Martin Scorsese

1968
WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? 60
[ Scorsese’s first feature, shot in B&W with minimal resources and a then unknown Harvey Keitel, is not perfect but still distinctive. It’s the work of a recent film school graduate on whom the French New Wave obviously made an impression, but who also uses his own experiences as a young Italian American coming from a very religious background. This idiosyncratic story follows a two-bit hustler and a pretty blonde girl as they wander in the streets and on rooftops, they have long talks about old movies… Eventually some dramatic tension grows in their relationship, but for the most part this is a hang-out movie, with many dialogue-free sequences edited to rock music (including a great one that uses The Doors’ The End, 10 years before “Apocalypse Now”). The movie’s a bit slight and unkempt, sure, but it’s a strong debut nonetheless. ]

1972
BOXCAR BERTHA 37
[ For a cheapie Roger Corman exploitation picture, this looks pretty good. Barbara Hershey’s Bertha looks good, too, and David Carradine’s Bill (mmm, whaddayaknow) is a cool mofo, but the 1930s socio-political stuff feels like an afterthought, the story and characters are inconsequential and Scorsese displays little of his usual stylistic or thematic sensibilities. The ending’s killer, but this is still one of Marty’s least memorable ventures. ]

1973
MEAN STREETS 84
[ “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.” Spirituality collides with gritty violence through this very potent character study, full of everything that makes Scorsese such a stimulating filmmaker: exciting visuals, just about the greatest pop song selection you’ve ever heard and great performances (Keitel and De Niro are gods, man). It’s also one of Marty’s most personal pictures (he wrote it himself), based on his own dilemma as a youth between becoming a priest or a gangster. Thank heavens and thank the streets he chose neither – the movies wouldn’t be the same without him. ]

1974
ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE 52
[ Alice’s stuck in the semi-rural Southwest with an abusive husband and the most annoying kid in the world, so when her man croaks, it’s almost a blessing – at least an opportunity to start anew. She hits the road with the most annoying kid in the world, hoping to resume her pre-marriage career as a singer, but becoming a waitress might be more realistic. Ellen Burstyn is awesome in the tile role, and she’s well supported by the likes of Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd, Kris Kristofferson and a tomboyish Jodie Foster. I could have certainly done without the most annoying kid in the world (movie’s best moment might be when Kristofferson smacks that brat), but otherwise this is a pleasant enough slice of life. ]

1976
TAXI DRIVER 100
[ review ]

1977
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 71
[ Liza Minnelli has turned into a punchline over the years, but in this bittersweet musical she’s really fun and appealing. De Niro is charming too, even though his sax player character is an asshole. When he duets with Liza’s singer it’s swinging, unfortunately off stage things get rocky. De Niro and Minnelli’s romantic and professional troubles are engaging, with both actors in top form, but it’s the great musical numbers that really make the movie memorable. There’s the instant classic title tune, of course, but even better is “Happy Endings”, an all-out MGM soundstage song and dance extravaganza – which wasn’t actually in the film until 1981! ]

1978
THE LAST WALTZ 70
[ “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD.” Heh! I thought this was “just” a concert film, but it’s actually in many ways a movie-movie: shot on 35mm, with storytelling, mise en scène, editing that jumps back and forth in time and space…. On stage, back stage, in a studio, before, during and after the show…. We see and hear a lot of The Band, of course, as they play their final performance, but they’ve also got some awesome guest stars with them: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, my man Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, The Staple Singers… Good times. ]

1980
RAGING BULL 92
[ A brilliantly crafted character study with some of the most stunning boxing scenes ever shot and blistering performances by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. What’s more brutal: the violence in the ring, or the one at home, back in the Bronx? Jake La Motta’s rage is a plus in his boxing career, but it means trouble when he carries it with him in his relations with women, his brother and just about everybody else. This is Scorsese at his best, in form, with virtuoso B&W cinematography and editing, and in content, with another raw yet profound “street-smart” screenplay by Paul Schrader and some of the best acting you’ll ever see. Pesci and De Niro have become self-parodies, but their back-and-forth here is incredibly intense and multi-layered, the two brothers’ relationship being rough, tender, sad, sometimes all at once. The fight scenes are unglamorous, all blood and sweat, hardly Rocky-like inspirational; this is more like something out of German expressionism, with Sugar Ray Robinson looming like an African-American Nosferatu! And then there’s the pathetic third act, with De Niro/La Motta all fat, doing bad stand-up… A truly great biopic. ]

1982
THE KING OF COMEDY 86
[ De Niro and Scorsese, man, what a dream team. They’ve each done great work on their own, but every time they make a movie together something clicks, lights burn brighter, I dunno, it’s magic, man. You see De Niro with this silly mustache, playing this silly stand-up comedian with this silly name (Rupert Pupkin), with this silly fixation on a late night talk show host (a surprising Jerry Lewis)… But the silliness is laced with creepiness, and you get this bad feeling in the pit of your stomach, you’ve seen what, half a dozen other Scorsese-De Niro flicks, and when did things ever turn out OK, right? Then again, this one film is more satire than drama, so anything goes, right? But even as satire this isn’t all that funny, it’s actually pretty damn pathetic and sad… This is a very peculiar, unpredictable, fascinating film. ]

1985
AFTER HOURS 18
[ Aaah, the ‘80s, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have an odd fondness for a lot of cheesy ‘80s movies, but cheesiness is not what I’m looking for in a Scorsese movie. Griffin Dunne is about the most unappealing guy you could cast as the lead of your movie, and the gallery of WACKY! characters he meets through his wild night in Soho are more annoying than fun. ]

1986
THE COLOR OF MONEY 75
[ Tom Cruise’s a cool guy, no doubt, but even he could use lessons from Paul Newman. Paul Newman is ice-cold pure charisma, he owns the screen. Here he’s reprising his role from “The Hustler”, Fast Eddie, who’s now showing the ropes to pool prodigy Cruise. But the game’s just an excuse, what really matters is squeezing the most money out of those you’re playing. Well written, well shot, well scored by The Band’s Robbie Robertson and a bunch of catchy pop rock, this is wonderful material for two stars to try to outcool each other. Good times. ]

1988
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST 86
[ review ]

1989
LIFE LESSONS 85
[ This short (Scorsese’s contribution to New York Stories) follows Lionel Dobie, an intense and talented painter. He’s played by Nick Nolte, almost unrecognizable with shaggy hair and beard. Dobie’s a very fascinating character. The film spends a lot of time watching him as he paints, waving his brush frantically to loud rock music. We feel that he’s tormented, and when he picks up Paulette (Rosanna Arquette) at the airport, we understand why. A painter with little talent, she moved in with Dobie to learn from him but ended up in his bed. But now, she’s through and she really wants to leave, but Dobie is so possessive that he won’t let her, even when he learns that she slept with a performance artist played by the always enjoyable Steve Buscemi. The film is not about love, but more about how one can mistake need for love. Nolte’s character is a lonely man, and he wants Paulette to be with him, but not really because of her. Any girl could do. The film is well written, and the direction is awesome. Scorsese’s camera never rests, moving around constantly around Dobie. Like always, Scorsese also makes terrific use of music, which seems to help Dobie getting in the mood of his painting. Nolte and Arquette are also great, and so is the film. I don’t know how this would play as a feature, but as a short, it’s fascinating. ]

1990
GOODFELLAS 95
[ review ]

1991
CAPE FEAR 88
[ You could say that this shallow and violent B-movie is unworthy of Scorsese, that he can do better than such generic Hollywood trash. Then again, if you’re in the mood for a trashy thriller, it doesn’t get more badass than this. Robert De Niro is absolutely riveting here, playing so over the top and chewing so much scenery that he goes from scary to ridiculous and back constantly, you never know what he’s gonna do but it’s always a thrill. Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis are good too as the family De Niro stalks, especially in the way we see some of their flaws, they’re not just innocent victims. So yeah, Scorsese can do better than this, but I still think this is pretty damn great. ]

1993
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE 49
[ Scorsese: “I’ve always been attracted to the repression of desire. The love that’s not consummated, the love that becomes an obsession. That theme has gone through many of my movies. It goes back to Taxi Driver.” Yeah… Except that while 1970s New York cabbies and 1870s New York aristocrats might both be haunted by guilt and conscience, Travis Bickle is a much more fascinating character than the stuffed up and mostly passive Newland Archer. Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, composer Elmer Bernstein, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and production designer Dante Ferretti all do impeccable work and Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer do manage to convey hidden passions and torments, but I never felt involved in the story. Maybe costume dramas just aren’t my cup of tea. ]

1995
CASINO 92
[ review ]

1997
KUNDUN 87
[ By far Scorsese’s most uncharacteristic picture – there’s a long way between New York and Tibet, violent gangsters and pacifist spiritual leaders! Marty did do his Jesus movie, but Catholicism has often been integral to his work whereas this… This is something else. Even stylistically, this has little to do with the grittiness, fast pace and rock songs Scorsese usually goes for. “Kundun” is contemplative, full of vivid colors and propelled by a Philip Glass score – it’s sort of a Dalai Lamaqatsi. This is powerful, entrancing art. The only thing that keeps it from true greatness is the unwise decision of having Tibetans in Tibet speak English amongst themselves. ]

1999
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD 90
[ review ]

