Sunday, July 25, 2010

#3: Martin Scorsese


- “Cinema is a matter of what`s in the frame and what`s out.”

The inclusion is no shocker, although the fact that he did not place #1 might be. Just looking at the name of this blog should give away the fact that Martin Scorsese is not only one of my favorite directors, but also one of the most important in my development as a lover of cinema. He was the first director that made me consciously realize that I was watching a man who excelled at making crossover films – entertaining enough to appeal to a mass audience yet weighty enough for serious scholars and critics to sink their teeth into. It is no coincidence that this blog is named after my favorite Scorsese film. I watched Goodfellas as a kid who was obsessed with all things organized crime and was more interested in anything gangster-related than I was in movies. I came away completely obsessed with film. I knew nothing about technical achievements (and I suppose you could argue I still don’t!), but I was aware enough recognize the sensation that some of Scorsese’s skills produced – the legendary tracking shot at the Copa, the use of “Layla” while revealing the dead bodies. Those moments are what drew me toward appreciating films as more than just simple entertainment.

Really, that opening paragraph alone should be enough to justify placement in a personal favorites list. His films – and Goodfellas in particular – were and are that important to me. I relish each phase of his career. I love the early indie feel of Mean Streets and Who’s That Knocking at My Door? The middle period that produced classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy is now the stuff of legend and justifiably so. The 1990s saw him produce what I consider to be the finest gangster film ever made and a number of intriguing genre exercises. Even now, when many are quick to dismiss him as over the hill, I find Scorsese in the last decade to have been spectacular – I still have so much fun watching The Aviator and remain in love with Shutter Island. At no point in my journey through Scorsese’s works have I found myself bored.

Knowing a bit about Scorsese himself, hearing him discuss how he personally fell in love with movies, is also very appealing. Watch any interviews of him discussing his favorite childhood films or admired filmmakers. He gets a glint in his eye when he recalls seeing The Searchers for the first time, or watching a Michael Powell classic like The Red Shoes. Like so many of his contemporaries in the “film school generation,” Scorsese is first and foremost a film fanatic. He loves everything about the cinema and takes great pleasure in drawing attention to his own personal favorites. I love this about Marty. I guess you could argue that this attribute really shouldn’t have an impact in a list like this, but I think it is essential to Scorsese. It fuels that passion that he infuses into all of his work. Someone who didn’t love movies as deeply as does Marty would not be able to keep this up for over thirty years.

His technical chops are well-chronicled, and I touch on just a few of my favorites in that opening paragraph. The talent to combine all of the elements of a movie – camera movement, actors, dialog, soundtrack, pacing – into one cohesive, all-consuming experience is his greatest strength. While this is a series devoted to my favorite directors, Scorsese’s longtime collaborator and friend Thelma Schoonmaker at least deserves credit for an assist, as without her continuing presence Scorsese’s films just wouldn’t feel right. In connection with his long association with Schoonmaker, it is also interesting to note the number of longstanding relationships that Scorsese has developed with various actors and personalities over the years, recalling other great directors that preferred using a stock group of players and associates. It is hard to ponder Scorsese’s career without also bringing to mind personalities like Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci, Paul Schrader, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

This selection was never in doubt. The only drama came from deciding where in the Top 4 he would land. As for my list below, there will be one notable omission from my list – The Last Temptation of Christ. For whatever reason, I still have not seen it and have remained hesitant to do so. I can’t even explain why this has been the case, it simply has. I know many folks consider it be one of Marty’s very best, so I need to make a point of getting to it, which I will eventually. It should also be noted that depending on when you ask me, Goodfellas could be a routine choose as my all-time favorite movie.

Ask me to fiddle with the rankings tomorrow and Scorsese could very easily be #1. So keep that in mind as the remaining two are revealed. Even more so than in the annual countdown and noir series, these rankings are incredibly fluid.

1. Goodfellas (1990)
2. Raging Bull (1980)
3. Taxi Driver (1976)
4. Casino (1995)
5. The King of Comedy (1983)
6. Shutter Island (2010)
7. Mean Streets (1973)
8. The Aviator (2004)
9. Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967)
10. The Departed (2006)
11. Gangs of New York (2002)
12. The Age of Innocence (1993)
13. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
14. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
15. Kundun (1997)
16. Cape Fear (1991)
17. The Color of Money (1986)
18. After Hours (1985)
19. New York, New York (1977)
20. Boxcar Bertha (1972)

20 comments:

  1. Dave, Scorsese hasn't been the same since Casino was denounced for being too similar to Goodfellas. He seems to have taken that criticism at heart by focusing on virtuosity rather than his once-characteristic thematic concerns, and it seems like something was lost in the process. He hasn't become a bad director by any means, but nothing since 1995 has been as good as his best before then.

    1. Goodfellas
    2. Taxi Driver
    3. Casino
    4. The King of Comedy
    5. Mean Streets
    6. Raging Bull
    7. The Age of Innocence
    8. Shutter Island
    9. Gangs of New York
    10. The Color of Money
    11. The Last Temptation of Christ
    12. Cape Fear
    13. Bringing Out the Dead
    14. The Departed
    15. The Aviator
    16. Kundun

    ReplyDelete
  2. Top 10........

    1. Taxi Driver
    2. Raging Bull
    3. Goodfellas

    4. Gangs Of New York
    5. Mean Streets
    6. Casino
    7. The Departed
    8. Bringing Out The Dead
    9. The King Of Comedy
    10. Shutter Island

    The divide between the top 3 and everything else is rather wide. I have talked up a fourth masterpiece often but always take it back. To me Martin made 3 immortal films and a bunch of good ones. While his overall filmography is much better than Coppola's (though The Conversation is greater than Scorsese's secondary work) I view him in a similar light. They both made 3 incredible films, each that stand reasonably above the rest.

    I never listed a Chaplin list. Here is my top 5 (to keep it short)....

    1. City Lights
    2. The Gold rush
    3. Modern Times
    4. The Circus
    5. The Great Dictator.......M.Roca

    ReplyDelete
  3. Martin Scorsese occupies a very special place in my heart, and that's because he's the reason why I became a cinephile. I still remember, rather vividly, when it all started; I was 15, going through a particulary tough time, searching for an identity and all that teenage stuff, and somehow I stumbled across Taxi Driver. It certainly had a tremendous impact on me, at that time I just couldn't believe that a film could go this far, that it could reflect, in parts, the alienation and the loneliness I felt, that it could address such topics in such a way (not that I was a teenage Travis Bickle, haha). Seems a little naive now, but then it was a revelation. Followed by Mean Streets and I started to fall in love with cinema. That said I still have a lot to watch from mister Scorsese.

    My top (not definitive):
    1. Taxi Driver
    2. Mean Streets
    3. Goodfellas
    4. Casino
    5. The Aviator
    6. Cape Fear

    ReplyDelete
  4. Whaaaaaaaat! A shocker indeed. I expected him to be no lower than #1. At least my guesses for top 3 are on track.

    My list:

    1. Raging Bull
    2. Mean Streets
    3. Goodfellas
    4. The Aviator
    5. Taxi Driver
    6. The Departed
    7. Gangs Of New York
    8. Bringing Out The Dead
    9. Kundun
    10. The Color Of Money
    11. Cape Fear
    12. New York Stories

    ReplyDelete
  5. Like everyone else, I too expected Marty to occupy the top spot in this series. More so because of the fact that your blog is named one of his most loved films hasn't been lost on anyone who has ever visited your blog, least of all me.

    Scorsese undoubtedly ranks as one of the greatest filmmakers. His love for the medium (esp. relating to film preservation) & his film knowledge are known to all. Ok, he might have made a few movies that aren't commensurate with his stature. But what matters more is that, a host of his best works would make the "greatest ever" lists without any trouble whatsoever.

