Marty Scorsese is one of America’s most influential filmmakers, whose oeuvre covers the violent intersection of Capitalism and Religion. He offers a mise-en-scene where redemption, tribalism, crime, and faith are explored while rock and roll blasts from the speakers and heads get squeezed in vices. Through a frenetic montage of stylish camera angles and interesting cuts, some of the best actors unleash believable performances. There’s nothing quite like a Scorsese film. ECR explores both the top and bottom of his filmography.
KING OF COMEDY
Robert DeNiro is an unfunny comic who kidnaps his idol Jerry Lewis and makes him listen to bad jokes. This film has started to earn a new life and reputation in the post The Office Cringe-Comedy world, however DeNiro’s performance is good but the pathos involved here is unrelenting and unsettling. Watch it once if you want but doesn’t warrant repeat viewings.
This is a technical achievement and it’s always fun to watch a biopic about a powerful yet flawed protagonist (I’m looking at you Citizen Kane) however, besides Cate Blanchett’s inspired turn as Katy Hepburn the movie feels like Scorsese is phoning in all of his old tricks despite the cool color grading. Watchable yes, but should you?
Scorsese worked with Roger Corman and the results signal what’s ahead. Other than that historical factoid this movie is above average Corman dreck…which is actually a compliment for Corman but Scorsese has bigger and better landscapes ahead.
COLOR OF MONEY
The sequel to the Hustler fails to outshine it’s source material. One of those movies that comes on TV and gets watched in the background at the very pool halls its set in. Forest Whitaker’s cameo is great.
Not a bad flick…until the end. And once it is revealed does not stand up to repeat viewings unless you are a young lady and need to get your middle age Leo fix.
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
The Gilded Age comes across with energy thanks to Marty’s direction, however it’s not enough to keep an audience engaged. This movie feels like an English Class assignment meant to broaden a student’s understanding, but in reality allows the teacher some down time to grade poorly written and plagiarized papers.
NEW YORK NEW YORK
This is what happens when you mix cocaine, DeNiro, and Lizza Minelli…an uneatable soup that tastes tepid. Almost unwatchable.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
Between the visceral opening battle between the immigrants and the “natives” and the closing battle twenty years later is a love story with Cameron Diaz…and it ruins this movie. Daniel Day-Lewis turns in yet another spectacular performance and Leo anchors the cast but the love story takes too much room in a story about a much mythologized and maligned period in American history.
The uncanny valley is unkind. Three hours of CGI is not enough to reverse father time for Pesci, DeNiro, and Pacino. While it’s always a good time to see Al and Bob chewing the scenery together since it happened so few times. The faces may be younger but the bodies are old and tired. Case in point, DeNiro’s headstomp outside of a grocery store looks like grandpa put a halloween mask on. There’s a reason it won so few awards. Another technical achievement but at what costs? It could’ve been done with age appropriate actors and in half the time and then we might have something worth more than one viewing.
The sacred cow of Scorsese films offers two amazing performances by Joe Pesci and DeNiro. However it is not one of those films that is repeatedly watchable. Aside from the kinetic boxing scenes and the “Did you fuck my wife?” brother beat down, the portrait painted here is not only hard to watch but also thoroughly depressing. It is a testament to Scorsese’s talents that a film this well made can be ranked as one of his worst.
THE TOP :
10. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD
New York City as nightmare hellscape is done better in TAXI DRIVER, however that movie doesn’t have Nic Cage as a paramedic slowly unraveling on his night shift. Themes of madness, crime, faith, and redemption all unfurl in an amazingly satisfying way. While comparisons to the 1976 tour de force TD are going to happen but the climax of BOD arrives in a truly unique way. A stunning movie from beginning to end.
9. AFTER HOURS
Griffin Dunne is a data entry drone who survives a boring day of work only to fall head first into a series of misadventures straight out of hell. Cheech and Chong show up as comic relief, but bad goes to worse as the evening wears on into morning. A tight little fun flick and one that Scorsese desperately needed after a string of overbudgeted epics between Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. Fun stuff.
