Retrospective: The Films Of Martin Scorsese

Retrospective: The Films Of Martin Scorsese

As a director Martin Scorsese ranks at the forefront of the all-time top tier of American filmmakers, but even as a presence in the film world in general he is pre-eminent. It is merely the just desserts of a life which, more than any we can think of, has been entirely dedicated, saturated and invigorated by cinema. For any of us who spend any portion of our days thinking about movies, Scorsese is, as much as we have one, a patron saint, perhaps the figure to whom the less Godly among us might whisper our evening prayers. Yet Scorsese also belies the directorial cliché of egotism, a Welles or a De Mille striding around with a bullhorn booming out orders to scuttling minions, because he has always been dinstictively softly if rapidly spoken, and thoughtful, especially when talking about cinema. Just to hear him talk about cinema is one of the great joys of the man. He is erudite, passionate and opinionated, with a film knowledge so vast that it’s hard to imagine where he ever found the time to make a single movie himself.

But make movies he has, and you may have heard of some of them. From his childhood as a second-generation Sicilian immigrant growing up on Elizabeth Street in New York City (his grandparents spoke hardly any English their whole lives); through his productive collaborations with neighbor Robert De Niro which gave rise to his early masterworks; through seven Best Director Oscar nominations (winning once for “The Departed”) right up to his establishment of various film preservation and protection organisations; Scorsese has knitted himself so indelibly into the filmmaking landscape that it’s possible if you (or more likely Thelma Schoonmaker) were to cut him, he’d bleed celluloid.

With Scorsese himself recently suggesting that he may only have a few more films left in him (though his restoration and preservation work seems to be gaining momentum), we felt it was (well beyond) high time to attempt a career retrospective of a director whose love of cinema inspired our own. So with his latest, the snarlingly batshit lunaticThe Wolf of Wall Street” opening on Christmas Day, let’s take a look back at the films that make up the remarkably consistent career of Martin Scorsese.

"Who’s That Knocking at My Door" (1967)
Having caught Scorsese’s first feature at the Chicago International Film Festival, a young Roger Ebert called it “a great moment in American movies.” Looking back, it’s not hard to imagine how this film, an affecting and invigorating laundry list of Scorsese’s usual themes—faith, guilt, male bonding that oscillates between tender fraternity and runaway machismo, a female love interest subjected to the Madonna-whore complex and choice musical cuts that meld impeccably with the imagery—must have toppled Ebert’s expectations. Today, the film remains fresh, acted with aplomb by a young Harvey Keitel (he would effectively reprise this role in the masterful “Mean Streets”) and Zina Bethune. It’s occasionally unwieldy (a montage of Keitel’s sexual encounters feels unnecessary and was forced on Scorsese in order to better sell the film), but the directorial touch is deft and a scene involving a party and a gun is one of the most memorable in his filmography. It’s a necessary and largely assured first foray into the world of features, a picture positively pulsating with something “real,” an intangible quality bestowed on films that feel plucked from real life. [B]

Boxcar Bertha” (1972)
This film is Martin Scorsese’s “foot in the door” if you will, an opportunity to direct given to him by benefactor and mentor to many, Roger Corman. “Boxcar Bertha” is 70s exploitation at its finest, helmed with gusto by Scorsese, the film is a “Bonnie and Clyde” takeoff that borrows the 1930s setting and criminal lovers-on-the-run themes from its popular and game-changing predecessor. Starring Barbara Hershey as a teenage temptress and David Carradine as her corrupting influence/lover, the pair and their gang head out on a crime spree that is as violent as it is sexy (there’s a lot of nudity). Their trip eventually takes a turn for the bleak, achieving depths of human darkness that Scorsese is all too familiar with. While the film is a decidedly Corman-esque American Independent Picture, it’s shot through with Scorsese’s sensibility and energetic sense of style. While it’s underseen and often overlooked, it’s a fine indicator of what he could do and a fun one to revisit for Scorsese completists. [B]
Mean Streets” (1973)
This is it, one of the desert-island Scorsese films, displaying the breathtaking, and seemingly instantaneous maturing of a talented filmmaker into a master storyteller. Unwieldy at times, a bit ragged around the edges and still utterly brilliant, “Mean Streets” is the antidote to the operatic grandeur of Coppola’s La Familia. Harvey Keitel returns, playing what’s essentially an expanded portrait of the boy from Scorsese’s touching 1967 debut "Who’s That Knocking At My Door." Here, as Charlie, Keitel is all small-time, a bottom-feeder with a connected uncle and a ticking time-bomb friend—an unforgettable Robert De Niro, wiry, careless and absolutely heartbreaking as the damaged Johnny Boy. Scorsese’s style flourishes, shaping a film that allows for absorbing detours while Charlie and Johnny Boy barrel down to their ultimate unraveling. The picture is a kick in the door, a shot across the bow, a living thing powered by sublimely selected pop music. Sure he’s made more poised, controlled pictures since but this is the kind of genuine article few artists have the salt in them to put out—a masterpiece in part due to its imperfections, and a rallying cry for a peerless career thereafter. [A-]

Italianamerican” (1974)
Coming off the success of “Mean Streets,” what did Scorsese do? He went home. There are fewer cinematic subjects more self-indulgent than interviewing your family for a profile documentary. Yet Scorsese’s parents, Catherine and Charles, who’ve appeared in many of his films throughout the years, are such good company that it more than works for this 49-minute interview in their New York apartment. Subjects vary from their experience growing up in the city, immigration, religion, their ancestors and most importantly, Catherine’s spaghetti sauce and meatballs, charmingly detailed in recipe form in the film’s end credits. Usually this is recommended for Scorsese die-hards only but that seems unfair when watching the film is such a joy. In fact, the filmmaker recently declared this to be his favorite of all his works. If nothing else, it’s proof that any subject can make for a good movie if told well enough. “Italianamerican” is simple, straightforward and provides a glimpse into Scorsese’s own world and life experience. Not many filmmakers could pull it off without coming over as self-serving, but he does. [B+]

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974)
Martin Scorsese’s deeply underrated comedic, dramatic and softly tender picture earns itself two memorable distinctions which were arguably never to be repeated in the filmmaker’s career again. 1) the movie was a rare work-for-hire, shepherded by actress Ellen Burstyn who got it greenlit at Warner Bros. and then went to Francis Ford Coppola for a director suggestion (and he recommended Marty). 2) It spawned the diner-set situation comedy “Alice” which ran nearly 10 years on CBS and even appropriated three of the same actors (Vic Tayback, Beth Howland and Diane Ladd, though to be technical about it, the latter joined the show belatedly as a different character). Centering on second chances, love and dreams (lets not forget the stylized, “Gone With the Wind”-esque opening sequence) and its hardships, Burstyn stars as a New Mexico housewife who uses the untimely, accidental death of her uncommunicative and largely rotten husband to start anew. Migrating to Arizona with her difficult, prepubescent son, the single mother struggles to keep him happy, pay the bills, find work and survive. A former singer, Alice finds marginal hope and success in Phoenix, but this brief reprieve is hijacked by a psychopathic and jealous cowboy, who’s married to boot (Harvey Keitel in maybe his first and only role as Southwesterner). Settling in Tucson, things begin to improve somewhat when Alice, forced to give up her singing career and take a waitressing job, is courted by a kindly and gentle cattle rancher (Kris Kristofferson). But love and life being as complicated as they are, on top of demanding children (see Jodie Foster as the tomboy-ish delinquent who gets Alice’s son in trouble), the still emotionally wounded Alice never quite has an easy go of things. Slight in the way the movie could just be another chapter in Alice’s life (it ends with the rather incomplete sense of many further stories to tell), “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” still succeeds as the rare Martin Scorsese film centering on a female protagonist, with a tenderness, empathy and humanity the filmmaker is not especially known for. Oh, and that denimy choogling ‘70s soundtrack is pretty choice too. [B+]

