The Good, The Bad and the Badass: Martin Scorsese
Last week we took a look at the career of legendary funnyman Will Ferrell to coincide with the release of ANCHORMAN 2. This week, in anticipation of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, we look at the incredible career of one of the greatest directors of all time...
Martin Scorsese is arguably the world's greatest living director. Just think of the guy's filmography. MEAN STREETS, ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, TAXI DRIVER, THE LAST WALTZ, RAGING BULL, THE KING OF COMEDY, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, and hell- those are just over the first fifteen years of his career. At seventy, Scorsese is still at the peak of his ability. At an age where many directors slow down, Scorsese's work is as vital as ever, thanks in part to an excellent working relationship he's developed with Leonardo DiCaprio, who seems to have inherited Robert De Niro's former role as Scorsese's on-screen alter-ego. Actors love working with Scorsese because they know he'll always get the absolute best out of them.
His Best Work
For me, this one has to be GOODFELLAS, although strong cases could also be made for TAXI DRIVER or RAGING BULL. I'd wager those are as good as GOODFELLAS but there's something about Scorsese's ode to the work-a-day Mafioso thug that makes it particularly special. It's one of the few movies I make sure to watch every year. The sheer passion Scorsese brings to this violent saga is astonishing. Everything about this movie is masterful, from the soundtrack, to the brilliant cast (De Niro as Jimmy Conway, Joe Pesci in his career-defining role as Tommy DeVito, as Ray Liotta as the real-life Henry Hill), it's just a perfect film in every way.
His Most Underrated Film
One of Scorsese's often under-looked masterpieces is THE KING OF COMEDY. This 1983 ultra-black comedy pairs Scorsese with De Niro in an atypical role as Rupert Pupkin, a wanna-be comedian who kidnaps his TV host idol Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis- in a brilliant performance satirizing himself). This one didn’t make much of an impact with audiences in 1983, who were likely expecting another RAGING BULL, but years later it started to pick up a cult following and is now considered not only one of Scorsese’s best, but also one of DeNiro’s most brilliant performances.
However, with so many people now acknowledging it as a masterpiece, in THE KING OF COMEDY still underrated? If not, there are other movies in Scorsese’s oeuvre that fit the bill, like AFTER HOURS, THE COLOR OF MONEY (a movie I was obsessed with as a Tom Cruise-worshipping fan as a child) and a really unheralded gem, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD. Reuniting Scorsese with Paul Schrader, this was tipped as a sort-of companion piece to TAXI DRIVER upon its release in 1999, with Nicolas Cage as a lonely paramedic working the streets of NYC during the early nineties. What makes the films different is that if Travis Bickle was full of hate, Cage’s Frank Pierce is full of compassion, with his turmoil coming from the fact that he’s gone months without having been able to save a patient, and the guilt is eating him up. Like a lot of Scorsese’s work, it’s full of Catholic undertones, from the guilt Cage feels, to what might even be a virgin birth that he witnesses later in the film. It’s one of Cage’s better performances, and a real overlooked gem in Scorsese’s canon.
His Most Overrated Film
Now here’s one that’s going to raise some ire among Marty’s fans. My choice here is THE DEPARTED- the film that finally netted Scorsese the best director Oscar he so richly deserved for TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS. Don’t get me wrong- I really like THE DEPARTED. It’s a fantastically entertaining movie, but as a Scorsese opus, one shouldn’t forget that it’s a remake. A lot of the movie’s most arresting imagery comes from the brilliant Hong Kong trilogy, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, that inspired it, and while it’s one of the very best remakes I’ve ever seen, it still can’t compare to his all-out classics. Maybe the Academy just wanted to reward him for having such a brilliant body of work, but Scorsese- even at seventy- is far from done, with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET being another career highlight that could (and should) win him another richly deserved Oscar. One thing- it just goes to show you how even an "overrated" Scorsese film would still probably get an 8 or a 9 on 10 from him if I was reviewing it today.
His Most Memorable Scene
This is a tough category, with Scorsese being masterful in his construction of set-pieces. There are so many that could have been put in here, from “are you talking to me” from TAXI DRIVER, to the closing shootout in the same movie, to the “did you f-ck my wife?” bit in RAGING BULL, and on and on. For me, the best of the best is the infamous “Layla” montage from GOODFELLAS, as it really illustrates all that’s perfect about Marty’s work, from the imagery, to the dark humor, to the brilliant use of contemporary music.
His Top-Five Films
Even though Scorsese’s gone on record saying that at seventy, he may only have a few films left in him, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. His next movie is his long gestating Jesuit priests in Japan period epic SILENCE. Following that, he’s been teasing a reunion with his favorite leading men Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, with maybe even Al Pacino (and maybe Leo???) along for the ride in THE IRISHMAN. I’d also love to see Marty take a crack as the long-gestating SINATRA biopic (if anyone could do “old blue eyes” justice it’s Marty. No matter what he does you can be 100% sure it’ll be excellent.