7. TAXI DRIVER
Paul Schrader’s script is a dark tour de force. Bernard Herrman’s romantic-yet-nightmarish score snakes around the corners of New York City as Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) descends into self-righteous madness. His one man crusade to save a tweenage prostitute (Jodie Foster) gets misinterpreted by a lot men as being a hero’s quest. However, like everything else in the movie, things are not so simple. Travis Bickle is a self-centered incel who after failing to score with Cybil Shepherd decides to assassinate her boss, an up-and-coming politician. And like all of life’s failures for men with ambition, Travis Bickle shifts gears to save Jodie Foster. There’s not a weak link in this movie and its harrowing climax remains one of the most visceral moments in all of cinema. Winner of the Palm D’Or and for good reason. One of Marty’s best and one of his most polarizing, especially looking back with eyes that have seen the horrors of the 21st century out last those of the 20th.
6. CAPE FEAR
Remake of the 1961 original which itself was an adaptation of The Executioners. This one is so good that one of the funniest Simpson’s episodes parodies it in full. Nick Nolte plays a South Carolina attorney who years ago hid evidence that would’ve exonerated an illiterate menace named Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) who was arrested for sexual assault. Cady teaches himself to read while incarcerated for fifteen years and discovers the malpractice. Revenge is a dish best served cold in this thriller, as Cady harasses the Lawyer, his family, the family dog, and the private investigator hired to protect them. All leading to a harrowing climax aboard an unmoored house boat in the middle of a hurricane. Bernard Herrman’s original score gets a redo and it is an excellent companion to the tension on screen.
5. THE DEPARTED
Another remake of a movie, turns out to be one of Marty’s best. At least the Academy finally voted to give him the oscar for direction finally after so many snubs. Jack Nicholson steals the show as a Whitey Bulger type in the South Boston underworld. And I do mean every single scene. One of his last great performances before retiring to family life and old age. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon play recent State police academy graduates who both get sucked into a world of deception as both work as spies for the other side. Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg take turns chewing the scenery in a tightly plotted character study. The visual fireworks keep a low profile as the film drives itself over the cliff. A great crime caper.
An operatic look at the history of organized crime in Las Vegas right before the corporations turned it into Disneyland for adults. DeNiro, Pesci, and Sharon Stone lead an ensemble cast of heavies that weaves their own narration throughout as the trio achieve untold fortunes only to piss them away to their own hubris. A companion piece to Goodfellas and in some circles a monumental usurper to the prior’s title of greatest Scorsese film.
3. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
Willem Dafoe plays Jesus and at the moment of his crucifixion comes down off the cross to become a man like everyone else. Based on the book of the same name and condemned by every bible thumper on earth. This film contains an emotional impact that is equal to a religious experience like no other at the end when Dafoe’s Jesus realizes he’s been duped and begs God to put him back on the cross so that he can die for all mankind. Harry Dean Stanton’s Saul/Paul steals the show away from Keitel’s Judas. Great adaptation of an excellent banned book.
2. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
This movie not only introduces the world to Margot Robbie it is also Marty’s best movie in two decades. It gets unleashed on the audience with unbridled energy putting us all in the shoes of not only the goomba crooks preying on Joe the Plumber’s greed, but also that very same Joe. The best movie about greed since the Treasure of the Sierra Madre and to top it off it’s a hilarious comedy. Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performance hands down, especially when the Ludes kick in and he must crawl down the steps to get in his decked out sports car. Matthew McConnaughey steals the show early with his cameo as Leo’s mentor. And yet his energy lingers for the next three hours. (unlike the Irishman)
The King Kong of gangster movies. Gone is the romantic notions of family inherent in the majestic Godfather series, these people are strangers in a strangeland trying to make it best they can and if you don’t like it they’ll sneak into your house at night and burn it down around you. Joe Pesci steals the show as Tommy the belligerent killer who will stop at nothing to maintain his reputation. The movie flows from the opening moments and grabs audiences by the throat, and it does so while never losing the energy of an elongated trailer for a movie. Dropping us into a lifestyle that is both seductive and repulsive, with the best soundtrack ever in Scorsese film. This movie slaps.