Taxi Driver” (1976)
Choosing between “Goodfellas” and “Taxi Driver” would be nothing short of a “Sophie’s Choice” in terms of which film is the greatest in Scorsese’s impressive filmography, so we’re glad we don’t have to attempt it. Whatever the case, ‘Driver’ is one of the greatest films ever made, and without a doubt the greatest achievement in terms of portraying loneliness and isolation. Cinema has the rare ability to completely inhabit a subjective point of view, and that aspect is in full force in this story of one Travis Bickle, a man who tries to make connections but instead finds himself spiraling out of control awash in disturbing thoughts and violent ambitions. It’s essentially like taking a stroll around the mind of a burgeoning psychopath. What else can be said about this classic that hasn’t already been said, countered and said again? Not much we suppose, but let’s just add to the echo chamber a bit. Robert De Niro gives one of the all-time great lead performances in cinema history and Scorsese directs Paul Schrader’s script (which he referred to recently as a "perfect" script) with a perfect sense of the material. There are plenty of stylistic flourishes in the film but they always add to the film instead of overshadowing, and Bernard Herrmann’s iconic, jazzy score (his final original score before he died in 1975) just gets better with every year. So, yeah, this is a brilliant film, the rare example of a piece of cinema revered at its time of release that’s also become better with every passing decade. We guess, in the end, the questions to ask are: if you haven’t already seen “Taxi Driver” then, why the hell not? And does anyone out there not think it’s great? Not always, but sometimes classics deserve their unassailable position in the canon, and this is one of those times. [A+]

New York, New York” (1977)
Scorsese is the ultimate film fan and he has tended to genre-hop almost manically. This is never better illustrated than the jump from "Taxi Driver" to the kind of musical that is “New York, New York,” with its stylized, artificial sets, sweeping musical numbers, camera cranes, etc. Really, it’s the culmination of a young boy’s Hollywood dreams (and with the daughter of Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland no less!). The ultra-artifice and stylization, represented by Liza Minnelli’s singer character Francine, is juxtaposed with Robert De Niro’s naturalistic performance as jazz saxophonist Jimmy Doyle, and the opposites don’t always attract (both thematically and cinematically). It’s ambitious, to be sure, and occasionally reaches great, ecstatic heights, such as Minnelli’s jaw-dropping climatic performance of the titular song (later made famous by Frank Sinatra). Scorsese lets his muse Minnelli (with whom he had just embarked on an affair, leaving his pregnant wife, no less) shine in the way only she uniquely can. The film is uneven, yes, and overly long but the moments of greatness that it does achieve make for a thrilling tribute to the grand movie musical. [B-]

The Last Waltz” (1978)
“This film should be played loud!” the title credits scream. And it’s not bad advice for Scorsese’s first full-length documentary and concert performance movie. After 16 years, first as The Hawks backing Bob Dylan, and then as The Band, the rock superstar group including Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Levon Helm among others, decide to call it quits, but not before mounting a farewell show at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Shot by Scorsese at the behest of Robertson, the two would go on to become cocaine buddies, which is still incredible when you think about it (who would have thought the asthmatic and already over-caffeinated Martin Scorsese would ever need blow?). Featuring appearances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Hawkins and more, the exuberant concert doc is far more a celebratory evening than it is tearful goodbye. Interspersed with interviews with The Band, Robertson and company tell their tale which paints a portrait of road warriors who paid their dues, slept on floors, abused their bodies and lived to tell about it—sometimes it’s best to get out when the getting is good. “The music took us to some strange places … physically, spiritually, psychotically. It just wasn’t always on stage,” Robertson reminisces. Regarded as one of the greatest concert documentaries of all time, the concert itself is shot in standard form (though there is one studio soundstage performance with Emmylou Harris) and is a little on the jammy and solo-y side (and yes, we’re fans of the Band and all the musicians involved), but the film overall largely transcends any niggles like that. [B]

American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince” (1978)
This little-seen gem from Scorsese’s fertile 70s period is the cinematic equivalent of a longform profile story. Friend and collaborator Steven Prince (you probably remember his memorable appearance as the slimy but knowledgeable gun salesman in “Taxi Driver”) is the subject; Scorsese and his small crew are merely the conduit to exploit Prince’s gift as a storyteller. The opening scene sets the stage properly and hilariously as Prince enjoys a hot tub with Scorsese, moaning and getting a little too comfortable next to the famously Catholic filmmaker. Scorsese asks him to not get so close, and then the opening credits roll to the sounds of Neil Young. As enjoyable and loose as the film is, it’s not without its own fascinating and potentially damning piece of cinema trivia: in this film one can find the ne plus ultra of Quentin Tarantino’s penchant for borrowing/stealing from more obscure films. It’s blatant and will no doubt only add more fuel to the fire of those who accuse him of being a thief, but if you remember the sequence from “Pulp Fiction” in which Uma Thurman overdoses on heroin, and John Travolta must give her an adrenaline shot to wake her up, well, that just so happens to be an experience that Prince was a witness to, and tells in detail in ‘American Boy’. It’s kind of shocking when you hear the story, as Tarantino lifted entire chunks of Prince’s description (“in a stabbing motion,” the use of a magic marker as a target, and much more). So this is pretty much must-see viewing for cinephiles for the debates on the ethics of homage and theft in cinema are sure to follow. [B+]

Raging Bull” (1980)
It’s hard to believe now, but heading into “Raging Bull”—a film he had initially turned down—Martin Scorsese was in a bit of trouble. While he entered the 1970s with the one-two punch of “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver,” he was leaving the decade with the sting of the expensive, ambitious flop “New York, New York” hanging over him (though yes, “The Last Waltz” did help soothe that bruise away a bit). And that’s not to mention that the director had almost died, following a drug overdose. Yet if there is anything that defines “Raging Bull,” it’s the absolute, undeniable vitality in every frame. From the camerawork of DOP Michael Chapman in the ring, to the unsparing, symphonic black-and-white photography to one of Robert De Niro’s defining performances, the film may run 129 minutes but by the time the credits roll, you’ll swear you just heard the bell 90 seconds before. A complex portrait of a man who was a champion in the ring and a loser outside of it, both Scorsese and De Niro key in on the fury that drove Jake LaMotta in both arenas, making “Raging Bull” so much more than just a picture about a pugilist. Importantly, when it comes to the career of Scorsese, if there was any doubt that he was an artist it was erased here. “Raging Bull” finds the filmmaker repaying the investment in his considerable talents to date with interest, with ferocity even; indeed he believed it would be his final picture. Thankfully for himself and for all of us, it wasn’t. While he would go on to shoot a startling variety of movies in the ‘80s alone, and the competition over his whole career is fierce, “Raging Bull” is not just his finest of that decade, but one of the best his career. [A]

The King of Comedy” (1982)
It’s telling that, in any other director’s body of work, a character like Rupert Pupkin would be a defining achievement. With muse Robert De Niro, Scorsese looked to the lighter side to bring forth a face of fame touched upon in “Taxi Driver” and semi-realized in the otherwise-claustrophobic “Raging Bull”: that of the dark side of celebrity. Rightfully, De Niro has been canonized for a roll call of brilliant characterizations, and Pupkin is another one, an obnoxious, delusional, conceited fool who nonetheless maintains the fast-talking skills to squeeze past the doors of people who will not have him. Jerry Lewis’ toxic talk show host Jerry Langford is an equal achievement, an absolutely vain showbiz lifer who drips contempt for his fans like the syrup cascading down a stack of golden IHOP pancakes. “The King Of Comedy” wrangles laughs out of these two as Pupkin’s desperate reach for stardom becomes violently aggressive, but it’s also just frightening to see these two even speak: De Niro’s Pupkin is a snake with a smile, and his utter incompetence gives his threats teeth: he might just shoot you by accident. Langford fires absolute daggers through Lewis’ stubborn face, his slow-burn silence says what some actors need multiple monologues to express. Gorgeous and creepily ambiguous, this satire is also probably one of Scorsese’s most actor-friendly films, offering up two titans blurring the lines between funny, cringeworthy and flat-out terrifying. [A]

After Hours” (1985)
There’s a certain sensation that comes with being up all night, broke, tired, and in way over your head, an intangible sensation that courses through your veins like a narcotic. It’s the sort of awareness you only feel on the hairs prickling from the back of your neck, the sort that makes you feel like Superman but also tests you by giving the impression that danger is around every corner. This discarded Tim Burton project (uh-huh, really) stands alone in the Scorsese oeuvre as being lighter, funnier, and more playful than his usual work, but in truth it’s still laced with the same nervous, dangerous energy as “Mean Streets.” For once, Scorsese’s protagonist is something of a beta male: Paul (Griffin Dunne) is a put-upon everyman who mistakenly believes he’s entitled to a night out on the town, only for New York City to chew him up and spit him out. The picture is both light on its feet but saturated in foreboding, as every single wrong turn forces Paul face-to-face with criminals, shady artists and kink peddlers from a New York City that seems miles away from his comfort zone. What’s amusing is that “After Hours” doesn’t dip into the sort of violence or dark slapstick of something like John Landis’ “Into The Night,” but still maintains an edge that nonetheless feels in the spirit of the Keaton-Chaplin era, where overstressed silent stars faced insurmountable odds. It’s gleefully bent, but unmistakably a Scorsese picture, pitched a different tempo to some of the classics of his that more immediately spring to mind, but no less deserving of attention. [A-]

The Color of Money” (1986)
Though this sequel to the classic “The Hustler” is not quite up to par with the 1961 original, it has aged quite well and proves better than its original reputation suggests. When it was released in 1986 the film did well commercially but was greeted with mostly mixed reviews (Siskel and Ebert both gave it a thumbs down). It’s definitely minor Scorsese, but it’s a blast to watch and features a wonderful Paul Newman performance as he stepped back into the shoes of pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson (and won a long-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his efforts). Here he’s playing the mentor to none other than Tom Cruise, who also gives a wonderful turn as a cocky up-and-coming hustler. The standout sequence sees Scorsese doing what he does best, marrying a perfectly selected pop song with his trademark zippy camera as Cruise works the crowd around his table to the sounds of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” And really, most of the film plays like this sequence, with loads of stylish camera flair set around the standard Scorsese milieu of bars and pool halls. The soundtrack is ace, as are the pieces of original score by former The Band member Robbie Robertson. It’s a film that helped Scorsese finally earn the clout to make his passion project “The Last Temptation of Christ,” but even as a means to an end (or even as a one-for-them type project) it’s an utterly watchable, top-notch sports/gambling picture that saw the emergence of the director as an occasional studio gun-for-hire. It may not be from his guts but he still does great work here simply making a piece of entertainment. [B]

The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988)
Brazenly controversial and still banned in several countries around the world, Scorsese’s reimagining of the last period of Jesus’ life, and of a hypothetical life beyond the crucifixion, is his most blatant attempt to contend with the issues of faith and doubt that his Catholic upbringing instilled in him. Famously at one stage wanting to be a priest, Scorsese instead pursued filmmaking with an almost religious zeal, but has frequently said that the mystery of the Passion and spirituality in general has never left him. It seems Marty works these mysteries through in his films rather than from the ambo, leading not only to ‘Temptation,’ but to “Kundun,” George Harrison documentary “Living in the Material World” and possibly to his next potential project, “Silence.” ‘Temptation’ is the first and most overt of these, portraying a doubting, often despairing Christ (Willem Dafoe) and reinterpreting Judas’ (an awkward Harvey Keitel) role as betraying him at Jesus’ behest. Most “blasphemously” (according to several Christian fundamentalist organizations which boycotted and protested the film, to the point of setting a Parisian theater on fire), Scorsese’s adaptation of the novel of the same name posits a scenario in which Jesus is rescued from the cross by his guardian angel, marries Mary Magdalene and after her death, marries Mary and Martha, having a family and living into old age. It is only on his deathbed that a visit from Judas reveals that the guardian angel had in fact been Satan in disguise, whereupon Jesus begs God’s forgiveness and is returned in near-ecstasy to the cross as a young man. So the ‘Temptation’ is in fact that of life as an ordinary man, outside of Messiah-dom and the whole last section works rather like a very sombre version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as it’s implied that Jesus essentially hallucinates what his life would be like without the burden of being part of the Godhead. It’s weighty, heavy stuff and Scorsese spares none of its density, so the film is wordy and brimming with a sense of Catholic crisis. But it’s also very beautiful at times (the pared-back budget contributing to a spartan, impressionistic look complemented by washes of monochrome reds or yellows over the image) and Willem Dafoe is quite extraordinary as the tortured Son of God, along with an Oscar-nominated Barbara Hershey as a surprisingly realistic and sympathetic Mary Magdalene. There is nothing easy about ‘Temptation,’ nor should there be, and if it remains among Scorsese’s least approachable works, its complexity, enigmatic tone and troubled, questing thorniness are in this case, totally justified. [B]

New York Stories” (1989) (segment: "Life Lessons")
Scorsese’s contribution to “New York Stories,” which also includes shorts by Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, is the unquestionable champ among the trio. Sensual and uplifting via a keen musical selection (Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”), Scorsese drops us into the life of shaggy-haired painter Lionel Dobie (Nick Nolte), his art, and Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), a former lover Lionel wishes to possess once again. It’s a character study immeasurably enlivened by Scorsese’s roving camera, mining crucial urgency when depicting Lionel’s creative process. Nolte delivers a typically gruff yet sensitive performance, making a louse of a man sympathetic, or at least relatable in his hearty pursuit of art and listless groping for the next ingénue to half-heartedly seduce. Lionel leaves his heart on the canvas and Scorsese poignantly illuminates the divide and the struggle. For those tested by runtimes, this short might be a proper antidote, an introduction to Scorsese that lures them to sample more significant works. [B]

