Martin Scorsese

Ray Liotta, Oscar winner Joe Pesci, Catherine Scorsese (Marty's mother) and Robert De Niro in what is widely considered (including by me) to be the best film of the 90's: Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas (1990)

Ray Liotta, Oscar winner Joe Pesci, Catherine Scorsese (Marty's mother) and Robert De Niro in what is widely considered (including by me) to be the best film of the 90's: Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas (1990)

  • Born:  1942
  • Rank:  2
  • Score:  928.90
  • Awards:  Oscar / DGA / BAFTA / 2 Golden Globes / 2 NYFC /  LAFC / 3 NSFC / 2 NBR / 2 BSFC / 2 CFC / 2 BFCA
  • Nominations:  6 Oscars / 7 DGA / 7 BAFTA / 7 Golden Globes / 3 CFC / 3 BFCA
  • Feature Films:  20
  • Best: GoodFellas
  • Worst:  Boxcar Bertha

Top 10 Feature Films:

  1. GoodFellas – 1990
  2. Raging Bull – 1980
  3. The Age of Innocence – 1993
  4. The Aviator – 2004
  5. The Departed – 2006
  6. Mean Streets – 1973
  7. Gangs of New York – 2002
  8. Taxi Driver – 1976
  9. After Hours – 1985
  10. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – 1974

Top 10 Director Finishes  (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1973 – 2nd – Mean Streets
  • 1976 – 1st – Taxi Driver
  • 1980 – 1st – Raging Bull
  • 1983 – 6th – The King of Comedy
  • 1985 – 8th – After Hours
  • 1988 – 8th – The Last Temptation of Christ
  • 1990 – 1st – GoodFellas
  • 1993 – 2nd – The Age of Innocence
  • 1997 – 8th – Kundun
  • 2002 – 2nd – Gangs of New York
  • 2004 – 1st – The Aviator
  • 2006 – 1st – The Departed

Here’s what I wrote in February of 2007:

“If Martin Scorsese wins his long deserved Oscar, how will people look back on it?  Will they view it as the best directing of the year?  Will they view it as making up for a perceived snub?  Or will they simply view it as more of a “career” award?  There’s some history all around and an argument for each side.

Will Marty’s be a Career Oscar?

Everyone makes that argument.  A quick look at his non-nominated pedigree (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Age of Innocence) and his nominations (Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, Gangs of New York, Aviator) make the argument.  People don’t want to see him on the list with Hitchcock and Kubrick.

Will Marty’s be a Makeup Oscar?

He doesn’t really deserve one for The Departed, but he deserved one for The Aviator, the argument goes.  William Goldman tried to argue with The Aviator that Marty shouldn’t win because he had made better films.  Yet, Goldman was arguing for Eastwood.  Eastwood would win for Million Dollar Baby.  Eastwood not only had an Oscar, but the argument can be made that this was a makeup Oscar because he couldn’t win for Mystic River against the juggernaut of Return of the King.  If we continually try to fix things for previous slights, we only make new slights.

Will Marty be winning for doing the best direction of the year?

I say yes.  I already made this argument with The Deer Hunter.  I agree with The Deer Hunter’s Oscars for Best Picture and Director.  Yet, if it had been released a year earlier, I would rank it no higher than fourth (behind Star Wars, Annie Hall and Close Encounters of the Third Kind).  If it had come out a year later, again I would rank it no higher than fourth (behind Apocalypse Now, Manhattan and Alien).  But, I rank it as the Best Picture and Best Director of 1978.

I hold that The Departed is the Best Picture and Best Director of 2006.  Would it have been the best of 2005?  I would place it fourth, behind Munich, Brokeback Mountain and King Kong.  In fact, to find the next most recent year that The Departed would win my Best Picture, you have to go back to 1998.  Does that make 2006 a weak year?  Not necessarily.  I have The Queen as a very close second and United 93 as a not too distant third.  It just means that there was not that single great film that I feel the last number of years have had.

Is it Marty’s best?  Not by my standards.  I rank them in this order: GoodFellas, Raging Bull, The Aviator, The Age of Innocence, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Gangs of New York, The Departed.  Yes, I would give it Best Picture and Best Director in spite of the fact that I feel its his eighth best film.  But, then, I would have given GoodFellas, Raging Bull and The Aviator Best Picture and Director, second place finishes on Picture and Director to Age of Innocence, Mean Streets and Gangs (behind, respectively, Schindler’s List, Cries and Whispers and The Two Towers) and a Best Director win and second place Best Picture finish to Taxi Driver (behind All the President’s Men).  Remember, we’re talking about Martin Scorsese here. He enters the conversation for Greatest Director of All-time.  I would probably rank him third, behind Kubrick and Kurosawa.  Even his eighth best film, albiet in a year with no singularly brilliant film, is good enough to deservedly win Best Picture and Best Director.”

