As the great director’s latest film, The Irishman, is released today, Esther McCarthy selects ten of the best from an incredible five-decade career.
With The Irishman, Martin Scorsese has again knocked it out of the park in what has been a stellar career.
For more than five decades the director has thrilled and surprised us with movies regarded as among the all-time greats, beautifully shot music documentaries and the odd, random project (did you know he directed Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ music video?).
Adapted from Charles Brandt’s novel I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman is a crime saga told through the eyes of WWII veteran Frank Sheehan, a career criminal who has worked with some of the most notorious characters in organised-crime history. As it debuts in Irish cinemas today in advance of its arrival to Netflix on November 27, we look back on some of Scorcese’s finest films.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Frequently polled as his greatest film, and nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (along with Network and All the President’s Men, it lost out to Rocky), Taxi Driver is regarded as one of the finest in a stellar decade for American cinema.
One of four collaborations between Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader, it centres on Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a disturbed Vietnam vet who works the streets of New York in his cab.
The actor played to the crowd at the 40th anniversary screening when he said: “Every day for 40 f**king years, one of you has come up to me and said: ‘You talkin’ to me?”
Mean Streets (1973)
De Niro shines again, along with Harvey Keitel, in the tale of a small-time crook who gets in over his head among the criminals of Little Italy.
Brutal and visceral, the film is also frequently funny.
“Mean Streets is not primarily about punk gangsters at all, but about living in a state of sin,” wrote the late film critic Roger Ebert, referencing the Catholic themes often found in Scorsese’s work.
Raging Bull (1980)
Shot in beautiful black and white, the tale of boxer-turned-comedian Jake La Motta is one of the director’s most emotionally powerful and heartbreaking.
A great sports movie and much more, it tracks La Motta’s decline as his power in the ring suffers from his troubled moods and chaotic domestic life.
De Niro, again teaming with Scorsese, gained 60 pounds to playthe boxer.
Goodfellas is remarkable not just because it features the director’s mother, Catherine, in a key scene.
Adapted from the novel Wiseguy, the tale of a young mobster moving up the ranks is by turns shocking and hilarious.
As in many of his best films, Scorsese is terrific at fleshing out the everyday lives of these very dangerous men.
It got six Oscar nominations, collecting Best Supporting Actor for the brilliant Joe Pesci.
The King of Comedy (1982)
Often referenced in relation to the newly released Joker movie, this film about the nature of fame and loneliness received mixed reviews on release.
Not an easy watch, it’s a flawed but fascinating tale of Rupert Pupkin, a socially awkward man who dreams of becoming a TV star.
He will go to any lengths to land a spot on the show presented by his idol, Jerry Lewis.
The pitch-black satireis divisive, but top critic Mark Kermode regards it as both Scorsese’s greatest and least-applauded film.
The Departed (2006)
A remake of the excellent Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the director finally picked up a Best Director Oscar for this tightly wound thriller, which also took Best Picture.
A stellar cast deliver great performances in the tale of a Boston cop (Leo Di Caprio) who goes undercover to expose gangland boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Meanwhile, Costello picks a henchman (Matt Damon) to sign up with the police force.
After Cape Fear, it became the second remake of his career.
The Last Waltz (1978)
One of Scorsese’s many acclaimed music documentaries, this film of The Band’s final gig was described by Rolling Stone as “the greatest concert movie of all time”.
It was an epic, five-hour swansong, where the band were joined by several high-profile guests, including former collaborator Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond and Joni Mitchell.
The Band’s tour manager, Jonathan Taplin, recommended the director and introduced him to Robbie Robertson. Robertson went on to act as music consultant on several of Scorsese’s films.
Shutter Island (2010)
Is it a coincidence that Shutter Island is an anagram of ‘truths and lies’? I think not.
This must-watch twice movie, about two US Marshals who travel to a remote island, sees the director having a blast, toying with his audience in his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel.
There are some terrific set-pieces which show off the director’s long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s skills.
In my view, one of Scorsese’s most-underrated films and one of Leo Di Caprio’s finest performances.
The director is on familiar ground in this tale of a gambler who rises through the ranks while working for the mob.
Some critics’ view that it is derivative of his other, more powerful films may be true, but the themes of greed and a thirst for power are well developed and the cast are excellent — particularly Sharon Stone, Oscar-nominated for the game-player Ginger.
The Aviator (2004)
Another theme of a man who had it all but undergoes a terrible decline, the film follows Howard Hughes’ fall from eccentric billionaire to troubled recluse.
It provides detail and context in the story of a man often remembered in a one-note manner.
Di Caprio shows his range in depicting Hughes over many years, while Cate Blanchett is excellent in support as Katherine Hepburn.
■ Robert De Niro’s maniacal performance in the gripping Cape Fear (1991) bagged him an Oscar nomination, and his serenading of Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ to a vulnerable Juliette Lewis really has stayed with many viewers.
■ The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) was Marty at his most controversial, and was banned by the Blockbuster video chain. Protests against the film at the Cork Film Festival prompted a counter demonstration from a group of students, who joined the protest with tongue-in-cheek placards like ‘Jesus was nailed not screwed’.
■ Irish actors Liam Neeson and Brendan Gleeson joined the cast of Gangs of New York (2002), Scorsese’s ambitious and uneven period tale of a young Irish mobster in the city.
■ The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is in many ways his most marmite film of recent years, but one standout scene, where banker Jordan Belfort attempts to drive home under the influence of powerful drugs, is a standout. But even the great director wobbles sometimes...
■ Kundun (1997) was beautiful to look at but described as “emotionally remote” by the New York Times and bombed at the box office.
■ Silence (2016), his tale of missionaries in Japan, tested viewers’ patience with its slow-paced style and two hour forty minute running time.