Goodfellas” (1990)
Even among the very highest echelons of the canon of accepted film “classics,” there are gradations. Many films are undeniably great, but how often do we have a burning desire to rewatch them? Many others we’ll fight to death for, but can scoot past them when they show up late at night on cable. Amongst those, we’d even count some of our favorite Scorsese films: “Taxi Driver,” and “Raging Bull,” for example, are peerless classics, but there’s not a part of us that always wants to be watching them. Then there’s “Goodfellas”, which manages to do, for our money, everything that these other touchstones do, but also to be relentlessly, almost insolently entertaining: infinitely rewatchable, quotable and recommendable to old and young alike. Even broken up into its constituent parts the film is unassailable on so many levels: greatest ever Joe Pesci performance; ditto Ray Liotta; best-written voiceover; most dizzyingly inventive but apropos camerawork; sharpest script; the superlatives can go on. Adapted for screen by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, from Pileggi’s non-fiction book “Wise Guy,” “Goodfellas” is also so sharp and zingy in terms of how it bristles with its own manic energy that it’s maybe the fastest 2.5 hours you can spend at the movies. For the uninitiated (we can’t believe there are any, but still) the film is told through the eyes (and voice) of Henry Hill (Liotta) and charts his rise through the ranks of the local New York mob scene from his mid-fifties childhood (he’d “always wanted to be a gangster”) right up to his ignominious fade-out as “a schnook” in the early 80s, via violence, betrayal, coercion, murder, drugs, prison, adultery and the thinnest-sliced garlic ever captured on screen. It’s Scorsese and his cast firing on all cylinders and as sobering as the moral of the story may be, nothing can dampen the sheer joy in filmmaking that’s on display here: this is a film that would have been simply impossible from anyone who loved movies less. Yet despite all the quick edits, the freeze frames, the bravura long-takes, the detail-rich locations, despite the crazy skill and planning that had to have gone into its creation, the technique is somehow so completely transparent as to seem effortless and we are wholly immersed in a story of such gloriously gonzo excess that it seems to blast by on a cocaine high. If Scorsese had never made any other film, we’d follow him to the ends of the earth just for this one…Aaaand, now we have to watch it again. [A+]

Cape Fear” (1991)
Looking back, it’s kind of shocking that Scorsese, following the critical and commercial groundswell surrounding his virtuoso mob masterpiece "Goodfellas," would follow it up with "Cape Fear," a shlocky, B-grade chiller featuring frequent collaborator Robert De Niro at his all-time campiest (and sinewiest). Ostensibly a remake of the 1962 suspense film (original stars Gregory PeckRobert Mitchum and Martin Balsam all make appearances here), Steven Spielberg was originally attached to direct but at the last minute swapped projects with Scorsese (who awarded him "Schindler’s List" instead), citing "Cape Fear"’s extreme violence, which Spielberg felt uncomfortable with. What we get is an elegant, gore-soaked pastiche that incorporates not only the original film (with the Bernard Hermann score lovingly reproduced by Elmer Bernstein) but elements from Alfred Hitchcock thrillers (complete with Saul Bass credit sequence), seventies exploitation movies (the Illeana Douglas rape sequence is blood-chilling) and, of course "Night of the Hunter" (De Niro is similarly tattooed). Although the movie runs slightly too long (the prolonged, hurricane-ravaged finale is overcooked to the point of limpness), it’s at times one of the more exhilarating Scorsese experiences—a movie that knows exactly what it is and is having a blast with it. (It is also the inspiration for one of the best-ever episodes of "The Simpsons.") Anchored by fine performances (Nick Nolte was nominated for an Oscar, as was De Niro), breathtaking cinematography (and exemplary, subtle work by Industrial Light & Magic) and a willingness to gleefully sail over-the-top, "Cape Fear" is, first and foremost, pretty much fearless. [B]

The Age Of Innocence” (1993)
A film we should confess we weren’t overly enamored of when we first saw it, a recent rewatch of “The Age of Innocence” has led us to at least a partial reappraisal. It is, as we had remembered, sumptuously beautiful and if some of the principals feel miscast, it doesn’t stop them from turning in individually impressive performances, especially in Michelle Pfeiffer’s case. And the settings and supporting cast, including Joanne Woodward’s drily ironic reading of swathes of the source Edith Wharton prose, are all deliciously on-point as the rarefied world of upper class 1870s New York gradually closes in on poor, lovestruck but noble Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis). But still, a certain narrative thinness makes itself felt—the film feels stretched out unnecessarily and, for a world with so many secrets and trapdoors, strangely lacking in subtext. And without those layers, Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder as May Welland and Day-Lewis seem rather exposed, having to manufacture emotional engagement where none springs up naturally. In fact, Day-Lewis’ Archer, if anything, is so distant as to not really register with us at all, and his illicit passion for Pfeiffer’s Ellen too often communicated repetitiously by him hissing some new entreaty or assignation at her from behind a curtain or a doorway. But elements of Scorsese’s filmmaking enthusiasm do find their way through: he plays with iris-ins and wipes and vignetting the edge of the frame at times to give it a kind of classic, almost silent-movie feel, and special mention should go to Saul and Elaine Bass’ credit sequence, which, set against a lace-overlaid backdrop of time-lapse flowers bursting into bloom, manages to be exactly as lushly romantic and yet arch as Wharton’s original book. It’s a line the film in general walks only unsteadily, but if the result is neither as broad nor as deep as Scorsese at his best, there is still a great deal to enjoy here, just don’t expect to be fully enraptured by the romance or fully tickled by the social satire. [B-]

A Personal Journey Through American Movies with Martin Scorsese” (1995)
There are few, if any, others we’d rather hear talk at length about cinema than Scorsese. And ‘Personal Journey’ is just the ticket for those wanting a detailed glimpse into the man’s influences as he lays down, in a breezy 225 minutes, his own cinematic canon of what’s meant the most to him from America (it’s all there in the title). The beauty here is in the simplicity of the endeavor: featuring Scorsese talking to the camera along with clips of the films (some 70+ titles) he discusses the format is not at all revolutionary. But it doesn’t need to be when you’ve got Scorsese’s knowledge and passion guiding you. The film is broken down into four parts examining various director types: director as storyteller, director as illusionist, director as smuggler, and the director as iconoclast. This structure allows for a journey that bounces from one film to the next, not beholden to chronology but instead tracing influences and thematic resonances from one work to the next, and seeing how they connect. It’s so all-encompassing yet never overwhelming, and it gives one the feeling that Scorsese is our most gifted film professor, one we’d gladly listen to for twice the run time. Never didactic or snobbish, instead Scorsese is doing what’s become the standard in modern film criticism: he accepts that we’ve all had our own experience with movies through our lives, so he can only speak to that experience of his own, but he can do so with candor, passion, respect and irreverence. This may very well be the template for all the Ain’t it Cools, Slashfilms and, yes, The Playlists of the world. [A]

Casino” (1995)
Potential unpopular opinion alert: while a sprawling 3-hour Martin Scorsese film is usually the stuff cinephiles drool over (note the anticipation for “The Wolf of Wall Street” which only seemed to increase after news of its length), in truth, for those that are willing to look past the cool style, and technical prowess of Marty’s shark-like camera, the ominous halo lighting of Robert Richardson’s crystalline cinematography, and the occasionally inspiring performances, “Casino” is kind of decked out in the emperor’s new clothes. If “Goodfellas” is a ferociously entertaining look at organized crime; a rags-to-riches (and back again) story of the intoxicating potency of power, corruption and the pursuit of money and power at the expense of everything else, then the bare bones of “Casino” is essentially much the same story only told in Las Vegas. Another adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi‘s work (he also wrote the book and screenplay of “Goodfellas”), “Casino” however, suffers from returning-to-the-same-well syndrome with familiar, derivative and proportionately less successful results. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, while entertaining in spots, feel as if they are on an autopilot that creates few surprising or inspired moments, in fact it’s the new members of Scorsese’s troupe that are fantastic. Sharon Stone, in what might be her career-best turn, delivers an outstanding performance as the opportunistic, disenchanted mob wife. James Woods and in particular Don Rickles lend some solid supporting work too, but supporting players a great movie does not make. There are things to enjoy about “Casino” no doubt, but as a three-hour, five-course meal about the same subject from a slightly different angle, taken as a whole, the picture cannot but feel somewhat bloated (and its slathering over-reliance on pop music to keep the movie’s engine going certainly feels strained after a while). Put aside Scorsese’s trademark bravura visuals (including a Saul Bass title sequence that doesn’t even rank in his 10 best), and you have a stylish, frequently engaging film, but one that just cannot bring itself to say anything remotely new or different from its far superior predecessor. Familiarity breeds contempt and while Scorsese doesn’t earn our scorn here, the comfortably rephrased nature of the work and its themes still disappoint some 18 years after the fact. [B-]

“Kundun” (1997)
Kundun” is one of the most unfairly overlooked films of Scorsese’s oeuvre. While in terms of setting, it falls out of step with what is considered his usual milieu, upon closer examination, it expresses many of the themes that are manifest in his work: religion, devotion, one man’s struggle against external forces. The story of the Dalai Lama was written by “E.T.” scribe Melissa Mathison, who sat for a number of interviews with the spiritual leader and suggested Scorsese as director. The film chronicles the first part of the Dalai Lama’s life, from when he was discovered as the 14th Dalai Lama as a young boy, through his escape from Tibet during the military takeover by Chinese Communists. This latter part of the film focuses on his personal struggle to lead his people, to remain strong through the violent invasion of Tibet and loss of many lives. Shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film is spine-tinglingly beautiful (it was shot on location in Morocco), saturated with blooms of reds and yellows, capturing the landscape and the people as one living, breathing element, underlined with a Phillip Glass score. The film has a meditative, almost hypnotic effect, cycling through different periods of the Dalai Lama’s young life, but it sort of washes over you, methodically laying out his life story, like the monks carefully creating mandala sand paintings. It’s not the definitive Dalai Lama story, only part of his life, but it’s a different universe and pace for Scorsese, and if it doesn’t reach the energetic, invigorating levels of some of his work, it’s still an immersive and colorful expression of this world. [B]

My Voyage to Italy” (1999)
For anyone with even a glancing interest in Italian cinema and its pioneers, “My Voyage to Italy” is essential, less a didactic documentary than a conversation about an epochal movement with someone who understands it, and feels it, vitally. And for anyone who has not a vestige of such interest, “My Voyage to Italy,” simply put, will convert you: it’s that generous an endeavor in irresistibly communicating Scorsese’s own passion for these films. Its long running time (246 minutes) absolutely pelts by, giving an eclectically comprehensive overview of the lives and careers of Rossellini, de Sica, Visconti, Fellini and Antonioni, told through plentiful clips from their key films; “key” as defined more by Scorsese for the purposes of this film than, necessarily, by accepted wisdom. And so while neorealist touchstone “Bicycle Thieves” does feature affectionately, de Sica’s subsequent and lesser known “Umberto D” is also given great deference by Scorsese, just as Rossellini’s “The Flowers of St Francis” sits alongside “Rome, Open City” in terms of the director’s engagement, while Visconti’s ”Senso” gets more time than any of his other, probably better known, works, and the whole builds to a long dissertation on Fellini, with “La Dolce Vita” being examined in depth, but the honor of wrapping up the film, and Scorsese’s broader thoughts on art vs life, going to “8 1/2.” The chatty, informal feel of the documentary overall, and the brilliance of how it is edited together, with Scorsese appearing on camera in interstitial segments introducing each new director and relating their works to his own life, and otherwise only appearing in voiceover (within clips from the films he occasionally literally directs our attention with a “Watch this!” or “Just see what he does here!”) means that it feels as close as we can get to sitting down with Scorsese and a stack of DVDs. And we pretty much can’t imagine a better way to spend a few hours than that. As such “My Voyage to Italy” also serves as a key to unlock a sort of hidden bonus level to your appreciation of Scorsese’s own films: suddenly you see the traces of “Senso” in “The Age of Innocence”; an earnest desire to contend with issues of faith through film that is heavily influenced by Rossellini; a heartfelt tribute to Fellini’s “I Vitelloni” in “Mean Streets” and so on. Scorsese is as inspirational and warm a companion as we could hope to have on this journey through a national cinema that, more than any other, inspired him to become the defining American filmmaker of his age. He’s not above riffing on the lighter aspects, the jokes and the humor, nor above fetishizing tiny details like the movement of a skirt, the way a true geeky fanboy might. But most of all, his is a restlessly curious intelligence that seeks in these films the answers to very personal questions about the nature of his own identity as well as the reason for his own lifelong romance with the moving image. As much as you may value film history, Scorsese or Italian neo-realism before you go in, “My Voyage to Italy” weaves them all into a fascinating fabric that makes you gladder than you’ll ever have been for all three. [A-]

Bringing Out the Dead” (1999)
One of the director’s more bafflingly overlooked movies, "Bringing Out the Dead" reteamed Scorsese with "Taxi Driver" scribe Paul Schrader and stars Nicolas Cage as a strung-out EMT worker battling, amongst other things, a deadly strain of heroin called "Red Death" and a succession of criminally insane coworkers (among them John Goodman and the probably-actually-insane Tom Sizemore). Many of the same themes Schrader and Scorsese explored in "Taxi Driver" are echoed here, and while Cage’s obsessive, debilitated antihero is somewhat less engaging than De Niro’s psychotic cabbie, he still makes for compelling, nearly compulsive watching. And the film is hampered somewhat by the episodic nature of the storytelling and a slightly wooden performance by Cage’s then-wife Patricia Arquette (she’s about the slowest thing in a movie that seems to cannonball forward) there are still a number of memorable set pieces, including a haunting sequence where Cage approaches an apartment following a gang shooting, while "Red Red Wine" by UB40 plays ominously in the background, and an extended flashback that Scorsese edits backwards so that the snow appears to be drifting upwards. It’s a Scorsese movie that seems bound for rediscovery, a furious, sometimes ghostly rumination on how close we come to death, and the strain that’s placed on those that bring us back from it. [B]

Gangs of New York” (2002)
Structurally, “Gangs of New York” is a mess—Scorsese’s action-heavy narrative of the conflicts that set aflame Five Points in lower Manhattan circa the 1860’s tries to bite off far more than it can chew. The tales of the New York Draft Riots, the underworld run by crooked Boss Tweed (Jim Broadbent) and the strife between Americans and foreigners all feel like separate movies jammed together for the sake of a wide-ranging epic about a rich time in American history. And at this point, Leonardo DiCaprio had the intensity but not the necessary charisma or depth to make protagonist Amsterdam Vallon as magnetic as he’s supposed to be (and he’s a sharp downgrade from his father, played by a cameo-ing Liam Neeson). But then you get to Daniel Day-Lewis’ improbably electric Bill “The Butcher” Cutting and the film’s shortcomings fall by the wayside. Maybe our greatest actor, Day-Lewis is absolutely terrifying as the picture’s muscle-bound villain, twirling his mustache as he postures and pontificates as though he were Uncle Sam himself. Even with Scorsese’s extravagant budget, which allows for widescale sequences of disaster and spectacle in the film’s final third, Day-Lewis towers over the material, a twinkly-eyed predator who makes looking away feel like reconstructive surgery. [B]

The Aviator” (2004)
Latter-day Scorsese is sometimes knee-jerkingly treated as “awards bait” “prestige pictures” but there’s never been a doubt that if he needed to, Marty can just bring it. Case in point: this 2004 biopic of Howard Hughes as Scorsese saw him: a shut-in delusionist in his later years, but also a rock star, a man with mommy issues who truly almost took over the world. Compare the film’s high-energy aesthetic with peer Francis Ford Coppola’s similar “Tucker: A Man And His Dreams” and you see the difference between a man who has far too much reverence for his topic, and another who wants to use a legend as a vessel for cinephilia (Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow could only come from the mind of a genius or a prankster). Though baby-faced to a certain point in his adult years, Leonardo DiCaprio finally grows into his legacy with this performance, cementing his status as a go-to guy for outsized personalities with intensely repressed emotions. But Scorsese benefits from a superb supporting cast that includes a perfectly campy, Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Alan Alda as a ballbreaking senator, and Alec Baldwin as embittered Pan Am head Juan Trippe. Ultimately, Scorsese’s take on Hughes feels incomplete, as it seems to check-off several biopic boxes with manic glee without expanding on it, and it allows one of cinema’s greatest lovers of the medium to indulge a bit too much. But when one of the world’s greatest filmmakers is having this much fun, we can’t judge too harshly. [B]

"No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" (2005)
Trying to crystallize the iconic music, life and times of Bob Dylan in one movie is a fool’s errand and Scorsese wisely doesn’t try. Instead, the sprawling, two-part, three-and-a-half hour documentary chronicles the seminal 1961-66 period, from the songwriter’s arrival in the coffee shops of New York (hello and goodbye, Llewyn Davis!), to his ascension to seminal civil rights-focused folk hero, to his controversial “going electric” period leading up to the “Don’t Look Back” event where Dylan suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident, and up to his return to the public eye a year later, forevermore an even more inscrutable figure (and he would “retire” from touring for eight years after). Those who know Dylan’s work, know the singer as an enigma, and while not its chief aim, “No Direction Home” in many ways illuminates the road to how Dylan became this riddle and refused to be pinned down or owned by any one establishment—political, musical or otherwise. Ironically, as interviewed by longtime manager Jeff Rosen, Dylan is at his most relaxed, effusive and straightforward in the talking head conversations shot in 2001. But a portrait is drawn; a young man who quickly bristled against the trap of expectations, disavowing “the songwriter of his generation” albatross, ditching the protest folk songs and becoming smeared as a “Judas” on camera by his own audience for going electric with The Hawks (a backing band who would later go on to become The Band, a group Scorsese would obviously come to know well). The notion held by many over the years was that Dylan turned his back on them, but the reality was a hungering restlessness to venture out on a journey into the unknown. Employing hours of unearthed archival footage (including D. A. Pennebaker‘s seminal Dylan doc "Don’t Look Back"), never-before-seen performance footage and interviews with artists and musicians whose lives interconnected with Dylan’s during that time (Dave Van Ronk, Allen Ginsberg, Joan Baez, Dylan’s old girlfriend Suze Rotolo, and many more), the documentary fittingly peels back layers, while letting the mystery remain; never solving the alluring enigma that is one of the 20th century’s great artists. “No Direction Home” is a definitive, engrossing and must-see portrait of an artist whose oxygen was reinvention and evolution. As Dylan sang himself, “he not busy being born is busy dying.” [A-]

The Departed” (2006)
Marking both Scorsese’s first Oscar for directing and his first time collaborating with fellow ‘70s film legend Jack Nicholson, “The Departed” is a latter-day Scorsese triumph. It’s an adaptation of the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs,” but feels entirely a product of the city of Boston and its director. The film follows two parallel tracks in the Beantown crime world: Scorsese’s 21th-century muse Leonardo DiCaprio is good-man-playing-bad Billy Costigan, who attempts to move past his family’s history with crime; meanwhile, Matt Darmon co-stars as wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing Colin Sullivan, a mole working inside the organized crime unit with the state police. The film is ostensibly about their dual struggles with identity, but of course, Nicholson looms large as Irish mob boss Frank Costello. Like Nicholson’s Costello, “The Departed” blooms a bit broader than it probably should, but it’s an energetic return to form and genre for the director. Thanks to the hilarious, profanity-spewing turn by Mark Wahlberg (he drops the “c-word” less than 10 minutes into the movie), it’s also Scorsese’s funniest film, with plenty of caustic asides also coming from Alec Baldwin’s police captain. Critics might say that Scorsese’s statuette was more of a lifetime achievement award than one deserved for directing this single film, but we were rooting for him to win based on this movie’s merits alone. [A-]

Shine a Light” (2008)
What makes "Shine a Light," Scorsese’s Rolling Stones IMAX concert documentary, especially frustrating is that at the beginning of the movie, we see Marty planning his shots and how the documentary is going to look. He talks about how he’s going to track this way and that and add some real Hollywood-special-effects-oomph to the Stones’ already electrifying stage show (at one point be hilariously bemoans, "We cannot burn Mick Jagger."). The problem, of course, is that the stage show he describes (and the movie he envisions) isn’t the same one that we, as an audience actually get to see. Instead, it’s a fairly humdrum Stones documentary that occasionally splices in vintage interview footage of the band and some other insignificant razzle dazzle (the first of the two nights doubled as a benefit for one of Bill Clinton‘s philanthropic ventures, with the former president on hand to introduce the band, every bit as rock star as anyone else on stage). Given Scorsese’s long-standing history with the band (how many times has he used one of their songs?) and his nimble ability with visual pyrotechnics, you’d think that the movie, the filmmaker’s first in the large-screen IMAX format, would have been something special, bordering on the downright remarkable. Instead, with an over-reliance on rapid fire editing (which doesn’t really work with an image projected that huge), and strangely uninventive direction, it becomes one of the few Scorsese films in which the music is much stronger than the images. [C+]

"Shutter Island” (2010)
Scorsese is as much a film fanatic as he is a filmmaker, and with “Shutter Island,” his sprawling, rococo thriller about a missing mental patient on an island full of them, the director was able to indulge his love of B-grade horror movies and loony bin melodramas (you get nods to Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray and Henri-Georges Clouzot among others). Depending on your sensibilities, it was either an embarrassment of riches, a gorgeous, gilded ode to splashily exploitative drive-in movies, or a waste of considerable talents (not only of Scorsese himself but his crack team of collaborators, including cinematographer Robert Richardson, longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker and star Leonardo DiCaprio). We tend to fall somewhere in the middle. DiCaprio plays a rattled U.S. Marshal who is given a new partner (Mark Ruffalo) and sent off to the titular island, home to an insane asylum, off the coast of Boston. It’s 1954, and DiCaprio’s character has already faced the horrors of World War II concentration camps, which makes for some very vivid flashbacks brought to life in wonderfully poor taste. It also somewhat dampens the fun of the more phantasmagorical aspects of “Shutter Island,” where fantasy and history (both personal and cultural) uncomfortably mix into one paranoia-infused stew. “Shutter Island” goes for broke in such a manner that it almost makes a virtue of its somewhat clunky plotting (at one point a character explains the plot in front of a chalk board where major narrative beats are literally spelled out for the audience) and cartoonishly broad characters; the entire enterprise is bloated with a kind of more-is-more over-the-top-ness. Either you’re on board, or you can’t wait to leave this island. We were happy to stay, through what is no doubt one of the filmmaker’s slightest features, but who said Scorsese has to always be so serious? [B]

Letter To Elia” (2010) co-directed with Kent Jones
Martin Scorsese’s documentaries are generally love letters to the subject matter at hand, whether it’s cinema ( "My Voyage to Italy” and “A Personal Journey Through American Movies”), the power of performance (“The Last Waltz” and “Shine A Light”) or the admiration of a musical legacy (“No Direction Home,” “Living in the Material World”). And one of his most personal of these endeavors, even if it was co-directed by former film-critic-turned-Festival-programmer Kent Jones, is “Letter To Elia,” his portrait of the filmmaker Elia Kazan. The venerable director behind "A Streetcar Named Desire" and films like "America, America" and "East Of Eden," in many ways, one could easily see Kazan’s "On The Waterfront” as a proto-Scorsese film (it’s a picture the filmmaker explores at length in the doc). Scorsese’s fascination with his subject is palpable in all of his usually incisive documentaries, but on Kazan—a man to whom he and Robert De Niro co-presented his Lifetime Achievement Academy Award—one can feel something much beyond simple admiration: a genuine tenderness and warm affection for a man and a filmmaker of whom he was deeply in awe. Only 60 minutes long and only ever aired on PBS (not released in theaters), there’s … something missing to it, as if it was rushed or not quite Scorsese’s project alone (and it’s not, one can argue it is Jones’ film first). So perhaps in that sense it’s something of a minor Scorsese doc, but as but as a heartfelt reflection, an aesthetic appreciation and a rousing analysis of Kazan’s oeuvre, it’s one of Scorsese’s most personal works. [B]

Public Speaking” (2010) 
If most Martin Scorsese documentaries are a type of billet-doux about the subject, then “Public Speaking,” his portrait of iconic (and sardonic) New York writer Fran Lebowitz is more of an esteemed acknowledgement. That isn’t to say Scorsese doesn’t have affection for his subject, like in other docs, it’s just that the filmmaker understands that anything that comes out of her mouth is prime rib. So, moving away from voice-over where he usually describes the passion for his subject, Scorsese simply gets out of Lebowitz’s way. Turning the camera on and letting the mordant and whipsmart social raconteur rip, “Public Speaking” is more of an appreciative tribute to the power of Lebowitz’s ever-so-candid art of conversation. Acerbic and witty, no topic is sacred with Lebowitz, but as the dialogue flows, she also reveals much about herself, her often difficult childhood and what made her such an important New York voice (she’s been called the modern Dorothy Parker several times). "I always said I’m the only Jew in America whose first exposure to an intellectual, it was a black guy," she quips in the doc about author James Baldwin. “I never met anyone like that in my life and I was mesmerized.” Sprinkled throughout the doc are clips of Lebowitz’s public speaking tours, but perhaps most personal are the anecdotes of a bitter and difficult upbringing with philistine parents who didn’t want her to read, and wanted her seen and not heard. It’s these revealing, never sentimentalized moments where Lebowitz articulates exactly why she went on to live a life centered around the gift of the gab, and Scorsese wisely lets her reveal herself almost unmediated. [B]

George Harrison: Living in the Material World” (2011)
From seemingly from out of nowhere, Scorsese delivered one of his best and most heartfelt non-fiction projects (his aptitude as a documentarist is often overlooked in favor of his fiction films, but is nonetheless exceptional), a nearly four-hour-long documentary dedicated to the life and times of the former Beatle. Told in a charming stream-of-consciousness style that mixes talking head interviews (with everyone from Paul McCartney to Terry Gilliam) with archival footage and musical interludes, your enjoyment of this sprawling biographical mass isn’t based purely on your love of the Beatles (although your patience with all things related to transcendental meditation could probably help). Instead, Scorsese paints a portrait of a man, in both broad brush strokes and tiny details, who found himself caught up in one of pop culture’s most explosive moments, yet who somehow remained relatively anonymous amongst all that noise. George Harrison is, it turns out, a man of nuance, grace, and intelligence, capable of true selflessness and the type of caring few humans exhibit willingly. Beautifully photographed and just as beautifully put together, "George Harrison: Living in the Material World" is a late-in-his-career crowning achievement, one made all the more powerful by the fact that it was almost a complete surprise. [A-]

"Hugo" (2011)
The films of Martin Scorsese often have a psychological weight, themes of sin, guilt, absolution, respect, power, et al, but infrequently do they have a truly resonant and lasting emotional one. Often it’s simply because Scorsese’s central preoccupations have lain elsewhere, but how heartening was it to see the filmmaker stray into such warmly emotive territory with the genuinely personal "Hugo." An enchanting children’s tale shot in 3D and set in 1930s Paris, “Hugo” chronicles a tumultuous period in the life of an orphan living with the walls of a bustling train station and secretly maintaining its gargantuan clocks. An adaptation of Brian Selznick‘s award-winning novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” Scorsese’s picture centers on a mystery involving Hugo’s late father, an automaton and bitter toy-shop owner. Visual splendor is always in Scorsese’s back pocket, but in “Hugo,” the luxurious use of 3D (really the first post-"Avatar" occasion on which the extra dimension really added to the experience), and care he takes over the emotional impact, is virtuosic. A touching ode to the wonders of imagination and cinematic history (Ben Kingsley‘s character turns out to be the rather important figure Georges Méliès), at 125 minutes, “Hugo” admittedly is overlong and has pacing issues (as a kids movie it was wholeheartedly rejected in North America and became a domestic flop). And it is true that it’s difficult to see where the audience for such a deliberately old-fashioned paean to a bygone age and an evolving technology might have been found amongst the modern tots and tweens for whom it was ostensibly made. But for adults like us willing to embrace its slow, rich charms and alive to the kind affection for cinema that only a devoted cinephile like Martin Scorsese can bring, "Hugo" is a loveletter to the imagination and a warm, generous effort on Scorsese’s part to provide us all with the key to the wonderful world of film that makes him tick. [B]

While we’ve endeavored to cover all of Scorsese’s theatrical features, and some of his TV, the man has a demonic work ethic, and is also responsible for directing a few other television projects, not least among them the "Boardwalk Empire" pilot episode, his only music video for Michael Jackson’s "Bad" and an episode of Steven Spielberg‘s "Amazing Stories," along with one episode of music documentary series "The Blues." He also has a bevy of short films to his name, aside from the justly famous "Italianamerican" which we’ve included in the main list. Among them are the largely unavailable "Vesuvius VI," comedies "What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?" and "It’s Not Just You, Murray!" (featuring the first Scorsese hoodlum perhaps?). Then came student film "The Big Shave," and "Street Scenes," a documentary about anti-Vietnam activity in New York which at 75 mins is a little long to consider a short, but usually gets grouped along with the shorts due its relative unavailability.