So, here we are two and a half years later and what do I think of what I wrote then?  I mostly agree with what I wrote then.  I have actually moved The Departed up on the list of Scorsese films, I saw Children of Men, The Fountain and Pan’s Labyrinth (which pushed The Queen to fifth and United 93 to sixth), and when I did my final director results, Spielberg and Scorsese both ended up sliding just ahead of Kubrick (by barely more than a point and mainly because Kubrick only made 13 films).  But should they have given the Oscar to Marty?  Did they get it right (I actually wrote all that before he won)?  Hell, yes.  And the Academy made possibly the best move they have ever made, getting Coppola, Spielberg and Lucas up there to give it to him.  Not that it was ever in much doubt (for a little bit, because it had been 29 years since Best Picture had gone to a film with only 5 nominations, but once the ceremony began, no one doubted it), but as soon as those three came out on stage I was leaping up and down in the living room.  They had made it such a beautiful moment (especially when Spielberg and Coppola point out that it is better to win – poor George).  Then The Departed went on to win Best Picture, kicking off a string of wins that I actually agree with.  And Marty finally had that Oscar that he had deserved so much.  And he didn’t get beaten by a damn actor yet again.

That’s what happened in 1980.  And 1990.  And 2004.  But not in 2006.  They finally did him right.

So, a quick recap.  He started with a great short (The Big Shave) then quickly made his first feature (Who’s That Knocking at My Door).  He made a solid film for Roger Corman (Boxcar Bertha).  Then he made his first gangster film and his first classic, Mean Streets.  He then made a completely different kind of film with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (for anyone who thinks of Scorsese as a very male oriented director, bear in mind that Ellen Burstyn and Cate Blanchett both won Oscars under Marty’s direction and Diane Ladd, Jodie Foster, Cathy Moriarty, Lorraine Bracco, Juliette Lewis, Winona Ryder and Sharon Stone all earned nominations with career best performances — and only nomination — for many on that list).  Then came Taxi Driver, and like Spielberg the year before, the ultimate directorial vision got nominated for Best Picture but the director didn’t get a nomination.  Then came New York, New York (already his third film with De Niro).  After that came Raging Bull and the first loss to an actor.  It was actually expected for Redford to win that year because he had won the Golden Globe, the DGA and the NBR (people forget this because at the end of the decade when critics were polled, Raging Bull was named the best film of the decade – a view that is still widely held as it is the highest ranked film of the decade in both AFI lists and on the Top 1000).  Still, he was losing to an actor who was directing for the first time.

In the eighties, we had a change of pace.  We had his first comedy (sort of), then a real comedy (a very black one), then a sequel (which won Paul Newman his long awaited for Oscar), then perhaps the most controversial film of the decade.  But the nineties brought one of the most critically acclaimed films of all-time.  GoodFellas won Best Picture and Best Director from 5 of the 6 major critics groups and is even now, 19 years later, the third most successful film among the critics awards of all-time (not far behind L.A. Confidential and Sideways).  Marty was the first person to win 6 Best Director awards in one year.  Yet, it was the year of Dances with Wolves, and critics be damned, Marty lost the Oscar, DGA and Golden Globe to a first time actor turned director yet again.  And again, if you look on TSPDT, GoodFellas is the highest ranked film of the nineties (and Taxi Driver is third in the seventies behind the two Godfather films).

Marty took another strange turn, following up with a remake, but it earned De Niro yet another Oscar nomination (his third from his collaboration with Marty – it’s not a coincidence that that the top three actor / director collaborators on my list here were from directors at the very top of the list).  Then came Oscar nomination morning in 1993.  Marty had won Best Director from the NBR.  The Age of Innocence had gotten 4 Golden Globe nominations, including Picture and Director.  Marty had a DGA nomination.  But then they actually started announcing and there was no Marty and no film.  Instead they went with The Fugitive and Robert Altman.

Then came some strange years.  There was Casino, which re-teamed Marty yet again with De Niro and Joe Pesci, but felt kind of like a warmed over version of GoodFellas.  Then came Kundun, which was vastly under-rated, but was such a departure for Scorsese that people didn’t know what to make of it.  Then came Bringing Out the Dead, which had some fervent supporters, but I never really took to it.  Then Gangs was supposed to be coming for Christmas of 2001 and then suddenly it was pushed back for an an entire year.  There were rumors of editing problems, of arguments with Harvey Weinstein.  What the hell was happening with Marty’s career?

A reinvigorating rebirth, as it turns out.  There are critics of Gangs of New York, but you can not count me as one of them.  I give it Best Actor and Best Original Song and close second place finishes (behind The Two Towers) for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.  It was nominated for 10 Oscars and somehow came away empty handed.  But it gave Marty his perfect new partner on-screen: Leonardo DiCaprio.

