Martin Scorsese is a certified legend in Hollywood who’s been pumping out quality cinema for longer than most of us have been alive. When you walk into a Scorsese movie you know you’re in for something cinematic and certainly memorable. Some of his movies are more accessible than others but I don’t think he’s ever made a bad film. I went through his resume, narrowed his extensive filmography down, and came up with my list for Martin Scorsese’s 10 best movies.
#10 ‘The Color of Money‘
I guess you could consider this to be one of the more basic of Scorsese’s mainstream films, but it’s anchored by a trio of excellent performances and Scorsese’s impeccable direction. Scorsese makes playing pool look cool with his camera techniques, choice of angles, and song selections. The film would earn four Oscar nominations, Paul Newman would win the Oscar for his smooth performance and a young Tom Cruise as the ever-cocky Vince would show he could act alongside the best as did Mastrantonio resulting in a timeless and engrossing film that’s strong on many levels.
#9 ‘Shutter Island‘
Here Scorsese takes a skilled ensemble cast led by DiCaprio and creates a haunting mystery thriller that plays frequently in the horror playground as well. This is a haunting film driven by a compelling and unsettling narrative and exceptional performances. I think Scorsese flexes his versatility here and he crafts many eerie and tension filled moments while navigating through this multidimensional plotline. The cinematography is amazing. It’s beautifully gloomy and Shutter Island can easily immerse you into its foreboding atmosphere when you’re looking for an escape.
#8 ‘Killers of the Flower Moon‘
After seeing this film two times now I can safely say Scorsese’s latest, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’, is one of his best. How he explores the atrocities committed on the Osage Nation during the 1920s is emotionally gripping. It will enrage you. It will touch your heart, and it all spurs from the performances of DiCaprio, De Niro, and in particular, Lily Gladstone who provides this film with a riveting portrayal. De Niro is pleasantly vile, and DiCaprio is at his best. With Scorsese crafting a beautiful piece of cinema fueled by a dramatic undercurrent that will reach in and grab your heart.
They say the mob-built Las Vegas and Scorsese’s crime epic ‘Casino’ explores the violence, corruption, greed, and lust that got the job done like only Martin Scorsese could. It’s elegant, seductive, violent, and Scorsese balances this all-star trio to perfection. Pesci and De Niro are perfect for their roles but it’s the emotionally charged performance from Sharon Stone that steals the show. Scorsese can get the best out of you and he does here with this cast. The music, the cinematography, the editing, and detail of the story, make ‘Casino’ a timeless saga of the foundations of Vegas and its connection to the Italian Mafia.
#6 ‘Mean Streets‘
I think this could be considered one of Scorsese’s more underrated, or if anything, often forgotten films, but it’s a very raw and gritty street-crime drama that thrives on its barebones craftsmanship. The natural lighting, and simplistic but effective direction from Scorsese makes it feel like you are inside these guys’ lives watching them during the highs and lows of neighborhood crime. The characters and the story develop smoothly, it builds tension nicely, and that’s what keeps you lured in. It’s an intimate film at times, violent at others, and the nostalgia of ‘Mean Streets’ is like time traveling back to New York during the early 70s.
#5 ‘The Wolf of Wall Street‘
Scorsese is clearly having fun in his depiction of the self-indulgent lifestyle of Wall Street brokers in the late 80s. The cast is fantastic, DiCaprio delivers a charismatic performance and Scorsese’s flashy direction is perfect for the subject matter. The lifestyle was fast cars, excess at every level, nonstop drugs, endless rivers of money, wild sex, and this film shows how debauchery can affect the weaknesses of human nature. This is a strong film in terms of direction, editing, scoring, and certainly the performances, but its bloated length is unnecessary and a bit of a turn off.
#4 ‘Raging Bull’
If any film truly captures the triumph and tragedy of a man, it’s ‘Raging Bull’. A masterpiece that would earn a staggering eight Oscar nominations. De Niro would win for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta and his raw performance in the hands of Scorsese is a masterclass in compelling filmmaking. Scorsese’s direction and craftsmanship in this film is impeccable as he takes the viewer back in time with gritty but pristine visuals. It’s not an easy watch at times as LaMotta hits rock bottom. But ‘Raging Bull’ is nothing if not world class cinema on every level.
#3 ‘Taxi Driver’
‘Taxi Driver’ would certainly be the film that would put Scorsese on the map. It would earn four Oscar nominations and the mental descent of De Niro’s Travis Bickle is chilling and pleasantly unsettling. Scorsese’s capturing of the seediness of New York is perfect for the story, his direction is intimate at the right times, and this ominous film can capture your imagination before you know it. The performances are fantastic and the unpredictability of Bickle in the hands of De Niro is a flawless spiral into madness.
#2 ‘The Departed’
This is a true modern organized crime classic. It’s gritty, multi-layered, and Scorsese directs this all-star cast with ease. The quiet moments are compelling as the story evolves and the stark violence is unsettling and catches you off guard. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning four trophies, among them being Scorsese winning for Best Director and the film for Best Picture. And really this is cinema running at full speed from storytelling to performances, to editing, direction, scoring, cinematography, ‘The Departed’ is close to perfect.
I think ‘Goodfellas’ is the modern gangster classic that can sit on the top of the mountain next to ‘The Godfather’. De Niro and Pesci are simply awesome in these vicious roles but the star of the show without question is Ray Liotta. Martin Scorsese, always comfortable in this genre, is able to give each of these powerhouse performances room to breathe. Scorsese would get a best director nomination and the film would receive five other nominations with Joe Pesci winning the trophy for his supporting role. ‘Goodfellas’ is filled with memorable moments, compelling character development, and Scorsese’s direction creates an elegance to all the brutal violence and bravado that make it a timeless classic.
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis