“The clouds lifted” for cinema’s future recently. At least that was how Martin Scorsese felt after he saw “TÁR,” on which he lavished praise at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner in early January 2023.
That kind of praise means a lot. Scorsese is not just one of the greatest filmmakers of all time: he’s one of its greatest cinephiles. In recent years, he’s become known for the movies — or, as he might say of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “theme parks” — he doesn’t enjoy. But the Oscar-winning director’s favorite films are as wide-ranging in genre, year of release, and national origin as you might imagine, from Ti West’s “Pearl” to the horror flicks of Val Lewton and the works of Senegalese master Djibril Diop Mambety.
Of course, Scorsese has also been an unflagging champion of film preservation and discovery, helping to restore many films through his Film Foundation and World Cinema Project. He’s also talked at length about his personal favorites in his documentaries “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” (which it must be noted, has supplied a great deal of the films below), “My Voyage to Italy,” and “Letter to Elia.” You can screen many of these titles for free on the Film Foundation’s website.
Scorsese’s knowledge of film history suffuses his filmmaking as well. Many have noted how Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito shooting into the camera at the end of “Goodfellas” is a nod to the final shot of “The Great Train Robbery.” Meanwhile the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring “Shutter Island” throws back to film noir, and even something like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” with its heady mixture of depravity and moralism, seems inflected by his love of Cecil B. DeMille. There’s even “Hugo”: a historical fiction adaptation anchored in the transcendent, turn-of-the-century silent short “A Trip to the Moon” from Georges Méliès.
What’s up next from Scorsese? Based on David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book of the same name, “Killers of the Flower Moon” explores a string of murders in 1920s Oklahoma, involving the Osage Nation and an oil tycoon played by DiCaprio. Having first worked together on “Gangs of New York,” Scorsese is reuniting with the actor for the first time since their 2015 short “The Audition.” “Killers of the Flower Moon” is expected in 2023.
Below is an incomplete collection of 58 of Scorsese’s favorite movies, listed in no particular order. It was compiled from years of interviews with the director, as well as clear cinematic references from Scorsese’s filmography and most recently his ballot for the 2022 Sight & Sound poll.
With editorial contributions from Zack Sharf.
[Editor’s note: The following was originally published in July 2020 and has been updated multiple times since.]
Scorsese included “Ikiru” on his ballot for Sight & Sound’s Best Films of All Time list for 2022. Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama tells the story of a man looking for meaning at the end of his life, played by prolific Japanese actor Takashi Shimura. Bill Nighy earned a Best Actor nomination at the 2023 Oscars for “Living”: Oliver Hermanus’ contemporary British adaptation of the Kurosawa’s artfully shot, melancholy film.
When Scorsese introduced the Best Picture prize for “TÁR” at the New York Film Critics Circle dinner, he didn’t hold back.
“For so long now, so many of us see films that pretty much let us know where they’re going. I mean, they take us by the hand, and even if it’s disturbing at times, sort of comfort us along the way that it will be all OK by the end,” Scorsese said. “Now this is insidious, as one can get lulled into this, and ultimately get used to it. Leading those of us who’ve experienced cinema in the past — as much more than that— to become despairing of the future of the art form, especially for younger generations.”
He continued, “But that’s on dark days. The clouds lifted when I experienced Todd’s film, ‘TÁR.’ What you’ve done, Todd, is that the very fabric of the movie you created doesn’t allow this. All the aspects of cinema and the film that you’ve used, attest to this. The shift in locations, for example, the shift in locations alone do what cinema does best, which is to reduce space and time to what they are, which is nothing.
“You make it so that we exist in her head. We experience only through her perception. The world is her. Time, chronology and space, become the music that she lives by. And we don’t know where the film’s going. We just follow the character on her strange, upsetting road to her even stranger final destination. Now, what you’ve done, Todd, it’s a real high-wire act, as all of this is conveyed through a masterful mise-en-scène, as controlled, precise, dangerous, precipitous angles, and edges geometrically kind of chiseled into a wonderful 2:3:5 aspect ratio of frame compositions.”
Finally, Scorsese said, “The limits of the frame itself, and the provocation of measured long takes all reflecting the brutal architecture of her soul — ‘TÁR’’s soul.”
“Death Collector” (1976)
Scorsese sat down with Quentin Tarantino for a conversation in late 2019, faciliated by the Directors Guild of America. The filmmakers meandered through various topics, at one point discussing Joe Pesci’s casting in “Raging Bull”: Scorsese’s triumphant seventh film and the three-time Oscar nominated actor’s breakout role. He’d earn his first Best Supporting Actor nod for “Raging Bull” in 1981, and would win a decade later for Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.”
“I remember that movie that Ralph De Vito did, ‘Death Collector,’ which was Joe Pesci’s [first film],” Tarantino said.
