ByBrian Finamore, writer at
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Brian Finamore

American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian.

Martin Charles Scorsese is 72 years young today, and since he belongs to the Mt. Rushmore of all time Hollywood filmmakers, I thought I would share my list of his best narrative films.

Part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and influential filmmakers in cinema history.

In 1990, he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, and in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation. He is a recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award for his contributions to the cinema, and has won an Academy Award, a Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival Best Director Award, Silver Lion, Grammy Award, Emmys, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and DGA Awards.

Scorsese's body of work addresses such themes as Italian-American identity, Roman Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption, machismo, modern crime, and gang conflict. Many of his films are also notable for their depiction of violence and liberal use of profanity. He has directed landmark films such as Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983), and Goodfellas (1990), all of which he collaborated on with actor and close friend Robert De Niro. He won the Academy Award for Best Director for The Departed (2006). With eight Best Director nominations to date, he is the most nominated living director, and is tied with Billy Wilder for the second most nominations overall. Since Gangs of New York (2002), he has also been noted for his collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio.

With the completion of 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has now made 23 feature films (22 narrative films), and has several projects he's attached to in the future.

Director Trademarks

  • Frequent use of slow motion, e.g. Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Also known for using freeze frame, such as the opening credits of The King of Comedy (1983), and throughout Goodfellas (1990). Such a shot is also used in Casino (1995) and The Departed (2006).
  • His blonde leading ladies are usually seen through the eyes of the protagonist as angelic and ethereal; they wear white in their first scene and are photographed in slow motion (Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver; Cathy Moriarty's white bikini in Raging Bull; Sharon Stone's white minidress in Casino). This may possibly be a nod to director Alfred Hitchcock.
  • Often uses long tracking shots. Example: Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, Hugo.
  • Use of MOS sequences set to popular music or voice-over, often involving aggressive camera movement and/or rapid editing.
  • Often has a quick cameo in his films (Who's That Knocking at My Door, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, After Hours, The Last Temptation of Christ (albeit hidden under a hood), The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York, Hugo). Also, often contributes his voice to a film without showing his face on screen. He provides the opening voice-over narration in Mean Streets and The Color of Money; plays the off-screen dressing room attendant in the final scene of Raging Bull; provides the voice of the unseen ambulance dispatcher in Bringing Out the Dead.
  • Sometimes highlights characters in a scene with an iris, an homage to 1920s silent film cinema (as scenes at the time sometimes used this transition). This effect can be seen in Casino (it is used on Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci), Life Lessons, The Departed (on Matt Damon), and Hugo.
  • Some of his films include references/allusions to westerns, particularly Rio Bravo, The Great Train Robbery, Shane, The Searchers, and The Oklahoma Kid.
  • More recently, his films have featured corrupt authority figures, such as policemen in The Departed and politicians in Gangs of New York and The Aviator.
  • Guilt is a prominent theme in many of his films, as is the role of Catholicism in creating and dealing with guilt (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Bringing Out the Dead, Mean Streets, Who's That Knocking at My Door, The Departed, Shutter Island).
  • Slow motion flashbulbs and accented camera/flash/shutter sounds.
  • The song "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones is heard in several of Scorsese’s films: Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed.

Frequent Collaborators

Scorsese will often cast the same actors in his films, particularly Robert De Niro, who collaborated with Scorsese for eight films. Included are the three films (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas) that made AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies list. Scorsese has often said he thinks De Niro's best work under his direction was Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. Most recently, Scorsese has found a new muse with younger actor Leonardo DiCaprio, with whom he has collaborated for five films. Several critics have compared Scorsese's new partnership with DiCaprio with his previous one with De Niro. Other frequent collaborators include Victor Argo (6), Harry Northup (6), Harvey Keitel (5), Murray Moston (5), J. C. Mackenzie (3), Joe Pesci (3), Frank Vincent (3) and Verna Bloom (3). Daniel Day-Lewis, who had become very reclusive to the Hollywood scene, Alec Baldwin, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, John C. Reilly, Frank Sivero, and Ray Winstone have also appeared in multiple Scorsese films. Before their deaths, Scorsese's parents, Charles Scorsese and Catherine Scorsese, appeared in bit parts, walk-ons or supporting roles, most notably in Goodfellas.