    Anyway, my 10 favourite Scorsese movies are:
    1. Taxi Driver
    2. Mean Streets
    3. Raging Bull
    4. Casino
    5. Who's That Knocking At My Door?
    6. Goodfellas
    7. The Departed
    8. Gangs of New York
    9. Cape Fear
    10. Aviator

    I agree with Maurizo that the divide between his best works and the rest is big. Taxi Driver, Mean Streets & Raging Bull are, in my opinion, 3 of the greatest movies ever made. In fact Robert De Niro's performances in each of the 3 would also rank 3 of the greatest displays of movie acting. I've also loved the next 4 in my list, but the rest are just good movies at best. On a different note, I also liked his No Direction Home, though I need to watch it again to have a more conclusive opinion on it.

    Finally, like you and many others, Scorsese was one of those directors that turned me too into a cinephile.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was another of those expecting Scorsese to be your number one, Dave! I've got the films in a slightly different order from others here, but my list is a movable feast as I find my favourites tend to change depending on what I've seen recently, and also there are several of his I haven't got to yet. As a Paul Newman fan I love his performance in 'The Color of Money' which puts it high on my list.

    I've included two of Scorsese's music films - also loved 'No Direction Home: Bob Dylan', but I saw that as a two-part TV mini-series so it didn't really feel so much like a movie and I haven't included it. In 'Shine A Light' all the Stones footage is fantastic, but I have to cringe slightly at the shots of Scorsese acting a part as himself, which is the reason it is near the bottom of my list!

    Sorry to have missed joining in on Hawks, who appeared on your countdown while I was away on holiday, but I'll just say that 'The Dawn Patrol' is probably my favourite - though I also love Ceiling Zero, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday and Red River.

    1. Goodfellas
    2. The Color of Money
    3. Bringing Out the Dead
    4. Taxi Driver
    5. Mean Streets
    6. Raging Bull
    7. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
    8. The Age of Innocence
    9. The Last Waltz
    10. Who's That Knocking at My Door
    11. The Departed
    12. Gangs of New York
    13. The Aviator
    14. Casino
    15. New York, New York
    16. Shine A Light
    17. Boxcar Bertha

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well, I would have responded earlier but my wife just found me on the floor and managed to resuscitate me. Thank God for mouth to mouth resuscitation! Well, to say the least I am shocked and shaken, for sure I thought Scorsese would be number 1, not that there is anything wrong with being number 3 either. I am sure I know who at least one of the other two slots will be filled by but my mind is drawing a blank on who the other could be. Dave, you are full of surprises!

    Since this is a favorites list my number 1 choice may or may not be surprising. I don't think it is his best film (that would be Raging Bull) but it is my favorite and would be a desert island disc if I ever decided to split from society. I have divided up the documentaries into a separate list and did not list his early shorts. Kundun is a film I still need to see.

    That all said the top four rankings are sheer magic and there is not a bad film in the entire group.

    BTW, I highly and strongly recommend the first two documentaries on the list if you have not seen them. They are like taking a film class with a master as your teacher!

    Mean Streets
    Goodfellas
    Taxi Driver
    Raging Bull
    The King of Comedy
    The Departed
    Casino
    Shutter Island
    Last Temptation of Christ
    The Aviator
    Life Lessons (New York Stories)
    The Color of Money
    Cape Fear
    Who's That Knocking At My Door
    The Gangs of New York
    The Age of Innocence
    New York New York
    After Hours
    Boxcar Bertha
    Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
    Bringing Out the Dead

    The documentaries

    A Personal Journey Through American Film With Martin Scorsese
    My Voyage to Italy
    No Direction Home
    The Last Waltz
    ItalianAmerican
    Shine A Light