“That’s how we got Joe for ‘Raging Bull,'” Scorsese explained of the indie crime flick from 1976. “‘Death Collector,’ [Robert De Niro) saw it on CBS. He said, ‘I saw this thing on TV, and this guy is really interesting,’ so we got a print of it.”
“It’s a good film,” Tarantino said. “When I actually saw it, it was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is like an exploitation version of ‘Mean Streets.””
“Land of the Pharaohs”
Scorsese loved sword-and-sandals epics as a child. In fact he even imagined directing his own such sprawling ancient drama by storyboarding the credits for a hypothetical movie called “The Eternal City,” set in ancient Rome of course, and starring Jean Simmons among others.
“I had a fascination with the ancient world,” Scorsese said in 1993 special called “Martin Scorsese’s Favorite Films.” “But the one that really appealed to me and that I went out of the way to see over and over again, to this day is sort of my favorite film, knowing it’s not a great picture, maybe not even a very good picture, but it’s “Land of the Pharaohs.” Howard Hawks directed and produced it. But it’s the old story of Hawks saying he had a real problem with the picture because how the hell does a pharaoh talk. And it’s a movie about death, it’s a movie about preparing for death. It’s a fascinating film. It’s kind of overdone, but I kind of enjoy it.”
“Journey to Italy”
“Where ‘La Dolce Vita’ is panoramic, ‘Voyage to Italy’ is intimate,” Scorsese said in “My Voyage to Italy” of Roberto Rossellini’s moving drama of a marriage on the brink. “Where Fellini’s film is dramatic and immediate in its impact, Rossellini’s is a meditative and a little mysterious. It’s a film that moved me tremendously when I first saw it. But I often ask myself why I find it so moving, because ‘Voyage to Italy’ works very differently from other movies.”
“A Trip to the Moon” (1902)
There’s no question Scorsese appreciates Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon” deeply. He featured both the turn of the century filmmaker, as played by Ben Kingsley, and the paradigmatic silent short film in his 2011 adventure “Hugo”: an adaptation of Brian Selznik’s historical fiction “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”
Depending on how fast you run the film, “A Trip to the Moon” clocks in between nine and 18 minutes. Chronicling five astronomers dream-like journey to outer-space, the 1902 work is best remembered for its legendary shot of a spaceship landing in the sort of humanoid Moon’s eye. —AF
Scorsese loved Ti West’s prequel to “X” so much he shared his own review with /Film: “Ti West’s movies have a kind of energy that is so rare these days, powered by a pure, undiluted love for cinema. You feel it in every frame. A prequel to ‘X’ made in a diametrically opposite cinematic register (think 50s Scope color melodramas), ‘Pearl’ makes for a wild, mesmerizing, deeply — and I mean deeply — disturbing 102 minutes. West and his muse and creative partner Mia Goth really know how to toy with their audience … before they plunge the knife into our chests and start twisting. I was enthralled, then disturbed, then so unsettled that I had trouble getting to sleep. But I couldn’t stop watching.” —CB
“Leave Her to Heaven” (1945)
The director said that John M. Stahl’s glorious Technicolor noir is “suspended between two very long, clear breaths,” as his first viewing came watching it on TV in Hollywood around 1973 when he was dealing with a particularly severe spell of asthma. In an intro for the movie at the 45th New York Film Festival, he recalled that first viewing, “a hallucination dominated by Gene Tierney… her face was a mask of perfect composure hiding these dark and very deep emotions.” The film, one of the best examples of color noir, stars Tierney as a new bride gripped with serious mental illness: She decides to murder her husband’s younger brother so that her new spouse will spend more time with her. Scorsese cites Leon Shamroy’s cinematography as influencing the color palette of “New York, New York.” Her costumes in the movie also inspired the gowns worn by Kate Beckinsale’s Ava Gardner in “The Aviator.” —CB
“Murder by Contract” (1958)
In the article titled “Scorsese’s Guilty Pleasures” from the September-October 1978 issue of “Film Comment,” the director listed several of his favorite films including Irving Lerner’s ascetic hitman drama. Vince Edwards is a loner who spends his days in an existential confinement in his apartment before venturing out to carry out hits. It’s an exploration of male angst and loneliness that feels like an absolute prelude to “Taxi Driver,” which Scorsese acknowledged paid homage to “Murder by Contract” with the scene where Travis Bickle works out to keep in shape — Edwards finds toning his body to be one of his few distractions. Scorsese said outright that this was “the film that has influenced me the most.” —CB
“The Ten Commandments” (1956)
In that same issue of Film Comment, Scorsese opined on his love for the Charlton Heston-starring Biblical epic. “I like De Mille: his theatricality, his images,” he wrote. “I’ve seen ‘The Ten Commandments’ maybe 40 or 50 times. Forget the story — you’ve got to — and concentrate on the special effects, and the texture, and the color. For example: The figure of God, killing the first-born child, is a green smoke; then on the terrace, while they’re talking, a green dry ice just touches the heel of George Reeves or somebody, and he dies. Then there’s the reel Red Sea, and the lamb’s blood of the Passover. De Mille presented a fantasy, dream-like quality on film that was so real, if you saw his movies as a child, they stuck with you for life.” —CB
“Duel in the Sun” (1946)
The King Vidor Technicolor Western is sometimes misidentified as the first movie Scorsese saw in a movie theater. But as he related in a 1993 TV special called “Martin Scorsese’s Favorite Films,” it was actually just one of the movies that made the strongest impression on him, and he had already been a fan of Westerns. He thinks his mother took him to see “Duel in the Sun” because it had been condemned by the Church for its overt sexuality. Calling it an “incredible film which terrified me,” particularly for the film’s (unusual by 1940s standards) sensuality. He said that when he met the film’s star and villain Gregory Peck, he told him that he was responsible for his love life because of watching that movie. —CB
“I Walked with a Zombie” (1943)
“Jacques Tourneur was a modest craftsman,” Scorsese said in “A Personal Journey” of this hypnotic, unforgettable mood piece about a nurse in the West Indies willing to do anything, even seek out sorcery, to save her patient. “He compared his work to that of a carpenter who simply carves a chair or table that he’s been hired to build. But years later at the end of his career Tourneur confessed he had always been passionately interested in the supernatural. A bit of a psychic himself, he made films about the supernatural because he believed in it and had even experienced it firsthand. Tourneur relied on the imagination of the audience… his twilight zone was a labyrinth. His were perilous journeys into the unknown and sometimes the occult. Reality remained opaque and rarely were people what they appeared to be. They stood at the frontier of a hidden world, a shimmering canvas of distant murmurs and deep shadows.” —CB
“East of Eden” (1955)
“I literally remember following that film around, and the emotion of it, and I guess identifying, like everybody at that age at the time, I was 12, 13 years old, with James Dean in that film,” Scorsese said. “It all seemed like a catharsis. An imaginary catharsis I went through over and over again, experiencing it through Dean. I always say I never took acting classes or went through an acting techniques at school except for the School of Kazan which was ‘On the Waterfront’ and James Dean in ‘East of Eden.’” —CB
“The Fall of the Roman Empire” (1964)
“Today, a film like ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ has the poignant beauty of a lost art,” Scorsese said in “A Personal Journey.” “For this was the autumn of the great American epics. They simply became too expensive to make. Like Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann had been a master of the Western. ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ offered a multi-layered drama which was as intense as any of the director’s Westerns. His sense of space and dramatic composition has never been more evident. Throughout the film you can hear the gods laugh in the background. A cruel laugh that spelled the doom of all the protagonists and of the Roman Empire.” —CB
A pioneer for women behind the camera in Hollywood, Ida Lupino was singled out for praise by Scorsese in “A Personal Journey.” He particularly focused on her film “Outrage,” which is about a young woman who’s raped — the scene where she’s first cat-called on an empty street could have been shot by Fritz Lang or appeared in a Val Lewton horror movie, but it’s given an empathy and subjectivity that’s all Lupino. “Ida Lupino often used film noir visuals but for her own very specific purposes. In Lupino’s films it’s young women who went through hell when their middle class security is shattered by a traumatic experience: bigamy, parental abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape. Lupino would force the audience to face from the inside the ordeal of their heroines. In ‘Outrage’ she presents the ultimate female nightmare, not as a melodrama, but as a subdued behavioral study that captures the banality of evil in an ordinary small town.” —CB
“Some Came Running” (1958)
“Few were as skilled as Vincente Minnelli in using CinemaScope for dramatic effect,” the director said in “A Personal Journey Through American Movies with Martin Scorsese.” Starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine, “Some Came Running” is a potboiler that builds to a tragic finale at a carnival during the night, its light pops of color in the dark. “The actors seem to blend into their surroundings. The suspense actually derives from their integration into the environment. You don’t know if and when the killer and his unsuspecting prey will come together in the same space. CinemaScope allows Minnelli to deploy a more complex and therefore more threatening image. The more open the frame, the greater the impression of depth and the more striking the illusion of reality. Represented with a vibrant, chaotic canvas, it’s up to us to explore and interpret it.” —CB
Martin Scorsese became such a fan of Ari Aster over his first two films, “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” that he wrote the introduction to A24’s screenplay book for the latter release. “Like all memorable horror films, it tunnels deep into something unnameable and unspeakable, and the violence is as emotional as it is physical,” Scorsese wrote of “Hereditary.”
