Scorsese. He’s the highest rated living (and active) director on the list! In some ways Scorsese is the easiest to discuss (I’ve seen each of his fiction films twice (aside from Silence) and I’ve written about him and discussed him so often. On the other hand, in some ways, he’s one of the toughest because he is still working and therefore hasn’t been a lot of time to reflect. He’s made 24 feature fiction films by my count and the last 22 have been archievable- prolific and consistent. Remarkable.  Scorsese’s case is really two fold—1. Those trio of films at the top—get this—since 1976 (Taxi Driver) Scorsese has made 3 of the best 10 films…. Pause….  2. The depth of quality- Scorsese is a perfectionist so there’s never a lackluster effort- the images below from his 8-10 best films (Shutter Island, King of Comedy, Aviator) are incredible—but you could grab some from films like After Hours, Kundun and Gangs of New York as well.

style and narrative tied together in Taxi Driver as Scorsese shows Travis Bickle’s distorted reality

Best film:  Raging Bull. I’ve really never wavered here but I don’t get angered when someone argues for Goodfellas or Taxi Driver (which gets better every time I see it). I think Raging Bull is now a top 5 all-time film. It’s the best film really since Apocalypse Now (of the 80’s, 90’s and 21st century). It’s masterful and features some of the best editing of all-time (the in-ring editing, camerawork and editing—my god), one of the most beautiful films of all-time (those opening credits), and the best single performance of all-time. Tough to beat that.

Here’s a snip I found from De Palma

“And during the shooting of ‘Scarface,’ ‘Raging Bull’ comes out. And so he goes and sees ‘Raging Bull’ at the theater, and it just starts off with that opening credits shot. Of that classical music playing and the big, wide shot of the ring and Jake Lamada there just bouncing in slow motion in his robe. ‘No matter what you do, no matter how good you are, there’s always Scorsese. There’s always Scorsese challenging you right there.”’

as good as film lighting gets in Raging Bull
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stunning b/w photographic imagery

total archiveable films: 22

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a perfect shot in King of Comedy

top 100 films: 3 (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver)

top 500 films: 7 (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Casino, The Departed, The Age of Innocence)

An auteur still at the height of his stylistic powers nearly 20 years after Taxi Driver here in Casino

top 100 films of the decade: 10 (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Casino, The Departed, The Age of Innocence, King of Comedy, Shutter Island The Aviator)

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Credit title sequence as an art form? It doesn’t get better than this from Saul Bass in Casino

most overrated:  New York, New York according to TSPDT is Scorsese’s 8th best film and #773 of all-time. I think I’d have it around his 15th slot at best.

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“priest’s eye view” ceiling tracking shot at the end of Taxi Driver

most underrated: The Leo era— Are they as good as the De Niro films (which Pesci had a big hand in 3 of)? No. But they are officially underrated at this point.  Scorsese has 9 in the top 1000 of all-time on TSPDT and not one from the brilliant collaborations with Leo? Shutter Island is the most underrated of those. Robert Richardson’s work as DP with Scorsese here makes for some of the best photography in the 2010’s decade.

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still frame wall art in Shutter Island
Robert Richardson as DP here- one of Scorsese’s many talented collaborators over the decades

gem I want to spotlight:  Mean Streets. Without the proper context you’ll see all the flaws here and nothing but. It’s not Scorsese’s debut (it’s his third film), and it doesn’t have the polish of The 400 Blows or Breathless but the American New Wave of the 70’s is real and this film is a landmark. The best points in this film (the wonderful opening voice-over by Scorsese himself, the pop/rock soundtrack, the triple-editing technique (same image zoomed-in with short ellipsis), the “rubber biscuit” song scene with the reverse POV) are all breathtaking. Scorsese is throwing 100 mph and even if it doesn’t all land it’s superior to almost everything else out there before and after. How about the lighting in the bar? The slow-motion track in on Keitel at the bar? This film, stylistically and thematically (Keitel is Liotta, De Niro is Pesci) is a rough draft of Goodfellas. For the longest time I held this against Mean Streets but don’t make that mistake like I did- it’s a masterpiece- it’s just not a top 20 film of all-time like Goodfellas. So what.   

the slow-motion tracking shot that started it all in Mean Streets
symbolism through color in Goodfellas

stylistic innovations/traits:

This feels really dumb to try to put into a paragraph.  Scorsese is a brilliant stylist as I said and is also a great student of film so he not only has his own voice but borrows from some of the best of cinema. In Goodfellas alone he has one of the greatest single uses of freeze-frame (hello Truffaut and the French New Wave), open narration (Jules and Jim again), The Great Train Robbery (final shot of Pesci pointing at the camera), a pop/rock soundtrack that is second to none and amongst the great tracking shots of all-time (Copacabana scene)—and a rival of that is the “priest’s eye view” ceiling tracking shot at the end of Taxi Driver. His films are directed with stylistically motivated energy. Taxi Driver borrows form Bresson and The Searchers. The Departed recreates the beautiful finale from The Third Man. The signature triple-edit is from Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7. Scorsese’s influence with slow-motion tracking shots set to pop/rock can been seen in everyone from PT (Boogie Nights) to Wes (Royal Tenenbaums) and how about that cutaway in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs that matches the one from Scorsese cutting away from Travis Bickle on the phone to show an empty hall? So Scorsese has influenced Wes, PT (PT takes the high and low musical peaks and violent breakouts from Taxi Driver and puts them in Punch-Drunk Love as well) and Tarantino. Scorsese’s subjects and themes are ruminations on masculinity and morality.

If given 3 minutes to show someone one scene on why I love cinema it would probably be the Copacabana shot from Goodellas
a stunning freeze-frame to open King of Comedy

top 10

  1. Raging Bull
  2. Goodfellas
  3. Taxi Driver
  4. Mean Streets
  5. Casino
  6. The Departed
  7. The Age of Innocence
  8. Shutter Island
  9. King of Comedy
  10. The Aviator
from Taxi Driver -showing isolation…
…using cinema

By year and grades

1973- Mean Streets MP
1974- Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore R/HR
1976- Taxi Driver MP
1977- New York, New York R
1980- Raging Bull MP
1982- King of Comedy
1985- After Hours R
1986- The Color of Money R
1988- The Last Temptation of Christ R
1990- Goodfellas MP
1991- Cape Fear R
1993- Age of Innocence MS
1995- Casino MS
1997- Kundun R
1999- Bringing out the Dead R
2002- Gangs of New York HR
2004- The Aviator MS
2006- The Departed MS/MP
2010- Shutter Island MS
2011- Hugo R
2013- The Wolf of Wall Street R/HR
2016- Silence R
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beautiful to look at– yes– but also perfect for the character study here as we look at the obsessive compulsive Howard Hughes

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives