Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Listorama! My Top Ten Scorsese Films

Having covered one great American director in my last list, this time I thought I'd move on to another of my favourite filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. This list was a little trickier to put together than my Stanley Kubrick top ten - while Kubrick only made a total of 13 feature films throughout his career, Marty has been much more prolific. Since 1967, he's made a total of 23 full length movies - and that's not including the shorts, documentaries and TV work he's done in that time.

In putting together my list, I had to exclude a fair few films on the basis that I haven't seen them (Who's That Knocking At My Door, Boxcar Bertha, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, New York New York, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence and Kundun). Of the others, I can't say that there's ever been a Scorsese film I haven't enjoyed to some extent, but there are a few I've seen which didn't quite make the grade (this category includes After Hours, The Color of Money, Gangs of New York, The Aviator and Hugo).

Here's my Scorsese top ten - a collection of fantastic movies from one of the greatest directors of all time.

10. Cape Fear (1991)

The first of many movies on this list featuring the dream team combination of Scorsese's direction and Robert De Niro's acting, this remake of the '60s classic is a gripping thriller with a scarily committed De Niro on fine form as the psychotic Max Cady. In my opinion, it never quite reaches the intensity of the original film, but it's still highly entertaining; I suppose its one major flaw is the lack of a scene in which Cady repeatedly steps on a rake...

9. Bringing out the Dead (1999)

Martin Scorsese working with Nicolas Cage? It happened - though this was back in 1999, when Cage was still a credible actor instead of the gurning lunatic - putting out five films a year in order to pay off his massive debts - that we know and tolerate today. This film is another collaboration between Scorsese and Paul Schrader, the genius screenwriter behind two films which will feature later on in my list, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. While it doesn't quite measure up to those two masterpieces, BOTD is an excellent picture in its own right, a nightmarish vision of New York as Hell with Nic Cage's paramedic as your tour guide.

8. Shutter Island (2010)

The most recent film on this list, Shutter Island is proof that Martin Scorsese is still more than capable of putting together something brilliant at this late stage in his career. Leonardo Di Caprio, who has taken on the mantle of Scorsese's leading man from Robert De Niro, is the star of this one, and plays an exhausted FBI agent investigating the mysterious disappearance of an inmate from an isolated mental institution. Though I'm not entirely convinced that the big twist at the end of the movie stands up to close scrutiny, Shutter Island is a successful attempt by Scorsese to try his hand at the horror genre. It's tense, atmospheric and creepy, with a number of terrifying moments.

7. Mean Streets (1972)

As I mentioned when I reviewed this one a few days ago, this early Scorsese picture serves up a statement of intent about a number of the key themes that he would examine time and time again in his movies: Catholic guilt, violence and criminality. It also contains two other elements which can often be found in the best of Martin Scorsese's work: a thrilling lead performance from Robert De Niro and a brilliant soundtrack. Fans of Goodfellas and Casino will definitely get a kick out of this movie too.

6. The King of Comedy (1983)

Possibly Scorsese's strangest film, The King of Comedy takes a look at the darker side of fame. De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a deluded wannabe comedian who kidnaps his idol, a talk show host played by Jerry Lee Lewis. Watching this one is often an uncomfortable experience, but it's one of Scorsese's most interesting films and is remarkably far sighted about the celebrity obsessed culture in which we live today.

5. The Departed (2006)

The film which finally won Scorsese the Best Director Oscar he'd deserved for a long time (probably since Taxi Driver was beaten to the punch, so to speak, by Rocky in 1976). It's a brilliant tale of greed, ambition and revenge in the Boston underworld, and has a whole series of unexpected plot twists that keep you guessing right up to the end. It's also one of the few Scorsese films to have inspired an episode of The Simpsons; though The Debarted is no Bart the Murderer or Cape Feare, it's definitely one of the better recent instalments that I've seen.

4. Casino (1995)

A sort-of sequel to the massively successful Goodfellas, the action is moved from the tough streets of Brooklyn to the glitzy boulevards of Las Vegas, but again looks into the lives of mid level mafia operatives. This was De Niro's final film with Scorsese (to date), and he goes out with a bang, putting in stellar work as Casino boss Sam Rothstein. However, he is arguably outshone by Joe Pesci's portrayal of Nicky Santoro, a gangster with an insatiable appetite for gambling and a volcanic temper. The picture is perhaps a little flabby in places, and suffers a little in comparison with Goodfellas, but it's still a terrific mafia movie.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

We now move into the realm of absolute, stone cold classics - possibly the greatest film ever made about boxing (and about man's capacity for self destruction), Raging Bull follows the career of legendary middleweight Jake La Motta. We are taken from the fighter's roots in the Bronx, through to his time as a world champion and then on to his post boxing days, working as a shabby nightclub comic and trading off his former glories.  Once again, Scorsese draws a wonderful performance out of De Niro. He plays Jake De La Motta at various stages in his life and is equally is convincing as an angry, violent young man and as the flabby, washed up failure he became in later life. If nothing else, this film has some of the most astonishing fight scenes ever committed to film - watching La Motta fight, you can almost feel every punch he takes to the chin.

2. Goodfellas (1990)

Based on the true story of New York mafioso Henry Hill, Goodfellas is up there with the Godfather Parts One and Two as the greatest films ever made about organised crime. While Coppola's movies look at the pressures faced by those at the top of the mafia food chain, Scorsese takes us into the lives of three workaday gangsters in Brooklyn. Spanning thirty years (from Hill's induction into the mob in the '50s up to his eventual arrest in the early '80s), we see the highs and lows of the criminal life. It's an absolutely fantastic film, with dozens of memorable scenes, a brilliantly quotable script and a sensational soundtrack.

1. Taxi Driver (1976)

(Previously reviewed here). To be honest, any of the top three films on this list could have grabbed the top spot, but I had to make my choice, and probably because it's the one I've seen most recently, Taxi Driver comes out as numero uno. Robert De Niro is, once again, superb in this film, playing an alienated loner who takes a job driving taxis on the streets of New York as a way of working through his crippling insomnia. While on his nightly rounds of the city, he dreams about taking violent action against the pimps and drug dealers he sees on his travels. It's a powerful examination of isolation, loneliness and violence, with a tremendous script from Paul Schrader, an outstanding score from Bernard Herrmann, but possibly the most important element is the cinematography; New York has rarely looked so beautiful and yet so menacing at the same time. The best film Scorsese has ever made? I think so.

No comments:

Post a Comment