On “Midsommar,” Scorsese added, “I can tell you that the formal control is just as impressive as that of ‘Hereditary,’ maybe more so, and that it digs into emotions that are just as real and deeply uncomfortable as the ones shared between the characters in the earlier picture. I can also tell you that there are true visions in this picture, particularly in the final stretch, that you are not likely to forget. I certainly haven’t.”—ZS
Scorsese cited Souleymane Cissé’s 1987 drama “Yeelen” as one of his favorite pieces of African cinema during his Film Foundation’s collaboration with the African Film Heritage Project in winter 2019. “I can’t tell you how really deeply inspired and excited I am by African films; ‘Yeelen,’ ‘Touki Bouki,’ ‘Trances,’ ‘La Noire De…,’ ‘Al Momia,’ ‘Bamako,’” said Scorsese at the time. “I keep going back to these pictures and each time the experience is richer. My appreciation just keeps growing for the talent, the power, and the wisdom of African cinema.”
Scorsese’s Film Foundation worked in tandem with the African Film Heritage Project to restore four African film classics and screen them for the first time on their home continent. The project included Med Hondo’s “Soleil Ô” (1970), Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamima’s “Chronique des années de braise” (1975), Timité Bassori’s “La Femme au couteau” (1969), and Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa’s “Muna Moto” (1975).—ZS
Martin Scorsese and British writer-director Joanna Hogg have become collaborators in recent years as Scorsese executive produced her acclaimed “The Souvenir” and her upcoming Tilda Swinton-starring horror movie “The Eternal Daughter.” But Scorsese’s relationship with Hogg started as that of a fan, as the director became a passionate supporter of the director’s 2010 drama “Archipelago,” starring Tom Hiddleston, Kate Fahy, Lydia Leonard, Amy Lloyd, and Christopher Baker.
“She’s amazing, Hogg. I just didn’t know her,” Scorsese told Film at Lincoln Center about his first experience with “Archipelago.” “I didn’t realize who made the picture. I had no idea if it was a man, woman, whatever. And it’s so great you can see films that way and not know who did it, and then find out. So you can look at it as art in and of itself, for itself.”—ZS
“Shooting Stars” (1927)
Scorsese helped curate a quarantine film club for fellow directors Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino during the pandemic by offering a list made up of dozens of his favorite overlooked British films, including two “remarkable” Anthony Asquith movies, “Underground” and “Shooting Stars.” Scorsese wrote of the latter, “A truly remarkable use of editing.” Click here to see Scorsese’s full list of must-see overlooked British movies.—ZS
“Pieces of a Woman” (2020)
“I was so taken by this voyage, so to speak,” Scorsese said while moderating a discussion for Kornel Mundruczo’s “Pieces of a Woman,” a drama the director loved so much he signed on to executive produce it after its Venice Film Festival premiere last year. “I have three daughters. Two from another marriage and my youngest daughter just turned 21. So, over the years, the relationship of mothers and daughters has become very, very important to me and fascinating, fascinating-a mystery. Something that I deal with constantly. It seems like the first 45 minutes of the scene is the birthing scene. I felt as if we went through it. That I actually experienced it. The nature of the camera work, the writing is such that I just felt immersed in the movie. It wasn’t a movie anymore. I was immersed with these people.”—ZS
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction epic “2001: A Space Odyssey” can be found on many filmmaker lists of the best movies ever made, and Scorsese is no exception. The director placed “2001” on his list of favorite movies for the 2012 Sight & Sound poll. “It takes extraordinary audacity and power and guts to say, ‘Let’s just screech everything to a halt and take everybody back to prehistoric times,’” Scorsese has said of the film’s opening. “Kubrick was saying, ‘I want you to see something. I’m going to take you through something you never thought you’d experience.’”—ZS
“‘8½’ has always been a touchstone for me,” Scorsese told Criterion about Federico Fellini’s autobiographical odyssey, praising “the freedom, the sense of invention, the underlying rigor and the deep core of longing, the bewitching, physical pull of the camera movements and the compositions.” As a filmmaker himself, Scorsese stands in awe of how Fellini was able to cinematically telegraph the struggle of the artist.