2002
GANGS OF NEW YORK 58
[ review ]

2004
THE AVIATOR 50
[ review ]

2005
NO DIRECTION HOME 85
[ This music-driven documentary gets at the bottom of where Bob Dylan came from and where he tried to go. Dylan himself reminisces about his extraordinary life and people like Allen Ginsberg and Joan Baez add their own thoughts, but this is hardly just a succession of talking heads. Scorsese is a master visualist, so he unearths tons of archival footage, old photographs and film excerpts (notably from D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back and Murray Lerner’s Festival to illustrate what’s being said. Much is made of when Dylan went electric, infuriating many of his fans – it seems like that was a bigger deal than the civil rights movement, the Kennedy assassination or Nam to some of these folksy folk folks! Scorsese keeps cutting back and forth from the infamous “Royal Albert Hall” gig in 1966 when Dylan was practically booed off the stage, even though it’s actually a kickass performance. Dylan was a poet and a rebel, and he did care about the underdog, but not in political boxes. People wanted him to be the voice of his generation, yet he just wanted to write songs and have fun with his music. “No Direction Home” effectively drives this point home and offers a fascinating look at the 1960s as experienced -and influenced- by Bob Dylan. ]

2006
THE DEPARTED 80
[ review ]


2008
SHINE A LIGHT 66
[ First of all, a disclaimer: this is way more for the Rolling Stones fans than for the Martin Scorsese fans. Save for the first 10-15 minutes, in which we see Marty fidgetily set up the shoot of the Beacon Theatre concert; some hilarious, cleverly used archival footage of interviews with the band members; and a neat closing tracking shot, there isn’t much in here to make you notice that Scorsese is at the helm. Which is not to say that the film isn’t worth seeing! If you’re a Stones fan, you’ll have a gas watching this lively performance. The setlist is pretty extraordinary, starting with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, then going into many cuts from key albums Some Girls (Some Girls, Imagination, Far Away Eyes, Shattered), Let It Bleed (You Got the Silver, Live with Me) and Exile from Main St. (Tumbling Dice, Loving Cup, All Down the Line, but oddly no Shine a Light except for an excerpt at the outset of the end credits), plus She Was Hot, Sympathy for the Devil, the Marianne Faithfull hit As Tears Go By, Muddy Waters’ Champagne and Reefer… I was only disappointed by the last stretch, where they go for their most obvious, overplayed songs (Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, Satisfaction). Still, even then, it remains compelling for Charlie Watts’ reliable drumming, the awesome intercrossed guitar playing from Ron Wood and Keith Richards and, last but not least, Mick Jagger’s electrifying stage presence, goofy facial expressions and irresistible strutting! ]

2010
SHUTTER ISLAND 75
[ review ]

A LETTER TO ELIA 79
[ review ]

2011
HUGO 78
[ I must say, sentimental family movies about precocious children and “broken” adults teaching each other life lessons are one of my least favorite genres. Leave it to Martin Scorsese to make one that almost entirely won me over, thanks to dazzling 3D cinematography, magnificent art direction recreating 1930s Paris and all-around great performances (Asa Butterfield, Chloë Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, etc.). Some of this adaptation of Brian Selznick’s 2007 illustrated novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” remains too corny for my taste and there may be too many pratfall-heavy chases, but there are 4 or 5 absolutely brilliant sequences about the magic of early cinema, particularly that of George Méliès, which make it a must-see nonetheless. ]

2011
LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD 90
[ In a similar fashion to what he did in “No Direction Home”, his Bob Dylan documentary, Martin Scorsese sets out to tell the story of George Harrison via abundant archival footage, photographs and audio recordings, much of it previously unseen or unheard, all of which is assembled with a great sense of storytelling and flow. Also featuring interviews with the late musician’s family and friends, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton, the film is divided into two parts. Part One offers a surprisingly fresh look at the Beatles years, focusing on George’s considerable contribution to the band’s artistry and showing how he tended to be the quieter, wiser, more spiritual member of the quartet. Yet he could also be funny or angry, he was a complex individual, like any other human being, with his flaws and his contradictions. (Just for fun, here’s how great a Beatles LP featuring only Harrison-written songs would have been: “Don’t Bother Me”, “I Need You”, “You Like Me Too Much”, “Think for Yourself”, “If I Needed Someone”, “Taxman”, “Love You To”, “I Want to Tell You”, “Within You Without You”, “Blue Jay Way”, “The Inner Light”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Piggies”, “Long, Long, Long”, “Savoy Truffle”, “I Me Mine”, “For You Blue”, “Something”, “Here Comes the Sun” – to think some folks still think Lennon-McCartney were the only geniuses in the group!) Part Two begins with the disassembling of the Beatles then segues into George’s solo career, beginning with the creation of the amazing Phil Spector-produced “All Things Must Pass” album. The film then touches on the romantic triangle between Harrison, Clapton and Pattie Boyd (which famously inspired the song “Layla”), the Concert for Bangladesh, the ex-Beatle’s forays into cinema (he notably produced Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits), John Lennon’s death, the formation of the Traveling Wilburys (a super group that also featured Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty), his marriage to Olivia Harrison, his relationship with his their son, that horrible time he got stabbed by a home invader, and finally his death from cancer. Granted, if you’re a fan, you knew most of this stuff already, but Scorsese keeps it captivating. And then of course there’s all the awesome music. ]

2013
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET 94
[ review ]

2016
SILENCE 91
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]