Martin Scorsese’s Silence hit cinemas recently so for this week’s top 5 I’m joined by huge Scorsese fan and regular contributor Alex Hayler to pick our Top 5 films that this legendary filmmaker has made. Remember these are our opinions, and isn’t necessarily based on what we think is the best, but more our favourite films in the category. I’d also like to say that as a film fan I am doing my best to catch up on a lot of classic films, and the big one that I am yet to get round to is Goodfellas, so that’s why it won’t yet be appearing on my list. I just haven’t seen it yet (but will soon, don’t shout at me Internet).
- Shuggie: The Wolf of Wall Street – I have an issue with the Wolf of Wall Street’s, as its message gets lost because the ending just doesn’t quite hit hard enough how Jordan Belfort’s life fell apart because of his criminal undertakings and greed. But that said it’s hard to ignore how good the Wolf of Wall Street is for the most part. Di Caprio’s performance in the film is utterly brilliant, and the quaalude scene alone should have had him in serious contention for an Oscar (one of the few I actually think he could have won for). I also think that the performances from Jonah Hill and, at the time, newcomer Margot Robbie are sensational, and it’s no wonder that it made a Star of Robbie. It’s long, it’s full of debauchery, and it really showcases how “gangsters”, criminals, and Scorsese’s usual characters are not just found in the underbelly of society, but all around, committing white-collar crimes to get really rich and powerful. If it had just done more to show the consequence of this lifestyle then I think I would love it as much as most, and I’d consider it for a higher spot on this list.
- Alex: Raging Bull – One of the greatest boxing movies of all time, Raging Bull follows the career of troubled New York pugilist Jake LaMotta during the height of his abilities in the 1940’s. Robert De Niro, who plays LaMotta in what is possibly a career best performance, is the co-star alongside Scorsese’s electric direction in a film that shaped the modern boxing flick. Boxing films had been done before Raging Bull, hundreds of times, but the reason Raging Bull works particularly well is that every single fight scene feels different, unique and individual. This is due to a design philosophy that had Scorsese recording every punch and flashbulb individually, and then editing every fight in a such a way as to reflect Jake’s current state at that point in the film.
- Shuggie: Hugo – One of these things is not like the others. Hugo really stands out on Scorsese’s filmography for the simple fact that it’s a film made for a younger audience. It was Scorsese stepping so far out of his comfort zone, and yet still making something truly magical and brilliant. Scorsese has spoken about 3-D, and how it can be used to really add to a film. And whilst I feel that most films don’t benefit at all from 3-D, Scorsese managed to use the format better than almost anybody, James Cameron even described it as the best use of 3-D he’d seen. Beyond that it’s such a charming family adventure, which is so different from anything Scorsese had created before. Its a film about film and its beauty, and that’s always going to appeal to film fans.
- Alex: Taxi Driver – A landmark in cinematic ultraviolence when it debuted in the mid 70’s, Taxi Driver upset the Mary Whitehouse’s of the world beyond measure. Behind the headlines regarding the moral degradation of society however, lay a film that had a lot to say about mental illness and gun violence in the US, long before it was fashionable to conflate the two. For the second time in this list (and not the last), Robert De Niro gives a tour de force performance in the lead role, in this case the unstable, mohawked Travis Bickle. A disturbed individual, Bickle develops a romantic obsession with a local political staffer, slowly going insane after she rejects him. He turns to vigilantism to feel needed, attempting to save a child prostitute (a capable performance from a young Jodie Foster) from the pimps who basically own her.
- Shuggie: Taxi Driver – Taxi Driver is a film I would like to revisit soon, as it has been a long time since I saw it. It wasn’t quite the first collaboration between Scorsese and Robert De Niro (that honour goes to Mean Streets) but it was the one that really cemented this as the greatest partnership between an actor and a director, even to this day. De Niro’s Travis Bickle has become one of the icons of cinema. He’s clearly a disturbed individual, suffering from insomnia, depression, and an obsession with a woman called Betsy, which sees him turn to violent vigilantism. The film’s ending in fact was seen as so violent at the time, that Scorsese had tone it down slightly to achieve just an R-Rating, but has led to much debate even to this day. The film is intense, brilliantly acted, and a masterpiece from Scorsese as an exploration of Bickle’s mental state.
- Alex: The Wolf of Wall Street – Perhaps a controversial entry at number 3, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the true story of financial mogul Jordan Belfort, from his legitimate beginnings as stockbroker living the high life in New York to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. Less critically acclaimed than many Scorsese films, I think the film is nevertheless carried by Leonardo Di Caprio’s energetic and entertaining performance as Belfort, which was perhaps better than his Oscar winning turn in The Revenant. It’s all very madcap, and whilst it’s as typically long as any Scorsese film, it doesn’t feel it when you are watching. At one point, they throw a Velcro-covered midget at an oversized dart board. ‘Nuff said.
- Shuggie: Raging Bull – Scorsese and De Niro had made 3 films together, including the aforementioned Taxi Driver, before they made Raging Bull in 1980. And this may be the pinnacle of their collaborations, in terms of De Niro’s character and the performance he was able to give. A stark study of a successful boxer, Jake LaMotta, whose problems out of the ring see him destroy his life and breakdown his relationships with his wife and brother. Scorsese only agreed to make the film after nearly dying from a drug overdose, which led him to connect to the story of LaMotta despite having no interest in sport or boxing. It also created what is probably still De Niro’s greatest performance to this day, not only did he gain a substantial amount of weight to portray an older LaMotta, but he completely inhabited the role, and it rightly earned him his Best Actor Oscar. It’s a masterpiece, as so many of Scorsese’s works are, but it features possibly the best performance in one of his films, and he managed to bring something truly new to the boxing film genre, something that is not easy to do.
- Alex: The Departed – The Depahted is a great movie with Matt Damon, Leonahdo Di Caprio, Mahk Waahlbarg, Jack Nicholson and Mahtin Sheen. Its about a wah of infiltration between the Bahstahn maab and the Bahstahn PD. Enough of that. It’s more of a procedural thriller than one would usually expect from Scorsese (possible because it is a remake of a Hong Kong action film), but The Departed is the conventional thriller perfected. The plot twists and turns brilliantly and all the cast all perform admirably, especially Jack Nicholson in a particularly scenery-chewing performance as the head of the Irish mob in Boston. Nobody does gangster movies like Martin, as our next entry indicates…
- Shuggie: Gangs of New York – This will be a shock to most of you. But Gangs of New York is the first Scorsese film I ever saw. Nostalgia has often been a big influence on these Top 5s, and whilst I wasn’t that young when I first saw Gangs of New York, there is still a sort of nostalgia for me because it was my introduction to Scorsese (A director whose work I’m still trying to catch up on). I think that Daniel Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher Cutting is to this day one of the greatest performances in all of Scorsese’s work, and as a film villain in general. Some of the Irish accents are a little ropey, but to be honest that kind of just adds to the charm of the film. If this were a best of list Gangs of New York wouldn’t be top, but as we’re talking about my favourites, sometimes you can’t beat a bit of nostalgia.
- Alex: Goodfellas – My favourite gangster film of all time. Better than the Godfather. Better than Scarface. Better than Donnie Brasco. Better even, than the second best gangster movie of all time: The Departed. I realise that this is a controversial opinion, but hear me out. What is great about Goodfellas is that it shows both sides of the mob lifestyle in a way that few other mob movies do, and in a way none had before Goodfellas. The start of the film is all glitz and glamour, showing the draw of the high-rolling gangster lifestyle to a working-class guy who’d never live that life doing any other job. But then, as Ray Liotta’s protagonist is drawn deeper and deeper into the darkness, Scorsese slowly reveals the other side, the seedy underbelly. The films editing changes, becoming more jarring as Henry Hill’s mental state deteriorates and he becomes a drug addled mess. You really feel the filth of the mob in your pores, and its so much more noticeable since you’ve already seen the sexy side of it. A true masterpiece.
Those are our picks for the Top 5 Martin Scorsese films. What do you think of our choices? Are there any of his films you would have included that we didn’t? Let me know in the comments.