“It offers an uncanny portrait of being the artist of the moment, trying to tune out all the pressure and the criticism and the adulation and the requests and the advice, and find the space and the calm to simply listen to oneself,” Scorsese said. “The picture has inspired many movies over the years and we’ve seen the dilemma of Guido, the hero played by Marcello Mastroianni, repeated many times over in reality. Like with ‘The Red Shoes,’ I look at it again every year or so, and it’s always a different experience.”—ZS
“Ashes and Diamonds” (1958)
Scorsese compares Andrzej Wajda’s “Ashes and Diamonds” to “a nightmare that won’t stop unfolding.” The film is set shortly after World War II and follows a Polish soldier working for the anti-Communist rebellion who is thrown into existential crisis after being ordered to kill an executive member of the Polish Workers’ Party. “The film has the power of a hallucination,” Scorsese told Criterion. “I can close my eyes and certain images will flash back to me with the force they had when I saw them for the first time over fifty years ago.” The director went on praise Wajda as “a model to all filmmakers.”—ZS
“The Changeling” (1980)
“Another haunted house movie filled with sadness and dread,” Scorsese once wrote about “The Changeling.” The Peter Medak-directed supernatural horror movie starring George C. Scott as a famous composer who moves from New York City to Seattle and becomes convinced his new home is haunted. Scott’s character is recovering from the death of his wife and child, which allows “The Changeling” to use horror to examine psychological grief. It’s a theme Scorsese would explore in his own horror genre effort “Shutter Island.”—ZS
“The Chess Players” (1977)
The films of Indian director Satyajit Ray have long inspired Scorsese, with the “Goodfellas” director often crediting Ray’s 1955 debut “Pather Panchali” with first opening his eyes to Indian culture. Scorsese’s Film Foundation played a role in restoring Ray’s 1977 feature “The Chess Players,” with the director raving, “Very few directors have been brave enough to even attempt to show history in the making. This film deals with a moment of incredible change in Indian history and is told from a comical view that is a hallmark of Ray’s work. Watching it again, I realize this is what it must really feel like to live through a moment of historic change. It feels this big and tragic at the same time.”—ZS
“Citizen Kane” (1941)
Scorsese included Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” on his 2012 Sight & Sound poll listing his favorite movies. “This was a force of nature that came in,” Scorsese says of the landmark drama, “a creation that wiped the slate clean from the type of films that preceded him. There was never any gray with him. He told ‘Kane’ cinematographer Gregg Toland, ‘Let’s do everything they told us never to do.’ The low angles and deep focal-length lenses, the structure of the story, the flashbacks, the overlapping images–no one had ever seen anything like it.” —ZS
Scorsese hails Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” as “one of the most moving films of its era.” The 1963 drama centers around a love triangle that forms among a French playwright (Michel Piccoli), his wife (Brigitte Bardot), and an American producer (Jack Palance). “Over the years it has grown increasingly, almost unbearably, moving to me,” Scorsese told Criterion. “It’s a shattering portrait of a marriage going wrong, and it cuts very deep, especially during the lengthy and justifiably famous scene between Piccoli and Bardot in their apartment: even if you don’t know that Godard’s own marriage to Anna Karina was coming apart at the time, you can feel it in the action, the movement of the scenes, the interactions that stretch out so painfully but majestically, like a piece of tragic music.”
Scorsese added, “‘Contempt’ is also a lament for a kind of cinema that was disappearing at the time…and it is a profound cinematic encounter with eternity, in which both the lost marriage and the cinema seem to dissolve. It’s one of the most frightening great films ever made.”—ZS
“Dead of Night” (1945)
Named one of Scorsese’s favorite horror films, “Dead of Night” is an anthology movie consisting of four short films directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, and Basil Dearden. “A British classic: four tales told by four strangers mysteriously gathered in a country house, each one extremely disquieting, climaxing with a montage in which elements from all the stories converge into a crescendo of madness,” Scorsese told The Daily Beast. “Like ‘The Uninvited,’ it’s very playful…and then it gets under your skin.”—ZS
“The Entity” (1982)
“Barbara Hershey plays a woman who is brutally raped and ravished by an invisible force in this truly terrifying picture,” Scorsese told The Daily Beast about Sidney J. Furie’s “The Entity.” The director credited the film’s “banal settings” and “California-modern house” with “accentuating the unnerving quality” that makes up its tone. Author Frank De Felitta adapted the movie from his own 1978 novel of the same name.—ZS
“The Exorcist” (1973)
“A classic, endlessly parodied, very familiar — and it’s as utterly horrifying as it was the day it came out,” Scorsese writes of William Friedkin’s horror classic. “That room — the cold, the purple light, the demonic transformations: it really haunts you.” Scorsese named “The Exorcist” one of the scariest movies ever made and a personal favorite in a list published by The Daily Beast. —ZS
“The Haunting” (1963)
Scorsese named Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” one of his favorite horror movies ever made, calling the 1963 supernatural film “absolutely terrifying.” The movie stars Richard Johnson as a paranormal investigator who invites a small group of people to a 90-year-old mansion in Massachusetts in order to study alleged supernatural behavior. The supporting cast includes Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn.—ZS
“The Innocents” (1961)
Jack Clayton’s 1961 psychological horror film “The Innocents” is often regarded as one of the most terrifying movies ever made, and Martin Scorsese agrees. The filmmaker has called “The Innocents” one of his favorite horror films, writing, “This Jack Clayton adaptation of ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is one of the rare pictures that does justice to Henry James. It’s beautifully crafted and acted, immaculately shot (by Freddie Francis), and very scary.” The movie is also a favorite of fellow directors such as Guillermo del Toro.—ZS
“Isle of the Dead” (1945)
“There’s a moment in this Val Lewton picture, about plague victims trapped on an island during the Greek civil war, that never fails to scare me,” Scorsese told The Daily Beast of the Mark Robson-directed “Isle of the Dead.” It’s not hard to make a connection between the isolated setting of “Isle of the Dead” and its themes of psychological paranoia with Scorsese’s own horror genre efforts “Cape Fear” and “Shutter Island.” —ZS
“Johnny Guitar” (1954)
Nicholas Ray’s 1954 Western “Johnny Guitar” stars the legendary Joan Crawford as a saloon owner who becomes a murder suspect after helping a wounded gang member in a cattle town in a remote town in Arizona. “I remember when I first saw it, I enjoyed it. In the U.S. people were expecting a Western, but it may seem like a Western and may look like a Western [but it’s not], so people either ignored it or laughed at it,” Scorsese has said of the film. “It’s a tense, unconventional, stylish picture, full of ambiguities that render it extremely modern.”—ZS
One of Scorsese’s most recent favorite films is Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” based on the true story of a black Colorado police detective who infiltrated a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The movie won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and earned Lee his first competitive Academy Award (he took home Best Adapted Screenplay).
“The picture takes you to a safe place — we’re watching a movie, it’s up on a screen — and suddenly we’re catapulted into now,” Scorsese told Deadline of the film. “Right next to you. Because it’s not only real, what you’re seeing up there on the screen — it’s happening. It is happening. And it’s sanctioned by government…It transcends the medium, what he did there in the last 10 minutes. It’s cinema and it’s beautiful.”—ZS
Jean Vigo’s French drama “L’Atalante” has been called “a peak in the art of cinema” by Scorsese. “Vigo was a visionary filmmaker who was able to make four films before he died. Like all great works, this film stands alone,” Scorsese said when introducing a restoration of “L’Atalante” in 2017. “You see in every image and every frame transcendent love and passion for filmmaking itself. It’s echoed in the passion between the husband and the wife. Vigo continued working right up to the end of his life, even when he was so weak and sick that he had to direct from a stretcher.”—ZS
“It’s difficult to think of a film that has a more powerful understanding of the way that people are bound to the world around them, by what they see and touch and taste and hear,” Scorsese told Criterion about Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Avventura,” which won the Jury Prize at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. “I realize the movie is supposed to be about characters who are ‘alienated’ from their surroundings, but that word has been used so often to describe this film and Antonioni’s films in general that it more or less shuts down thought. In fact, I see it, more than ever, as a movie about people in spiritual distress: their spiritual signals are disrupted, which is why they see the world around them as hostile and unforgiving. Visually, sensually, thematically, dramatically, in every way, it’s one of the great works of cinema.”—ZS
“The Leopard” (1963)
Luchino Visconti’s Palme d’Or winner “The Leopard” is “a masterpiece about Sicily, a meditation on eternity, and an endlessly rich historical tapestry, meticulously composed in color and on 70mm.” Scorsese added, “It’s a film that has become more and more important to me as the years have gone by.”
“Time itself is the protagonist of ‘The Leopard’: the cosmic scale of time, of centuries and epochs, on which the prince muses; Sicilian time, in which days and nights stretch to infinity; and aristocratic time, in which nothing is ever rushed and everything happens just as it should happen, as it has always happened,” the director said. “The landscapes, the extraordinary settings with their painstakingly selected objects and designs, the costumes, the ceremonies and rituals — it’s all at the service of deepening our sense of time and large-scale change, and the entire picture culminates in an hour-long sequence at a ball in which you can feel, through the eyes of the prince, an entire way of life.”—ZS
“The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (1943)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Technicolor stunner “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” has been a Scorsese favorite since the director first saw it as a teenager. Since then, the romance war drama has been appointment viewing for Scorsese every year. The sprawling narrative follows a British soldier as he rises through the ranks during various wars, culminating with World War II. “Every time I revisit it, which is once or twice a year, it grows,” Scorsese told The Film Foundation about the movie. “It becomes much more moving and profound. There have been great films that I have watched countless times over the years but this one I feel more comfortable with, what it says about growing and how to let go.”—ZS
Frank Borzage’s film noir “Moonrise” was handpicked by Scorsese to screen as part of his MoMA retrospective on Republic Films. The film noir stars Dane Clark, Gail Russell, and Ethel Barrymore. Scorsese is a big fan of Republic Films, the studio that operated from 1935 to 1967 and made stars out of John Wayne and Roy Rogers. “From the ’30s through the ’50s, the different studio logos at the head of every picture carried their own associations and expectations,” Scorsese said introducing the MoMA series. “And for me, the name Republic over the eagle on the mountain peak meant something special. Republic Pictures was what was known as a ‘poverty row’ studio, but what their pictures lacked in resources and prestige they made up for in inventiveness, surprise, and, in certain cases, true innovation.”—ZS
“Night of the Demon” (1957)
Jacques Tourneur’s “Night of the Demon” has been named by Scorsese as one of the best horror movies ever made. The film stars Dana Andrews as an American psychologist who arrives in England to investigate a murderous satanic cult. “Jacques Tourneur made this picture about ancient curses near the end of his career, but it’s as potent as his films for Val Lewton,” Scorsese told The Daily Beast. “Forget the demon itself — again, it’s what you don’t see that’s so powerful.”—ZS
“One Eyed Jacks” (1961)
Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation restored Marlon Brando’s 1961 Western “One-Eyed Jacks,” which the director then brought to the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and the 2016 New York Film Festival. Stanley Kubrick was originally going to direct the movie before studio disputes put Brando in the director’s chair. “One-Eyed Jacks” is the only movie Brando directed. “This is visually stunning, what he did,” Scorsese said of Brando while introducing the movie at NYFF. “It’s kind of a cross between the old style of production and the new styles that were going to come in in the sixties. The essence of it is of the old Hollywood in a way.”—ZS
Scorsese told the Criterion Collection that he considers Roberto Rossellini’s 1946 drama “Paisan” the beginning of Italian cinema as a dominant force in international filmmaking. “I saw it for the first time on television with my grandparents, and their overwhelming reaction to what had happened to their homeland since they left at the turn of the century was just as present and vivid for me as the images and the characters,” Scorsese said. “I was experiencing the power of cinema itself, in this case made far beyond Hollywood, under extremely tough conditions and with inferior equipment. And I was also seeing that cinema wasn’t just about the movie itself but the relationship between the movie and its audience.”
Rossellini’s neorealist war drama tells six stories set across the Italian Campaign of World War II, each one dealing with tragedy that arises from communication failures. “Fellini said that when Rossellini was filming the Po Valley sequence, he acted on pure instinct, inventing freely as he went along,” Scorsese said. “The result — in that episode, and in the Sicilian and Neapolitan and Florentine episodes as well — is still startling: it’s like seeing reality itself unfolding before your eyes.”—ZS
“Again, it’s so familiar that you think: great movie, but it’s not so scary anymore. Then you watch it…and quickly start thinking again,” Scorsese says about “Psycho,” the iconic Alfred Hitchcock horror movie that introduced Norman Bates into the lexicon of terrifying screen villains. “The shower…the swamp…the relationship between mother and son — it’s extremely disturbing on so many levels. It’s also a great work of art.”—ZS
“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955)
Scorsese presented a restoration of Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause” at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. “When I saw this film, I was 13 years old and the film opened a month after James Dean got killed in a car crash,” Scorsese told the audience. “It was a perfect age to see the film. Any age is the perfect age to see the movie, but in 1956 it was speaking directly to us, the adolescents. It was like a secret language existed in the film. It’s something that has stayed with me for years.” —ZS
“The Red Shoes” (1948)
Any time Scorsese issues a list of his favorite movies, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s ballet drama “The Red Shows” is almost certainly included. “I’ve said and written so much about this picture over the years; for me it’s always been one of the very greatest ever made, and every time I go back to look at it — about once a year — it’s new,” the director has said. “It reveals another side, another level, and it goes deeper…It’s beautiful, one of the most beautiful Technicolor films ever made; it has such an extraordinary sense of magic.”
Scorsese added, “There’s no other picture that dramatizes and visualizes the overwhelming obsession of art, the way it can take over your life. But on a deeper level, in the movement and energy of the filmmaking itself, is a deep and abiding love of art, a belief in art as a genuinely transcendent state.”—ZS
“The River” (1951)
Jean Renoir’s India-set coming-of-age movie “The River” follows a teenager through young love and heartbreak and has been called by Scorsese as one of the “great meditations on existence.” Speaking to Criterion, the director added, “This was Jean Renoir’s first picture after his American period, his first in color, and he used Rumer Godden’s autobiographical novel to create a film that is, really, about life, a film without a real story that is all about the rhythm of existence, the cycles of birth and death and regeneration, and the transitory beauty of the world.”—ZS
“Salvatore Giuliano” (1962)
Francesco Rosi’s 1962 Italian drama “Salvatore Giuliano” explores the assassination of the eponymous Sicilian bandit through a neorealist documentary style, which Scorsese says allows the film to become “a profound and lasting love and understanding of Sicily and its people and the treachery and corruption they’ve had to endure.” The director added, “It’s never dry, it has blood flowing through its veins, and it’s shot in black and white that is absolutely electrifying. ‘Salvatore Giuliano’ is, among many other things, a grand hymn to Sicily, the land of my family, and for that reason alone I cherish it.”—ZS
“The Searchers” (1956)
Scorsese has singled out John Ford’s landmark Western as having one of the most iconic movie endings in history, raving, “Only an artist as great as John Ford would dare to end a film on such a note. In its final moment, ‘The Searchers’ suddenly becomes a ghost story. Ethan’s sense of purpose has been fulfilled, and like the man whose eyes he’s shot out, he’s destined to wander forever between the winds.”—ZS
“The Shining” (1980)
“2001: A Space Odyssey” is not the only Stanley Kubrick movie Martin Scorsese adores. The director named Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation “The Shining” one of the greatest horror movies ever made. “I never read the Stephen King novel, I have no idea how faithful it is or isn’t, but Kubrick made a majestically terrifying movie,” Scorsese said of the movie, “where what you don’t see or comprehend shadows every move the characters make.”—ZS
“Touki Bouki” (1973)
Senegalese film director Djibril Diop Mambéty has been championed by Scorsese as one of the greatest voices in African cinema history. Scorsese’s World Film Foundation restored Mambéty’s 1973 drama “Touki Bouki” and presented it at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, 45 years after it made its world premiere on the Croisette. In a video introduction, Scorsese remarked, xThe drama follows a cowherd and his university student friend as they set out to raise enough money to be able to move to Paris and leave their home behind.—ZS
Scorsese has called Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi “one of the greatest masters who ever worked in the medium of film,” citing films such as “The Life of Oharu,” “Ugetsu,” and “Sansho the Bailif” as major influences on his own work. “‘Ugetsu’ has the most powerful effect on me,” Scorsese told Criterion. “There are moments in the picture, famous ones, that I’ve seen again and again and that always take my breath away: the boat slowly materializing from out of the mist and coming toward us, Genjuro collapsing on the grass in ecstasy and being smothered by Lady Wakasa, the final crane up from the son making an offering at his mother’s grave to the fields beyond. Just to think of these moments now fills me with awe and wonder.”—ZS
“The Uninvited” (1944)
Lewis Allen’s 1944 supernatural horror movie “The Uninvited” stars Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey as a brother and sister who become plagued by the paranormal after moving into a new home in Cornwall, England. “Another, more benign haunted house picture, set in England, no less atmospheric than ‘The Haunting’ — the tone is very delicate, and the sense of fear is woven into the setting, the gentility of the characters,” Scorsese wrote when naming the film a horror masterclass.—ZS
Scorsese is such an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological romance “Vertigo” that he penned an entire essay about the movie for The Guardian. “It’s difficult to put into words exactly what ‘Vertigo’ means to me as both a film lover and as a film-maker. As is the case with all great films, truly great films, no matter how much has been said and written about them, the dialogue about it will always continue. Because any film as great as Vertigo demands more than just a sense of admiration — it demands a personal response.” —ZS
“Woman Is the Future of Man” (2003)
Scorsese has long championed South Korean film directors, sharing with The Film Foundation that Hong Sang-soo was a particular favorite. Hong’s 2003 love-triangle drama “Woman Is the Future of Man” was singled out by Scorsese for its “masterful sense of storytelling.” The director continued, “In each of Hong’s films that I’ve gotten to see, everything starts unassumingly. In this movie you begin with two friends talking over a beer. You’re plunged into scenes with people with a history and you infer the tension and the ups and downs of their relationship as the film goes along. Hong Sang-soo’s pictures unpeel like an orange.”—ZS
“Diary of a Country Priest” (1951)
In a 2017 interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, a spiritual periodical from the Jesuits in Rome, Scorsese reflected on the ecclesiastic influences in his work while promoting “Silence.” He referenced a number of movies that shaped his filmography and personal philosophy, including “Diary of a Country Priest”: writer/director Robert Bresson’s 1951 French drama, which Scorsese said helped him see the softer side of God.
“I saw the film for the first time in the mid-60s,” he recalled. “I was in my early 20s, and I was growing up, moving beyond the idea of Catholicism that I’d held as a child… It gave me hope. Every character in that picture, with the possible exception of the older priest, is suffering. Every character is feeling punished and most of them are inflicting punishment on each other. And at one point, the priest has an exchange with one of his parishioners, and he says to her: ‘God is not a torturer. He just wants us to be merciful with ourselves.’ And that opened something up for me. That was the key.” —AF
“Ride the High Country” (1962)
Scorsese also praised Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country” during his 2017 conversation with La Civiltà Cattolica. The filmmaker brought up the 1962 western while discussing self-acceptance and the role relationships play in shaping our understanding of impermanence.
“There’s a scene where Edgar Buchanan, a drunken minister, is marrying Mariette Hartley’s character to this man, and he says, ‘You’ve got to understand something about marriage – people change,'” he recalled. “The same thing goes for every relationship. It goes for collaborations. Over time, people you know very well and that you’ve worked with for a very long time might have other needs, other things that become important to them, and you have to recognize that and make due. You accept who they are, you accept how they’ve changed, you try to nurture what’s best. And sometimes, you have to recognize that they have to go find their own way. There was a time when I considered that a betrayal. But then I realized that it wasn’t. It was just change. —AF
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