I hate to pull out this cliche, but, yes, Martin Scorsese is a living legend. He’s the rare filmmaker of such stature that almost all actors dream of working with him someday. Even if it’s just a credit card commercial. He’s the most passionate of directors — an artist as much a film historian. Plus he’s just a likable, chatty guy.
He imbues his films with such energy they practically pulsate. And after 40 years of filmmaking, the man is still creating interesting, important works of cinema that find the humanity within insanity, obsession, guilt, redemption, and the dark side of human nature. And with this week’s release of Shutter Island I felt it was only just to take a look back at my favorite films from the master director with what I consider to be the ten best from Scorsese’s impressive filmography.
You are likely to agree with some choices, certain to disagree with others and I hope it all stimulates debate in the comments. However, no matter what side of the line we land on, I assume the majority of us can agree Scorsese’s films and his contribution to the art form is something to be treasured. Let’s begin…
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore carries all the Lego blocks to build a cloying Lifetime movie. Ellen Burstyn plays a recent widow who sells the house and starts afresh in a new town as a lounge singer — her childhood dream job. She meets a psychotic love interest in Harvey Keitel and a good, simple man played by Kris Kristofferson. And hey, we get a smart-ass kid tossed in for good measure (two if you count little Jodie Foster who shows up as the kid’s Tom-boy pal). It’s through Scorsese’s refusal to hit the expected beats and Burstyn’s charismatic — and Oscar winning — performance, the film transcends cliche and delivers a funny, poignant slice of life.
Movie grumps dismiss Casino as “Goodfellas goes to Vegas.” Bah. No doubt the two films are companion pieces (although I think Casino compliments Barry Levinson’s Bugsy as much as Goodfellas), as both give an inside glimpse of the mafia and Joe Pesci practically plays the same crazy bastard. However, while Goodfellas looks at mob life through the enamored eyes of Henry Hill, Casino feels more pragmatic and weary as Robert De Niro’s number-crunching Sam Rothstein details the ins-and-outs of mob-owned Las Vegas.
Yet, who cares about these comparisons? Scorsese injects his story with such dynamism you can’t help but admire Casino for its sheer energy, even if it feels a tad familiar.
The Aviator (2004)
Considering The Aviator chronicles the sad, pathetic life of Howard Hughes, it’s surprising how enjoyable the film is (although the story does focus on Hughes before his hopeless recluse days). Hughes produced and directed several films of early Hollywood — not to mentioned bed many of the starlets of his time — and it’s obvious the film historian in Scorsese relished shooting several sequences. That enthusiasm resonates throughout the film and overcomes the traditional biopic structure the screenplay burdens itself with.
While Hughes’s mental illness and Scorsese’s attraction toward the human mind’s frailty would seem to concoct a perfect storm, it’s surprisingly treated in rather superficial terms when compared to Scorsese’s other films.