Since his graduation to feature filmmaking, Scorsese has contributed segments to a couple of portmanteau films (all of which are given their own entry above), and also a documentary short, written by "Age of Innocence" and "Gangs of New York" writer Jay Cocks, about Giorgio Armani called "Made in Milan" in 1990. He then made "The Neighbourhood" which was included in the "Concert for New York City" that took place after 9/11 and used some footage from "My Voyage to Italy" and new candid interview material with Scorsese and the people now living in the Elizabeth Street area where he grew up. And the 9/11 loomed large also 2004’s "Lady by the Sea" his first directorial team up with "Letter to Elia"’s Kent Jones, about the enduring legacy of the Statue of Liberty. And finally in 2007 he made "The Key to Reserva," actually essentially a long commercial for Freixenet Cava, but a tremendously warm inside joke featuring Scorsese himself and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker, as they pay homage to Hitchcock by pretending to have found some lost pages of a script and recreating them. Starring Simon Baker and Michael Stuhlbarg, and shoehorning in references to multiple Hitchcock films, but primarily "North by Northwest," it’s a trifle, really, but a sweet one and, since it’s got kind of a holiday vibe, we thought we’d include it for you below. Enjoy, as we hope you enjoyed the retrospective, and a very Scorsese Christmas (that is to say, abounding in vigor and family and life, rather than violence and angst) to you all.

–Jessica Kiang, Rodrigo Perez, Erik McClanahan, Drew Taylor, Katie Walsh, Gabe Toro, Mark Zhuravsky, Kevin Jagernauth, Kimber Myers

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Kenny Ritchie

Great to see After Hours score a A-. Such an underrated movie.

David S

Correction. Only DeNiro was nominated for Cape Fear. Nolte was also nominated in the same year’s Oscars but for The Prince Of Tides.


Nick Nolte was nominated in 1991, but for Barbra Streisand’s "Prince of Tides" and not Cape Fear. Juliette Lewis was the other nominee from that film.


You should include now The Wolf of Wall Street. These are very valuable lists and they should be updated every time a new film comes out.

Eric J Morgan

matt darmon in The Departed. LOL


The films of Martin Scorsese are all "B" movies if you really think about it. Most of the films have a common thread and by that I mean the racial epithets and the violence perpetrated against Black characters in some scenes. If you take away these controversial scenes each movie would lack any substance other than being a poorly conceived and directed mellow drama. Scorsese is an overrated bum.


This is just wrong. Taxi Driver and Goodfellas get A+ but Raging Bull gets only an A. Goodfellas doesn't even hold a candle to the depth and complexity of Raging Bull. It's one of his more over-praised films.

sheldrake movies

Just started a blog about Scorsese – The Wolf Of Elizabeth Street.

Would love people to have a look and let me know if they agree…

'The Wolf Of Elizabeth Street' – thoughts on Scorsese.


Another correction: Barbara Hershey wasn't nominated for an Oscar for "Last Temptation of Christ."


I don't understand this list…at all. It's nice that you've awarded two A+s to two of his best films, but why not Raging Bull? How is Mean Streets only an A- and not a straight A? Honestly, reading through all of these, it seems like the contributors don't actually care about Scorsese, or are trying to knock him down a peg. Only a B for Last Temptation of Christ? It seems that in every case in which some critics love a film, while others are indifferent toward it, The Playlist decided to take the indifferent route. Age of Innocence, Casino and Kundun are all better than they're represented here. The Last Waltz only a B? After the totally positive retrospective you did on the Coens, this list makes Scorsese seem like the weaker artist.


What's with all the indifference towards The Age of Innocence still lurking around even after 20 years? That film is a piece of art, never failing to bring tears to my eye after all those viewings over the years in awe of the wonderful direction, set and costume design and not least of all the tragic and impossible love affair between its two lovers achingly brought to life with almost career best performances by its two leads Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day Lewis? A thorough reevaluation is long overdue for that glorious film in my opinion. And for its 20th anniversary which inf fact is right now, a special features laden new Bluray edition would be so helpful for this. Are you hearing Sony?

Christopher Schnepp

NICK NOTLE Was Not Nominated For An Oscar For "CAPE FEAR",
De NIRO Was Though!,NOTLE Did Nab A Nod For A Movie That
Came Out The Same Year As "FEAR" BUT It's Was For "THE PRINCE


1. Raging Bull
2. Taxi Driver
3. The Goodfellas
4. Casino
5. Shutter Island
6. The Big Shave
7. Kundum
8. Mean Streets
9. Cape Fear
10. The Aviator

The Law

I am just going to do a top 5 because I feel like 6-10 could change on my mood.
1. Goodfellas
2. Casino
3. Gangs of New York
4. Age of Innocence
5. Taxi Driver


At the moment these are my favorites.

1. Raging Bull
2. The Departed
3. Taxi Driver
4. Goodfellas
5. Mean Streets
6. The Aviator
7. Hugo
8. Life Lessons
9. The King of Comedy
10. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore


Also, must say that I have to agree 100% with After Hours and New York Stories. I had After Hours as a teenager and couldn't stop watching it, must have watched it twenty times and loved it the twentieth as much as the first. And the perception of Nolte's ambition coming to life as he discovers a new muse in NY Stories is priceless!

And Age Of Innocence? Uh, yeah, I guess I forgot all about that one, like everyone else on the planet. (except the Playlist, of course!)


Better version of "Key To Reserva" http: //www. scorsesefilmfreixenet. com/video_eng.htm (correct the url yourself, cut/paste to address bar)


IMO Bringing Out The Dead is hugely underrated while Hugo is overrated. Yes, it's technically brilliant but a bit dull and some performances are uninspired.

Adam Cortright

Scorsese also directed "Bad" in 1987 (both the short film and the accompanying music video) for Michael Jackson, and the half hour (with commercials) episode "Mirror, Mirror" for the Steven Spielberg-produced television series "Amazing Stories." Not to mention the three short films he made at NYU, and whatever involvement he had in the 1970 "Street Scenes" documentary on the student riots at NYU.


I've said this before, but I'll keep saying it – the way you break out articles into so many pages really discourages me (and I imagine others) from visiting this site. Please CUT THE CRAP!


I've always felt Bringing out the dead was far too underrated (it's a great book too), and Shutter Island and the Departed have been way overrated in general.


Excellent list and a labour of love, a good read too. You may have been too kinda to some of the later stuff, or I'm just a curmudgeon.


Gangs I think suffered more from Weinsteins interference than Scorseses direction. This was during a dry spell where he unfortunately took the bait offered to him. It's not a bad movie but it's certainly not up to his general standards.


casino a B-? that's an A+.

bringing out the dead and departed also deserve an A


my 10 favorite Martin Scorsese movies are
3-The Departed
4-Taxi Driver
5-Raging Bull
6-Cape Fear
7-The Aviator
8-Gangs Of New York
10-The Last Temptation Of Christ

film expert

Scorsese films in my time..

Bringing Out The Dead
Gangs Of New York —saw it in the cinema
The Departed —saw it on pirate dvd
The Aviator
Shutter Island
Wolf of Wall Street —will watch it online


As great as Scorsese is this list is way too kind to Hugo, Gangs of New York & Bringing Out The Dead.

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