes whose descent to madness is so sad to witness you feel as crazy as he does, and if it weren’t for another brillaint performance that year by one Jamie Foxx (in Ray) the discussion about Leo not having an Oscar would never have been a discussion.
The Aviator, like Gangs of New York before it, is a brilliant step into a period of hyper-specific details of an era with equal levels of brilliance and beauty, but also it’s grim and brutal realities all behind the outer layer. The story is a tad jumbled, but it doesn’t make it any less of a special film for Scorsese and film fans alike.
5. Raging Bull (1980)
This was the film that finally allowed DeNiro to bring home the Best-Actor Oscar and it was nothing shy is perfect. With one of the most iconic intros of all time, shot in black and white, you know that you are in for something never seen before. DeNiro is ripped for most of the film, but is seen gaining nearly 75 lbs by the films end which also leaves an iconic finish. It’s tough for me to even put this at five, but as great as the film is, it is a film that you marvel at rather than pop in for it’s replay value, but that because the subject matter at hand is as heavy handed as the pro boxer the film focuses on.
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
The glorification of a bad person is what Scorsese seems to do best, but we love him all the more for it. As I’ve described it, the Seven Deadly Sins all wrapped up in one of the funniest, most re-watchable visuals on greed, wealth, and addiction. It has Scorsese’s newest muse in DiCaprio once again as Jordan Belfort and a break out role from Margot Robbie and Jonah Hill showing off his acting chops once again while bringing his trademark humor.
3. Taxi Driver (1977)
A look into the world of loneliness and vigilantism with New York not only as a setting, but as a character who keeps the story going. It’s a visual feast and splendor with the lights of New York streets shining the ironically darkened path the main character takes in his journey of realization and self destruction. It almost hurts to consider that Scorsese himself puts so much into his films, that level of loneliness feels all to real and that’s why this is my number three film.
It is also, unnervingly relatable which is what great films can do, they can make you feel conflicted about how to feel because you know deep down this is the manifestation of what most people are thinking.
2. The Departed (2006)
In my opinion one of Scorsese’s best films, but also one of the best films ever made. A film that fulfills the long run-time of a Scorsese film, but it never feels long. One of the best ensemble casts probably ever constructed for one film and also one of the last great performances we saw from Jack Nicholson.
It showed the Boston gangster lifestyle in a vivid and flashy way while being gifted with a realism that humbles the viewer as much as it entertains. Matt Damon, Leo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and everyone else in between are funny as much as they are intense, and it all comes to a shocking end for more than one character. A modern masterpiece in cinema.
- Goodfellas (1990)
It should come to no surprise that it starts with Goodfellas and it ends with Goodfellas. This is the definitive Scorsese movie and one of the best mobster films of all time. It has since grown in stature as one of the most influential and entertaining films of all time not withstanding just one genre and it gave us some of the most memorable quotes in history.
It almost feels cliche to put this here, but there’s a reason it feels that way, because it’s obvious. Pesci, Liotta, DeNiro, gangsters, it’s all good.
Honorable Mentions: Shutter Island / The Last Temptation of Christ / Mean Streets / New York, New York / The King of Comedy / Bringing Out the Dead