The next film up was an even better film: The Aviator, the film that should have won Best Picture and Best Director in 2004.  But instead, Marty lost yet again and again it was to a actor turned director.  Was it less painful this time because the director in question was Clint Eastwood, who had been directing for over 30 years?  Or was it more painful because The Aviator won 5 Oscars and looked strong going into those final 2 awards and Eastwood already had an Oscar?  Either way, The Aviator was a magnificent film, anchored by a truly magnificent Leo performance.

But then finally came The Departed.  It was another re-make.  It again starred Leo.  But instead of New York, Marty had turned to Boston.  And instead of De Niro, he had Nicholson.  And instead of going home empty handed, his three friends walked up there and welcomed him to the land of Oscar.

So we have a fourth Marty / Leo film coming out in the Spring.  All the talk is that Shutter Island was pushed back to the spring because of financial reasons, and I believe it, because Gangs was delayed for a year and it was fantastic.  And this film simply looks great.  And I’ve read the novel and I can completely envision all these great actors in these roles.  And I am so ready for it to be my #1 film of 2010.

GoodFellas – #1 film of 1990

Oh, those great Scorsese moments.  You know those moments, those brilliant moments that fuse rock and roll with film.  He’s been doing it for a long time (you can read about that here).  Think of that opening scene of Mean Streets and the great way the beat of “Be My Baby” leads right into that film.  Martin Scorsese does this better than anyone else and he shows it off in GoodFellas.  Actually, that’s a bad phrase.  Because Marty doesn’t show off at all in GoodFellas, he finds a natural beat to the film and he runs with it.  Every shot, every movement of the camera, every song, seems to be an extension of Henry Hill and the life that he lead.

And of course, while the montage close to the end, with the use of the amazing Layla Piano Exit to show the cost of the kind of life that Henry has lead is an amazing scene, the real kicker comes in the middle of the film.  It’s widely talked about because it is so amazing.  Unlike something like the shower scene in Psycho, it is not something that loses any luster simply because you have heard about it already.  It is the Copacabana scene and it is one of the greatest scenes in all of film history.  Everything about it is perfect.  It looks like a spur of the moment shot, like someone would just follow Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco inside, but it is so perfectly set up, the movements are timed so gracefully, the way everyone interacts, the great fluidity of movement, the way the camera so gracefully moves behind, yet doesn’t feel like it’s really there (not only did GoodFellas not win the Oscar for Best Cinematography, it somehow didn’t even get nominated).  It is one of the great unbroken camera movements of all-time, maybe the greatest, but there’s more.  There is the song.  Because Scorsese had already proven with Mean Streets that he knew how to make use of a great Wall of Sound song, where the rhythm comes to life with all the instruments, and he found maybe the best one, certainly my favorite one.  So as Ray Liotta hands the man the keys, on comes “Then He Kissed Me” and the two of them set off across the street and into cinematic history.

But the film is so much more than the scene.  The critics loved it (Best Picture from NYFC / LAFC / NSFC / BSFC / CFC).  Film fans love it (top rated film of the nineties on TSPDT, third highest film of the nineties on the IMDb and #15 all-time, Total Film ranked it the best film ever made).  Only AFI (it only ranked #92 all-time) and the Academy (who didn’t give it Best Picture) seemed to disagree.

So what is it about this film?  There have been other great gangster films.  There is of course Scarface, the original brilliant gangster film, from 1932, the film that seemed to bring on the Hays Code, but in the end, it made organized crime seem distant and cold, the kind of thing that drives a man insane and to death.  There are The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, great films that give you an insight into great heists and why organized crime doesn’t stay organized and why so many people end up dead or in jail.  There is of course, The Godfather, the granddaddy of them all, the film that really gave some insights into organized crime.  But The Godfather shows a family that has built itself up with crime and is more about the family relationships than the crime.  What GoodFellas does is take one person, Henry Hill, and show the world he lived in, Brooklyn in the fifties, and how organized crime existed all around his life and how much that him wish that this was his life.  He skips school to hang out with gangsters because they’re the ones who threaten to shove the mailman in the pizza oven if he brings home any truancy notes.  They look after him and they care for him and they cultivate him and they find a future for him.

Of course, that romanticism is tinged by the cynical departures later in the film.  We see what Henry becomes and the life he lives and what happens to so many of the people that he knows.  So he makes a cynical deal and he ends up on that stoop looking at the camera, talking about his life, about all the amazing things in his life and how much he misses it all.  It’s such a brilliant film because aside from the Cinematography, the Editing, the brilliant use of music, aside from the feel of the fifties and the Oscar winning performance of Joe Pesci, and the performances by Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco that deserved Oscars, and aside from the amazing script with such a great voiceover that takes you right into Henry Hill’s life, because it makes you understand exactly why that kid at that place would want to become part of that life and why even with all the horrible things he’s seen, he would still want to have it all back.  He’d still rather be out in the dark digging up the remains of a corpse than living like a schnook.

Advertisements