For his crew, Scorsese frequently worked with editor Thelma Schoonmaker, cinematographers Michael Ballhaus, Robert Richardson, and Michael Chapman, screenwriters Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin, and John Logan, costume designer Sandy Powell, production designer Dante Ferretti, music producer Robbie Robertson, and composers Howard Shore and Elmer Bernstein. Schoonmaker, Richardson, Powell, and Ferretti have all won Academy Awards in their respective categories on collaborations with Scorsese. Elaine and Saul Bass, the latter being Hitchcock's frequent title designer, designed the opening credits for Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, Casino and Cape Fear. He was the executive producer of the film Brides, which was directed by Pantelis Voulgaris and starred Victoria Haralabidou, Damian Lewis, Steven Berkoff, and Kosta Sommer.

Scorsese's Favorite Films

In the 2012 Sight and Sound Polls, held every 10 years to select the greatest films of all time, contemporary directors were asked to select 10 films of their choice. Listed below are Scorsese's favorites (Not in order, I don't think.):

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey

  • Ashes and Diamonds
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Leopard
  • Paisà
  • The Red Shoes
  • The River
  • Salvatore Giuliano
  • The Searchers
  • Ugetsu Monogatari
  • Vertigo

Martin Scorsese's (Narrative) Films From Worst to Best

(**Note: Scorsese Directed Documentary & T.V. Work Not Included**)

23. Boxcar Bertha (1972) Rating: **1/2 out of ****

22. New York, New York (1977) Rating: **1/2 out of ****

21. Kundun (1997) Rating: *** out of ****

20. Bringing Out the Dead (1999) Rating: *** out of ****

19. The Color of Money (1986) Rating: *** out of ****

18. The Age of Innocence (1993) Rating: ***1/2 out of ****

17. Shutter Island (2010) Rating: ***1/2 out of ****

16. Hugo (2011) Rating: ***1/2 out of ****

15. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) Rating ***1/2 out of ****

14. The Departed (2006) Rating: ***1/2 out of ****

13. After Hours (1985) Rating: ***1/2 out of ****

12. The Aviator (2004) Rating: ***1/2 out of ****

11. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Rating: **** out of ****

10. Casino (1995) Rating: **** out of ****

9. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Rating: **** out of ****

8. Cape Fear (1991) Rating: **** out of ****

7. The King of Comedy (1983) Rating: **** out of ****

6. Mean Streets (1973) Rating: **** out of ****

5. Gangs of New York (2002) Rating: **** out of ****

4. Life Lessons (1989) Rating: **** out of ****

3. Raging Bull (1980) Rating: **** out of ****

2. Taxi Driver (1976) Rating: **** out of ****

1. Goodfellas (1990) Rating: **** out of ****

(Note: I realize I forgot Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), and I know Life Lessons technically is not a feature film, deal with it.)

Other Scorsese Related Videos

The full music video for "Bad" is an 18-minute short film written by novelist and screenwriter Richard Price. The video was directed by Martin Scorsese in 1986. The video has many references to the 1961 film West Side Story, especially the "Cool" sequence. Not only does it show a street gang dancing in an urban setting, but there are also some parts of the choreography that were influenced by it. The choreographer Gregg Burge confirmed the influence, although they intended to do a more contemporary version of it. Assistant choreographer Jeffrey Daniel commented, "It's like a train coming across the screen [...] and that's the effect I was looking for and it worked".

The video premiered on primetime on the CBS Television Network, on August 31, 1987, on the primetime special Michael Jackson: The Magic Returns.


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