Martin Scorsese, a true icon in the world of cinema, isn’t just a director, producer, or screenwriter; he’s the epitome of mastery on the silver screen. His name resonates with unparalleled filmmaking prowess, and his unbridled dedication to storytelling is a reason to rejoice. As he gracefully enters his eighth decade, Scorsese’s artistry still shines brightly, with “Killers of the Flower Moon” (2023) standing as proof of his enduring genius.
Age is but a fleeting notion for this cinematic luminary. His body of work is an expansive and mesmerizing landscape, where ranking his films is akin to measuring the immeasurable. Scorsese’s creations form a kaleidoscope of excellence, spanning from the merely good to the profoundly outstanding, with many achieving the status of timeless classics.
In every one of his movies, Martin Scorsese embarks on a journey into his profound passions, carefully integrating themes of religion, guilt, and the relentless pursuit of transcendence into each story. Frequently, these narratives unfold against the gripping backdrop of gangsters and criminal tales, showcasing Scorsese’s remarkable storytelling prowess and artistic achievement.
The impact of Martin Scorsese is staggering, and each frame serves as a powerful testament to his unwavering dedication to the art of filmmaking. As we celebrate this living legend, it’s crucial to be profoundly awed by every element of his cinematic legacy. They are not merely valuable treasures; they are masterpieces that celebrate the enduring spirit of Martin Scorsese, evoking feelings of joy and wonder within our hearts.
10. MEAN STREETS (1973)
This cinematic opus, skillfully helmed by the auteur Martin Scorsese in collaboration with the gifted Mardik Martin, boasts a star-studded ensemble, including luminaries Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. The imprimatur of Warner Bros. graces this production.
The narrative unfurls a compelling exploration of the shadowy underbelly that is Little Italy, a veritable crucible for an array of nefarious characters – from small-time mobsters to erratic provocateurs and minor delinquents. At its heart, the plot orbits around a youthful miscreant ensnared in the suffocating clutches of a remorseless loan shark, teetering on the precipice of imminent peril. In a desperate gambit for salvation, he turns to a compatriot steeped in criminal enterprise, igniting a chain reaction of events destined to irrevocably transform their fates.
“Mean Streets” crystallizes an authentic emblem of personal filmmaking’s zenith. Director Martin Scorsese, in a display of prodigious virtuosity, transmutes this gritty chronicle into a visceral odyssey. The film remains faithful to its moniker, unfurling a visceral, unfiltered portrayal of urban landscapes. The performances and editing coalesce in a symphony of originality, an immersive tempest that retains the audience in its thrall.
Yet, it is the film’s unwavering embrace of its unpolished contours that endows “Mean Streets” with its singular allure. Beyond the veneer of street violence, it transcends the straitjacket of crime cinema, plumbing the labyrinthine depths of character development. It is a poignant tribute to the mean streets of New York’s Little Italy, a crucible where young men walk the tightrope between their steely facades and the tantalizing dream of unfettered authenticity in a world rife with duplicity.
09. The Departed (2006)
In Martin Scorsese’s gripping crime thriller, skillfully penned by William Monahan, we find a tribute that encompasses two distinct sources of inspiration. It seamlessly combines a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller “Infernal Affairs” with a loose adaptation of the real-life Boston Winter Hill Gang. The character Colin Sullivan mirrors the corrupt FBI agent John Connolly, while the enigmatic Frank Costello draws inspiration from the infamous Irish-American gangster and crime boss, Whitey Bulger.
Set in the crime-ridden streets of South Boston, we witness the relentless journey of Billy Costigan, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. He takes on a perilous undercover mission to infiltrate the inner circle of the notorious gangland kingpin Frank Costello, a role portrayed masterfully by Jack Nicholson. While Billy gains the trust of this mob boss, a shrewd career criminal named Colin Sullivan, embodied by Matt Damon, dives deep undercover within the police department. He covertly supplies invaluable intelligence to his syndicate overlords. As both criminal organizations become aware of the presence of a mole within their ranks, Billy and Colin find themselves in a high-stakes race against time, compelled to unveil each other’s true identities to ensure their survival.
The film’s triumphant execution is fueled by its exceptional ensemble cast. Leading talents such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg shine brilliantly in their roles. C Nicholson’s portrayal of the paternal yet ruthless character stands as a powerful highlight, with his unmistakable charisma and enthusiasm infusing certain lines from William Monahan’s screenplay.
08. The King of Comedy (1982)
“King of Comedy,” a satirical black comedy film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese and boasting a talented ensemble cast, including Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, and Sandra Bernhard, unfolds a darkly comedic narrative brought to life through a screenplay written by Paul D. Zimmerman. The story introduces us to Rupert Pupkin, embodied by Robert De Niro, a character who, despite his outward failures, carries a self-fashioned celebrity persona within his own psyche. In the solitude of his mother’s basement, Pupkin plays host to an imaginary talk show, setting the stage for a unique and captivating tale.
Pupkin’s life takes a surreal twist when he crosses paths with Jerry Langford, the real talk show host played by Jerry Lewis. Convinced that this encounter is his ticket to stardom, Pupkin embarks on an unwavering pursuit of Langford, despite the latter’s lack of enthusiasm for the aspiring comedian. Undaunted, Pupkin’s persistence escalates to stalking Langford. When this approach proves ineffective, he resorts to a shocking act—kidnapping Langford and holding him hostage. Pupkin’s demands are straightforward: he wants a guest spot on Langford’s show in exchange for Langford’s release.
The parallels between Rupert Pupkin and Travis Bickle are uncanny, illustrating society’s unsettling inclination to embrace individuals with such antisocial tendencies. Pupkin’s rapid transformation into a public figure possesses an eerie irony, reminiscent of the cathartic evolution of the taxi driver.
Within the capable hands of a skilled actor, the fusion of a character’s essence with their performer’s soul becomes an art form, and Scorsese adeptly constructs a narrative that delves into the intricate nature of fame.
This darkly comedic narrative pulsates with the vibrant energy of New York’s street life, complemented by an outsider’s fascination with the inner workings of the entertainment industry and the craftsmanship of filmmaking. It establishes a challenging tone, featuring scenes and situations that hold the potential for humor, yet are veiled in an unrelenting shroud of tension and menace. Scorsese deliberately withholds the expected comedic release, intensifying the experience.
“The King of Comedy” showcases impressive technical craftsmanship, it fearlessly breaks away from the norms of traditional comedy genres. Instead, it takes on the role of a cutting satire, delving into the dangers of a society fixated on the fascination of fame. Robert De Niro, the film’s leading man, keenly points out that it delivers a message that might make some people uncomfortable to face.
07. After Hours (1985)
Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” is a standout dark comedy in the world of cinema. With a screenplay by Joseph Minion and produced by Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne, and Robert F. Colesberry, the film has earned critical acclaim, solidifying its place as a cult classic.
The story begins in a quaint Manhattan cafe, where Griffin Dunne’s character, Paul Hackett, engages in a literary conversation with Rosanna Arquette’s Marcy. Unbeknownst to them, this encounter sets off a series of unpredictable events. A seemingly routine cab ride to Marcy’s downtown apartment takes a surreal turn when Paul loses his $20 bill, foreshadowing the bizarre journey ahead. Struggling to pay for the ride, he embarks on a nightmarish odyssey through surreal and perilous situations, encountering a diverse array of characters. His mission becomes clear: he must find a way to return uptown and escape the bewildering absurdity of his night.
Scorsese’s “After Hours” adeptly delves into the urban anxieties, crafting an atmosphere that is both disquieting and laced with dark humor. Remaining faithful to Scorsese’s penchant for the peculiar and unforeseen, the film distinguishes itself as a comedy unlike any other. Its humor emerges from the tangled web of events and the protagonist’s relentless endeavor to find his way home, only to discover that the universe has alternate intentions. This narrative blend, though frequently unsettling, possesses a distinct and captivating charm that is a hallmark of Scorsese’s storytelling.
06. Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)
In Martin Scorsese’s latest cinematic endeavor, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the acclaimed director takes on an epic Western crime drama. Collaborating with screenwriter Eric Roth, Scorsese draws his inspiration from David Grann’s lauded 2017 non-fiction book of the same name. Set in 1920s Oklahoma, the film unravels a chilling tale of gruesome murders perpetrated against the oil-rich Osage Nation, a series of crimes that has become infamously known as the “Reign of Terror.”
In this sprawling cinematic saga that stretches over three and a half hours, what sets it apart is Scorsese’s uncanny knack for injecting an eerie urgency into the most subtle of moments. It’s a testament to his mastery of storytelling, creating a narrative where shadows and secrets loom. With this relentless dive into the abyss, Scorsese solidifies his role as a virtuoso of the art, crafting a haunting and culturally resonant masterpiece that delves into the depths of the human soul.
Within the narrative, Scorsese artfully explores the themes of toxic masculinity, a narrative thread interwoven with the specter of racism. The film’s ambitious scope and extended duration underscore the gravity of the story it seeks to tell, encapsulating decades of a dark and harrowing history within a singular criminal event. It’s yet another masterpiece in the illustrious career of this American cinematic legend, presenting what might be his most quintessentially American story to date.
05. The Irishman (2019)
“I Heard You Paint Houses,” or more widely recognized as “The Irishman,” is a 2019 American epic gangster film that bears the meticulous craftsmanship of director and producer Martin Scorsese. The screenplay, skillfully authored by Steven Zaillian, takes its creative cues from Charles Brandt’s 2004 book, “I Heard You Paint Houses.” Remarkably, the film utilized a specially designed three-camera rig to enable the extensive de-aging digital effects, seamlessly rejuvenating stars De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci into their youthful personas.
Within this cinematic opus, we are introduced to Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a figure burdened with a rich tapestry of memories. Once a prominent figure within labor unions and a proficient hitman, he honed his lethal skills while serving in the theaters of World War II, particularly in Italy. Now, in the twilight of his life, Sheeran embarks on an introspective journey, reflecting upon the tumultuous path that defined his career in the mafia. Throughout, He keeps steadfast connections with the Bufalino crime family, but his story takes a significant twist as he delves into the part he asserts to have had in the enigmatic vanishing of his lifelong companion, Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa, who once presided over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, disappeared mysteriously in late July 1975 at the age of 62.
“The Irishman” distinguishes itself as a deliberate and weighty entry in the gangster film genre, diverging significantly from the riotous energy of “Goodfellas.” This deliberate pacing complements the film’s inherent gravitas, adding depth and dimension to its storytelling. As the film nears its conclusion, the audience is left with a poignant and contemplative finale, featuring a melancholic last scene that resonates on a profound level. This cinematic experience leaves an indelible mark, akin to a metaphorical door ajar in our hearts—an emotional void that proves challenging to fill.
“The Irishman,” despite its lengthy runtime, captivates with its compelling storytelling, further establishing Martin Scorsese as a leading American filmmaker. The film expertly delves into themes of brotherhood and loyalty, showcasing characters as they experience a gradual and emotional transformation over five decades. Importantly, not all characters survive to witness this evolution, making “The Irishman” a deeply poignant and resonant cinematic accomplishment.
04. Silence (2016)
In the epic historical drama “Silence,” renowned director Martin Scorsese collaborates with Jay Cocks to adapt Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel, embarking on a cinematic journey that transcends mere entertainment. This ambitious project saw a protracted pre-production phase spanning more than two decades, riddled with obstacles and the need for constant reassessment. Scorsese’s commitment to “Silence” took root immediately after completing “The Wolf of Wall Street” in January 2013, with production plans slated for 2014.
The film boasts a notable production team, featuring the likes of Irwin Winkler, Randall Emmett, and George Furla from Emmett/Furla Films, and found its visual canvas in the picturesque landscapes of Taiwan. However, despite being a lifelong passion for Scorsese, “Silence” faced challenges at the box office, struggling to reach a mere $22 million in revenue against its substantial $50 million budget.
In a historical narrative set against the backdrop of 17th-century Japan, “Silence” delves deep into the journey of Portuguese Catholic priests Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garupe as they seek to unravel the mysteries surrounding Father Cristovão Ferreira’s sudden silence. Embracing a tone of skepticism rooted in the lingering whispers of Ferreira’s alleged apostasy, these fervent Jesuit missionaries undertake a perilous quest to locate their mentor amidst a backdrop of brutal anti-Christian persecutions.
Guided by the enigmatic Kichijiro, they embark on a transformative expedition that reveals the harsh realities faced by those with divergent beliefs in a traditional society. As the relentless Grand Inquisitor, Inoue, subjects brave Japanese Christians to harrowing ordeals, Father Rodrigues confronts the ultimate test of his faith: renouncing it in exchange for the lives of the imprisoned faithful.
Under the masterful direction of Martin Scorsese, “Silence” emerges as a contemplative journey into profound themes, welcoming the audience to partake in the director’s introspective exploration. Andrew Garfield’s performance stands as a tour de force, exceeding all anticipations and cementing his status as one of the preeminent actors of our era. Side by side with him, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson exude a commanding presence, imbuing each action with an aura of urgency and import, engrossing the viewer’s undivided attention. The unexpected delight of witnessing Adam Driver conversing in Latin further enriches the depth of this cinematic endeavor.
The Japanese cast’s harmonious and authentic performance showcases their incredible talent, leaving us in awe of their accomplishment. “Silence” stands as a contemplative masterpiece that invites the audience to ponder the profound silence of God in the midst of insurmountable trials and unwavering faith.
03. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
In this sprawling biographical black comedy crime film, co-produced and masterfully directed by the avaricious Martin Scorsese, and brought to life with a script by the cunning Terence Winter, greed takes center stage. The narrative draws its wicked inspiration from Jordan Belfort’s memoir, a tale of unbridled excess and moral bankruptcy published in 2007 under the same title. The insatiable appetite for wealth led Leonardo DiCaprio and Warner Bros. to snatch up the rights to Belfort’s sordid story back in 2007, although the production faced its share of setbacks due to pesky content restrictions. Nevertheless, it found a willing accomplice in the independent production company Red Granite Pictures. The film’s voracious appetite for capturing the essence of decadence was satisfied with filming in the opulent streets of New York in late 2012, predominantly using the lavish 35mm film stock.
In 1987, the young and ruthless Jordan Belfort, portrayed with unapologetic avarice by Leonardo DiCaprio, claws his way into an entry-level position at a Wall Street brokerage firm. But this is merely the prelude to a tumultuous journey into the heart of greed. Fast-forward to the early 1990s, and still in his twenties, Belfort, with the conniving Jonah Hill as his trusted right-hand man, gives birth to his own avaricious empire, Stratton Oakmont. In the dark shadows of their office, alongside a merry band of unscrupulous brokers, Belfort orchestrates an audacious scheme to amass boundless wealth by defrauding wealthy investors. Yet, as the henchmen of greed indulge in a hedonistic whirlwind of sex, drugs, and thrill-seeking, the relentless watchdogs of the SEC and the relentless hounds of the FBI draw closer, circling like vultures over their ill-gotten riches, heralding a reckoning of colossal proportions.
The film hasn’t escaped its share of criticism, with accusations of glorifying insatiable greed and allocating only modest, even clumsily executed moments to Jordan Belfort’s eventual downfall. Nonetheless, Martin Scorsese’s unapologetic fascination with the intricate craft of hustling and his unwavering drive to reveal the inner workings of avarice are undeterred. He takes delight in peeling away the layers of the covetous psyche, laying bare the rot that lies beneath. Yet, much like a cunning con artist, he ensures the film maintains its agility and entertainment value, steering clear of the abyss of drowning in trivial minutiae.
At the core of this extravagant spectacle, we find Leonardo DiCaprio delivering a commanding performance saturated with shameless avarice and sly charisma. Martin Scorsese’s direction, akin to a grand orchestration of greed and extravagance, propels this cinematic odyssey into the realm of indispensable masterpieces. “The Wolf of Wall Street” doesn’t harbor any illusions of charm; instead, it luxuriates in its role as an unwavering reminder of the moral decay concealed within opulence, and the irresistible allure that can ensnare even the most virtuous. To dissect the insatiable appetite of greed, it occasionally embraces that very voracity in its portrayal.
02. Goodfellas (1980)
A biographical crime opus masterfully orchestrated by Martin Scorsese, co-scripted by the seasoned Nicholas Pileggi and the maestro himself, Scorsese. The narrative takes its roots from Pileggi’s 1985 nonfiction work, “Wiseguy,” meticulously adapted to the screen. The cast comprises a shadowy assembly of talents, featuring the likes of Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino, who seamlessly inhabit these underworld personas.
This cinematic descent delves deep into the dark underbelly of New York, sketching a stark and chilling portrait of Henry Hill, the local boy who metamorphosed into a mobster within the unforgiving heart of a ruthless neighborhood. By his side, Tommy DeVito, a genuine gangster and Henry’s trusted confidant. The sinister threads that weave their criminal escapades are adroitly manipulated by Jimmy Conway, masterminding daring heists and audacious burglaries that etch themselves into the sordid annals of the city’s criminal chronicles. However, after enduring a protracted prison sentence, Henry embarks on a treacherous journey, skillfully evading the grasp of the local mob boss, Paulie Cicero, in relentless pursuit of the opulent life that has long eluded him. Their path leads them to the precipice, where decisions of life and death become the grim currency of survival.
Scorsese’s directorial prowess is palpable in “GoodFellas,” an immaculately constructed piece adorned with riveting cinematography and performances that leave an indelible mark. Despite its extended runtime, the film maintains an unrelenting pace, inflicting an emotional toll after over two hours of unyielding tension. It mesmerizes with its pace, and the visual and auditory elements possess a magnetic allure that even our nerves sometimes caution against. Throughout the experience, there’s no doubt that a master craftsman is at the helm.
The harsh reality, simultaneously thrilling and terrifying, lies in the fact that for Henry Hill, a life of criminality is his sole existence. This fundamental notion serves as the core essence of “GoodFellas,” a concept both foundational and revolutionary. While the ensemble cast is unquestionably exceptional, let’s direct our attention to Joe Pesci, whose performance merits the most resounding applause.
The film astounds with virtuoso Steadicam tracking shots, a paradoxically frenetic editing style, and a tapestry woven with baroque visual satire, off-kilter realism, and a sharp, scabrous dialogue that elevates street-level banter to the heights of a Jacobean drama. In the world of criminals and cinema, “GoodFellas” stands as an iconic masterpiece.
01. Taxi Driver (1976)
“Taxi Driver” surfaces as a haunting and somber work of art, a psychological thriller that delves into the depths of Martin Scorsese’s imaginative darkness, crafted with the ink of Paul Schrader’s tormented talent. An ensemble of luminaries, featuring the likes of Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris, and Albert Brooks, lends their shadowy presence to this mosaic of desolation.
The city that never sleeps becomes the canvas for this twisted symphony of dread, with Travis Bickle, a war-scarred ex-Marine, as its disenchanted maestro. His insomnia-fueled taxi-driving nights blend with the perverse haze of adult films in the daylight hours, all while he meditates on society’s moral decay in the unforgiving heart of New York. A solitary sentinel, Bickle clings to his fractured code of ethics. Amid the bleakness, the glimmer of hope in the form of Betsy, a beacon of righteousness in a corrupt world, briefly pierces the darkness. But a fateful incident triggers a metamorphosis, propelling him on a relentless quest.
“Taxi Driver” transcends the bounds of the ordinary, casting an almost otherworldly spell that firmly secures Martin Scorsese’s place among the cinematic elite. It stands as an icon of originality, its narrative etched in the annals of American cultural mythology. A taut tapestry of tension, the film binds its audience to the tumultuous journey of its tortured protagonist, evoking a relentless suspense that builds like an impending storm from its unsettling inception.
To dissect “Taxi Driver” with the cold scalpel of intellect is a futile endeavor. Scorsese’s dynamic camerawork and the entire ensemble’s raw authenticity weave a haunting urban tapestry, immersing viewers in the gritty and mesmerizing world of the film. Robert De Niro’s portrayal leaves an indelible scar on the psyche, a haunting testament to his unparalleled brilliance. In this cinematic labyrinth of darkness, “Taxi Driver” stands as an enduring monument to the allure of storytelling in its most sinister and profound form.
Selecting the standout films from Martin Scorsese’s remarkable collection is akin to navigating a menu at an exquisite ice cream parlor – it’s a challenging but delightful endeavor. It required a substantial amount of time to explore his cinematic treasures, and I genuinely recommend indulging in his entire filmography because each one is akin to a precious gem in its own unique way.
Now, some of you might not spot your personal favorites in this list, and that’s okay. We had a little inside fun here at Koimoi, running our own version of a movie marathon. When the final votes were tallied, these 10 films emerged as the champions. If it were solely up to me, I’d have included every single Scorsese creation because they’re all worth a watch, but alas, there are forces beyond my control at play here. So grab some popcorn, pick your favorite from this list, and let the cinematic adventure begin!
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