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well, I expected he would be exactly where he is, as I do believe I know (and have known for quite some time) who Dave's #1 choice will be.(my lips are sealed. Ha!) Like Dave and so many others I consider this effervescent, larger-than-life spokesman of the cinema, and purveyor of film preservation, a towering figure on the cinematic landscape. I had the great honor of meeting Mr. Scorsese in the mid 90's with my WitD colleague Dennis Polifroni at a restored movie palace in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1993, when he introduced a screening of Powell & Pressburger's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, and signed autographs and Criterion laserdiscs of the film. It is no secret that Scorsese was Michael Powell's biggest fan, and that his own long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker married Powell in 1984, living with him until his death in 1990 at age 85.
    Scorsese's taste is truly glorious, as he's a huge opera fan, a supporter of foreign language cinema, and a man who, truth be told has really been married to the movies for many decades. He is a natural for any list of "favorite" directors, and I have long known of your affinity for him Dave, apart from the obvious declaration of the blogsite's title. He also vies for the title of 'best living American director' with the likes of Spielberg, Lynch, Malick and Coppola, (I know you would have the Coens as contenders too) and as noted by many here his Big Three (TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS) assure his place forever in movie goers' affections. What's more to say that hasn't already been said? He's a titan of the movies, and probably it's most tireless proponent worldwide. He's an Italian-American so many of us are proud of too!

    1. Raging Bull
    2. Good Fellas
    3. Taxi Driver
    4. Gangs of New York
    5. Shutter Island
    6. The Last Temptation of Christ
    7. The Age of Innocense
    8. The Departed
    9. Mean Streets
    10. The Aviator
    11. Casino
    12. The King of Comedy
    13. Kundun
    14. Alive Dosen't Live Here Anymore
    15. New York, New York
    16. The Last Waltz
    17. After Hours
    18. Cape Fear
    19. Who's That Knocking at My Door?
    20. Bringing Out the Dead
    21. The Color of Money
    22. New York Stories
    23. Shine A Light
    24. Boxcar Bertha

    ReplyDelete
  9. John is dead on with MY VOYAGE TO ITALY too!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I would certainly rank Scorsese right up there. I admire your very high ranking of COLOR OF MONEY. That is also one of my faves! The man has made some truly classic films and continues to chug along and he is staunch supporter of preserving films as well. My faves are:

    1. Mean Streets
    2. Goodfellas
    3. Taxi Driver
    4. Raging Bull
    5. The Color of Money
    6. King of Comedy
    7. After Hours
    8. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
    9. Bringing Out the Dead
    10. The Last Waltz
    11. Casino
    12. Who's That Knocking at My Door
    13. The Age of Innocence
    14. The Departed
    15. The Aviator

    ReplyDelete
  11. Samuel - I'll agree that his work before and up to the mid-90s is his best, but we'll have to agree to disagree on more recent work. I love both Shutter Island and The Aviator.

    Maurizio - I can see the comparison, but I think Marty has been WAY more consistent than Coppola. In terms of absolute, undisputed masterpieces (of which I could go ahead and include The Conversation), Coppola likely tops Scorsese. But what you call Scorsese's "secondary work" I really like. I can't really say the same for much of Coppola, which explains how I rank them.

    QuebecGuy - Looks like you had an experience with Taxi Driver similar to my own with Goodfellas. Both are incredible films.

    JAFB - I bet most people would have pegged Marty for #1, which was definitely a possibility.

    Shubhajit - Obviously, I couldn't disagree any stronger with not including Goodfellas on a list of Marty's best work. Raging Bull would be the only film that I would think even comes close, but my love of the film is obvious, so I'll say no more on it. Yes, Marty has some films that might not be considered all-time greats, but considering the length of his career and how many movies he has released it would be impossible not to have some like that. His best are as good as it gets, which is what I am usually looking for. And I love seeing Who's That Knocking at My Door? ranked so high, even if I do think it borders on absolute insanity to rank it head of Goodfellas! LOL

    Judy - Thanks for stopping by for this one. I'm a big fan of the No Direction Home documentary also, I just have trouble comparing traditional movies with documentaries, so I decided not to include. The same with The Last Waltz, which I also love.

    John - Haha, I figured some folks would be shocked he is not at the top, but #3 is still a lofty ranking. I have not seen the top two documentaries that you list, but I will make a point of it to try and get to them as soon as I can. Your list is excellent and I well remember your love of Mean Streets.

    Sam - Awesome story, I had no idea that you had met Marty. As your story shows, his love of the cinema is something that seems to be infinite, which only makes him an even more endearing figure to support. I love seeing Shutter Island ranked so prominently on your list, as I continue to champion the film and love it even more when people try to bash it.

    J.D. - Agreed, I think he continues making worthy efforts and feel like his latest (Shutter Island) is the best movie he has made in 15 years.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I've never seen Scorsese as a great director but I saw greatness in KING OF COMEDY, THE DEPARTED and CASINO.

    I'm never really sure what the point of his films are. I know that sounds silly - especially as I never look for messages as such - but I never find myself getting beyond the cold pose of depressed violence. I don't see too much subtlety nor variation in his work.

    My problem is not with his abilities as a director so much as the scripts he shoots.

    I can't wait to see who's at number 1 and 2.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Well, I'm always a couple days behind on these posts but I wanted to chime in. Scorsese might be my favorite living/working director.

    Here's my ranking of his films:

    Goodfellas
    Raging Bull
    Taxi Driver
    Kundun
    The Departed
    Gangs of New York
    Casino
    Shutter Island
    The Aviator
    Cape Fear
    The Last Temptation of Christ
    Mean Streets
    The Age of Innocence
    The King of Comedy
    Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
    Bringing out the Dead
    Boxcar Bertha
    After Hours

    ReplyDelete
  14. I realize I am a little late to the party, but I figured I'd post my list anyway!

    1. Goodfellas (1990)
    2. The King of Comedy (1983)
    3. Taxi Driver (1976)
    4. The Age of Innocence (1993)
    5. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
    6. Mean Streets (1973)
    7. Raging Bull (1980)
    8. The Aviator (2004)
    9. The Departed (2006)
    10. Cape Fear (1991)
    11. The Color of Money (1986)
    12. New York, New York (1977)
    13. Casino (1995)
    14. After Hours (1985)
    15. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
    16. Gangs of New York (2002)

    The top 3 are absolute favorites, while I didn't quite click with the bottom 3. I should note that Casino is also long overdue for a second viewing and that it might climb up in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Martin Scorsese opted to channel his passions into film. He graduated from NYU as a film major in 1964. Catching the eye of producer Roger Corman with his 1960s student films , Scorsese directed the gritty exploiter Boxcar Bertha (1972). Mean Streets (1973) followed in 1973 and provided the benchmarks for the Scorsese style.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The Last Temptation of Christ IS one of his best and you should get it on Criterion DVD. It should be still widely available at what should be a decent price by now.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi, I came across your site and wasn’t able to get an email address to contact you. Would you please consider adding a link to my website on your page. Please email me back and we'll talk about it.

    Thanks!

    Madison
    maddie0147@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  18. Goodfellas is an awesome film! it's my favorite one

    ReplyDelete
  19. Terrific list and passionately written. I have yet to see more Scorsese films, but he is too one of my all-time favourites. Taxi Driver, Casino and Goodfellas are my personal favourites.

    This is truly a marvelous blog you have here and it is clear you have seen many films. I'll be following this blog now.

    Be sure to return the favour at my blog fellow film buff!

    www.filmmasterjournal.com

    ReplyDelete
  20. ´

    'Goodfellas' is a nice flick, stylish, good actors, fancy sets....


    But he has not the spontaneity, the incomputability, the vivid pulse of 'Mean Streets', which has been far more innovative, influential & groundbreaking ; 'Mean Streets' is Scorcese's all-time masterpiece: "one of the source points of modern movies", like Roger Ebert described it.


    No wonder that several top critices rank 'Mean Streets' as # 1 - ask for example Jeffrey Anderson, Emanuel Levy, or Dennis Schwartz...



    http://www.combustiblecelluloid.com/archive/meanstree.shtml

    http://www.emanuellevy.com/review/mean-streets-1973-1/

    http://homepages.sover.net/~ozus/meanstreets1973.htm



    ´

    ReplyDelete