Top 5 Tuesday: Martin Scorsese

I thought it was high time that The Lantern finally give one of America’s greatest filmmakers his due. In all honesty, I am somewhat embarrassed that it has taken me this long to post a list honoring the legendary Martin Scorsese. But to make up for my negligence, I thought it would be a good idea to get two separate Top 5’s composed by two huge Marty fans…Phil Carbo (who writes the ‘Ludovico Files‘ page) was gracious enough to share his personal favorites…and I have my own 5 faves here as well. And we are both in agreement…with so many classic films to choose from (including his many documentaries & shorts) since the late 1960’s, this was one challenging task. Five slots go way too quickly, and many great films are unfortunately left off both lists. Not only is he a master director constantly pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, but he has done so much for the preservation of film – and that, my friends, is pretty awesome. I mean really, is there anyone you would rather learn about the history of film than this guy? The man is a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge. I can hear him speak about movies for hours and still want more. And to think that before becoming one of our most cherished directors, he was seriously considering a life as a priest. Instead, he became one of the most influential directors of the modern era — and at age 68, is still hard at work and entertaining us all. Here are our lists…they are surprisingly similar (so much for diversity…sorry guys), which surprised me just a bit. ENJOY!

Phil Carbo’s Top 5:

5. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I’m sure many will think this is an odd choice and question whether this is truly one of the top-5 films of Scorsese’s storied career but to me, while not bringing the best plot or pacing to the table, Bringing out the Dead is a film that is quintessential Scorsese.  First, it reunites him with screenwriter Paul Schrader and the two have an undeniable chemistry.  Schrader’s scripts typically reveal the darker side of New York and this film is, despite its slow pace, a perfect vehicle for Marty’s trademark, hyper kinetic style: close-ups, dolly shots, lightning edits, fast motion and all enhanced with a classic rock soundtrack that is prototypical Scorsese.  Sure Nicolas Cage is over the top — but when is he not?  Marty’s vision here actually lends itself to the hyped-up, manic performances.  Filmed almost entirely at the darkest hours of the night, it progressively exhibits a surrealness and frantic absurdity that feels born out of a nightmare.

4. After Hours (1985)

Speaking of nightmares, the kinetic pace and off-the-wall oddness of this black comedy plays out like a bad dream for both Griffin Dunne’s character and the viewer. Little known fact: Tim Burton was originally attached to the project, which would have been interesting because After Hours seems like more of a Burton film…but Scorsese, of course, makes the material his own.  One of his few comedies, he once again exposes the darker side of New York as the city becomes a central character.  As mentioned, the film taps into many of the motifs we all find in our dreams (the reoccurrence of locations, the feeling that one is running and running but can’t seem to get away, and a seeming randomness to everything going on).  The film ends strangely (apparently a point of contention during filming), seeming to imply that the “normalcy” of a 9-5 office existence is not necessarily a bad thing.  Whatever you take from it, one thing is certain – this is one of Scorsese’s more visually arresting films.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

This film and my next are pretty much no-brainers.  When one thinks of Scorsese, it’s impossible for Taxi Driver to NOT come to mind.  It is a dark and deliberately paced film and contains one of DeNiro’s top 5 best performances.  Story aside, it is impossible not to marvel at the craft of filmmaking Scorsese brings to this film.  From the opening shot of the taxi driving slowly through puffs of city steam to the shocking and graphic shootout (that ironically turns Travis from psychopath to hero – at least in the public eye) the entire film has an uneasy edge.  Marty developed his trademark themes of alienation and Christian guilt in early films such as Mean Streets, but with Taxi Driver he was at the top of his game, and in the process helped to define the gritty, maverick style that 70’s film is known for (and sadly missed).

2. Raging Bull (1980)

From opening frame to end, Raging Bull showcases the artistic genius of Scorsese like no other. Filmed in black and white (with one amazingly inventive color sequence), Raging Bull lays bare the tragic despair of Jake LaMotta, a man so full of self-loathing, that he abuses and alienates everyone around him, including his wife and brother with unspeakable brutality. Robert DeNiro once again proves his incredible ability to morph into character like no other actor of his time.  The violence both in and out of the ring is graphic, with close-ups of blood spurting from open wounds, and dialogue that makes some scenes downright uncomfortable to watch; all ultimately help us understand this unrepentant character.  This film was made during a difficult time in Scorsese’s life.  He was battling addiction and saw a bit of himself in LaMotta’s fall from grace. In this sense, it’s one of Scorsese’s most personal and autobiographic films (the theme of redemption comes up in many of his more accomplished works).  As a side note: It’s also the first time Joe Pesci would give an ass-kicking to Frank Vincent (a recurring cycle in several subsequent films until Vincent gets his ultimate revenge in Casino).

1. Goodfellas (1990)

I could easily write a Masters’ thesis on Goodfellas.  In my opinion, it’s not only Scorsese’s best, but it also happens to be my favorite film of all-time. It’s the first film that made me understand the medium as an art form. Goodfellas takes all the elements of great cinema to create the feeling that you are experiencing all of the joys, anger, paranoia, and desperation of each character.  And truth be told, I wasn’t even that interested in seeing it when released in 1990.  My friends had to convince me into going.  This probably had something to do with the fact that I had recently watched Sergio Leone’s ganster epic, Once Upon a Time in America, and while a good film, is just too slow for my taste.  At nearly 2 ½ hours, I suppose I expected the same from Goodfellas, but boy… was I wrong.  From the very moment the title zooms across the screen to a revving engine to Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way” over the end credits, the movie never fails to electrify in its brilliance.  Scorsese has since made other phenomenal films in the genre (Casino, Gangs of New York and The Departed come to mind), but Goodfellas sets the gold standard for a plethora of the modern crime dramas that followed and remains the high-water mark of Marty’s career.

Peter’s Top 5:

5. Gangs of New York (2002)

I had about three different films in this slot before finally deciding on this ambitious work. More than any other Scorsese film in recent years, this one for me most resembles his stellar films of the 70’s & 80’s. I love the historical context of Lower New York’s “Five Points” district (1846 – 1862) and how Scorsese creates this past world. Daniel Day-Lewis gives another towering performance here as “Bill the Butcher,” the leader of the natives looking to oust all of the immigrants making their way to shore. John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, and Jim Broadbent give fine supporting performances. I’m not a Leo-hater by any means and his performance here is adequate, but his irregular Irish accent does bother me. The production design and period costumes are stunning – and the camerawork is gripping. A majestic American tale – and my favorite Scorsese movie of the past 10+ years.

4. After Hours (1985)

I know many would put his other black comedy King of Comedy (1982) on the list instead, and I would have no problem with that. But for me, this cult classic is one of my all-time favorite comedies. Joseph Minion’s script is an absolute trip, the camera never stops moving, and the all-star cast turn in some great performances. This is a wonderfully quirky and imaginative “New York movie” following the many misadventures and dangers that sheepish Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) encounters one evening as he simply tries to make his way home. As Phil cites above, Tim Burton was slated to direct this first – but seeing it now, I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. This is a genuine Scorsese flick and a must-see for any fan of his work.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

A classic, gritty New York motion picture. Seeing it years later gives you such an authentic sense of how Manhattan (especially the seedier parts of it) was in the 1970’s. This is early Robert DeNiro, which means he gave it his Method-best (wish he were still here with us, btw). As the lonely, dejected ex-Marine Travis Bickle, DeNiro gives us one of the silver screen’s most terrifying characters – a ticking time bomb that can go off at any time as he drives through the streets of New York late at night, disgusted at what he sees. Scorsese assembled a great supporting cast – led by a young Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Cybill Shepherd. Paul Schrader’s script is authentic and inspiring and Bernard Herrmann’s music captures Bickle’s state of mind perfectly. A graphically violent movie, it’s surely not for the faint-of-heart. But it remains a mesmerizing character picture with a fantastic denouement that resonates long after.

2. Goodfellas (1990)

A beautiful & explosive piece of filmmaking – and one of the very best mobster movies of all-time. I was always fascinated by how beautifully Scorsese and his creative team captured the many decades that this epic film spans…from the 1950’s through the 1980’s, Goodfellas encapsulates each period so well. The costumes, art direction, and music featured…all marvelously executed as we watch the rise and fall of the Lucchese crime family. Joe Pesci as the psychopathic Tommy DeVito is scary as hell, Lorraine Bracco was robbed of what should have been an Oscar-winning performance, DeNiro gives another well-crafted performance – and Ray Liotta does a terrific job of holding the entire film together. In fact, he has never been better. As impressive as the film is from a moviemaking standpoint, Scorsese managed to make this one hell of an entertaining flick – its 2 ½ hours breezing right by and you want another hour of it all. Love the “Layla” sequence and that impressive long tracking shot through the Copacabana is always a wonder to watch.

1. Raging Bull (1980)

In my opinion, this is Scorsese’s masterpiece. It is in no way one of those films I can turn on and watch at any time. I need to emotionally brace myself for this one because it is hard to stomach at times. Let’s face it…the guy is a fucking animal. Robert DeNiro is at the top of his game here as the brutish middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta,  giving arguably the best performance of his career and one of the greatest performances in film history. Joe Pesci is terrific as his brother. Calling Michael Chapman’s black-and-white photography breathtaking and stunning is still not doing justice to his work here. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is crisp and fierce. One of the greatest bio pictures ever made and an instant classic to be sure. This is a haunting, powerful film that is a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking. Marty’s best work to date.

Peter’s Honorable Mentions:

My Voyage to Italy (1999)
Casino (1995)

Peter Eramo Ranks: The Top 10 Worst ‘Best Picture’ Oscar Winners Ever!

Let’s face it, the Oscar for “Best Picturerarely goes to the actual best picture of any given year. Since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1928, there have been a number of doozies that walked away with the industry’s most prestigious award – some sub-par films, some average, some just not very good at all. In light of this thinking, I have compiled my own list – “The Top 10 Worst Best Picture Winners of All-Time

Of course this is only my personal opinion, so I encourage you to comment and give me your own thoughts here. In looking over my Top 10, there aren’t many “bad” films listed (well, two or three of them, perhaps). But, by including these films, I am not saying they are “bad” per se, but rather, either (1) they are average, decent films that probably should not have even been nominated or (2) given the competition of that particular year, said film had no business winning at all.

Take a look at this past year, for instance. “The Hurt Locker” won the highest honor and I wouldn’t even put that in my Top 15 films of the year. However, it was sort of a weak year for great films and because of that, I excluded it from this list. I know everyone says “Ordinary People” (1980) and “Dances with Wolves” (1990) were undeserving of winning “Best Picture” – that “Raging Bull” (1980) and “Goodfellas” (two phenomenal films by Martin Scorsese) were the better films. This is probably true and I would agree with this sentiment. However, I could not include the films of Robert Redford and Kevin Costner on this particular Top 10 List because, quite frankly, I think they are both 4-star films in their own right. Is “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) a better film than Coppola’s masterpiece that is “Apocalypse Now”? I certainly don’t think so. However, “Kramer vs. Kramer” won and I love the movie, so this too is also omitted.

 I desperately wanted to include “Titanic” (1997) on this list. It’s not a very good film and has not aged well at all (even though it’s only been 13 years). I find the film manipulative on many levels and the script is downright hokey and poor. However, I understand why it won and it was, at the time, a great cinematic achievement on a technical level. On top of this, there were not many other films that stood out in 1997, so sadly, I could not include the over-hyped “Titanic” on this prestigious list. I don’t think “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) is a very good movie at all. The guy-with-a-disease does make for great Oscar bait, but there wasn’t much to admire in this histrionic film. And really – there wasn’t much to pick from during that anemic year for films, so I couldn’t even include this either!

A “Best Picture” Oscar winner should be an instant classic. It should stand the test of time. It should be a film that, years and decades from its release, will be remembered and looked at as a testament to its time. Some “Best Picture” winners that encapsulate this tenet are: “Gone with the Wind” (1939), “The Godfather” films (1972, 1974), “Schindler’s List” (1993), “Unforgiven” (1991), “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and “On the Waterfront” (1954). In any case, look it over, tell me what you think – and enjoy!

10. The English Patient (1996)

I actually like this film, but given the other notable films of that year, I had to put this on the list. I mean, come on…who actually fell in love with this movie and can watch it over and over? It certainly has the looks of a “Best Picture” winner. It’s grand and epic in scope – Oscar loves that, I know. But with films like “Fargo,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Breaking the Waves,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Sling Blade,” (my personal #1 film for 1996) and “Big Night,” I sadly had to include this. Elaine Benes from “Seinfeld” had this film pegged – she was at least honest enough to admit her displeasure of this film – and was alienated by everyone (including her current boyfriend) for her candor.

9. Gigi (1958)

There have been a number of musicals to win for “Best Picture” (“Oliver!,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady”), but this is an average-at-best MGM musical that no one really remembers today.  It’s overlong and there is hardly any dancing in the film, if at all. The passage of time also shows “Touch of Evil,” “Vertigo,” “Mon Oncle,” “The Defiant Ones” and “A Night to Remember” as being much stronger films. I mean, really…what film class is breaking down and analyzing “Gigi” over classics by Orson Welles and Jacques Tati from that same year?

8. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Another example of a good film that, for some reason, got away with the grand prize. I would think most people look at this movie and think how slow and boring this is. How engaging can a movie about running be to begin with? I know it’s considered by many to be a classic “sports” film, but, like golf and billiards, running is not a sport. I think Warren Beatty’sReds” was a masterpiece of a film. Also, released in 1981 and remembered with much greater fondness than the scintillating “Chariots of Fire” are “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond,” and the extraordinary “Das Boot.”

7. Forrest Gump (1994)

Run, Forrest, run! For 15 minutes of film, just run! I know, I know, it’s a modern, American classic right? You laughed, you cried, it had great music and Tom Hanks was amazing. Whatever. I did like it though. It was hard not to like. The visual effects of putting Forrest next to a whole slew of notable 20th century figures was cool (but really, how many times could you do it?) and the love story at the core of the movie is sweet and touching. But 1994 was actually a great year for film. I couldn’t even put this movie in my Top 15 with other great achievements like: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Quiz Show,” “Il Postino,” “Hoop Dreams,” the masterful “Natural Born Killers,” Krzysztof’sRed” and yes, even “Pulp Fiction” which is over-rated in its own right, but still, a better choice than this schmaltzy, calculating, and poorly edited film. For Academy voters, this was the easy, safe pick for that year. Yeah, Forrest…keep running!

6. The Departed (2006)

The year of the “Long Overdue” award masking as “Best Picture” and “Best Director” respectively. I love Martin Scorsese and am a huge fan of so many of his films, but this had no business winning the top two awards of the night, let alone have the honor of being nominated. If any film actually stood out that year, Scorsese would have gone home empty-handed once again. But alas, no such film existed. Here, the thinking was, “Well, he’s made some brilliant films in the past, but because there was stiff competition those years, he just never won the big one. Let’s give him his Oscar now.” Nicholson is over-the-top (shocker), Wahlberg (who I actually like) was a disaster and really, it doesn’t even measure up to the original 2002 film “Infernal Affairs.”

5. Cavalcade (1933)

The movie is downright dull and overlong. There’s no way around it. It made for a boring play and here, it is a boring and stilted British movie. The film follows a pair of British aristocrats over the span of three decades and the turbulent times in which they live (1899-1933). There have been some terrific British films over the years. This is not one of them. If I wanted to see how World War I, the death of Queen Victoria, & the sinking of the Titanic affected society, I could watch a special on the History channel and be more entertained. Some excellent films that were snubbed in lieu of this snoozefest were: “King Kong,” “I am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang,” “Little Women” and “She Done Him Wrong” (yes, even at 66 minutes…it leaves much more of an impact than the siesta that is “Cavalcade”).

4. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

I am not sure how this film beat out a film that changed the face of motion pictures as we know it (“Citizen Kane”), but it did. I’m not one of those people who think that “Citizen Kane” is the end-all-and-be-all, but come on…it changed the way we view and create cinema. John Ford was a terrific filmmaker, but this is another lackluster, tedious film whose only claim to fame is that it bested Orson Welles’ magnum opus. The movie centers on the sorrowful lives of coal miners and is better suited for viewing in a college class on sociology or labor relations than as a piece of entertainment. Other worthy films that were released this year besides “Citizen Kane”: “Suspicion,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Little Foxes,” and yes, even Disney’s “Dumbo” is the greater work.

3. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

This is a sweet film with some very touching moments. Morgan Freeman is outstanding here as is Jessica Tandy (who won a “Best Actress” Oscar here). But “Best Picture”??? Do you really look back to 1989 and think back on this as being the year’s Best Picture?! If you are saying, “Yes” as you read this now, I’m calling you a liar. The film’s director wasn’t even recognized as a “Best Director” nominee. This was a year where voters wanted to feel good about themselves by selecting a movie that (haphazardly) shows the evils of racism. On that level, I felt the film to be a bit insulting, to be honest. It treats its viewers like idiots, thinking we had no idea how poorly blacks were treated in the South in 1948 and that yes, racism is bad. Thank you. It ranks so high on the list for these reasons and because it indefensibly beat out such grand triumphs of film such as: “Cinema Paradiso,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” “Born on the 4th of July,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

2. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

On any list like this one, this film you will most surely find. For all of its impressive locations and cast of actors, this is another long (3+ hours), tedious, uninteresting film. It is outdated, to be sure, with no sense of adventure or wonder to it at all (unlike the Jules Verne story that it is based on). Watch it now – tell me it doesn’t feel like you’re watching some homemade travel videos – or even those archaic educational videos you used to watch in the 6th grade. How this won “Best Picture,” I have no idea – but with cameos by more than 40 of Hollywood’s stars at the time, my thinking is that there were so many people associated with this film in one way or another, that enough votes went its way. “The Searchers,” “The Ten Commandments, “Giant” and “Anastasia” would have been much more admirable picks – all films that when we watch them today, over 50 years later, still entertain and engage us.

1. Chicago (2002)

This one was a travesty. I’ll start by saying that I did see it on Broadway years ago and loved it. It was great, sexy entertainment filled with wonderful choreography. And unlike some Broadway musicals that made successful transitions to the world of film, this just plays as silly entertainment geared to the “Glee” demographic. It plays more like the failed musical adaptations such as “Rent” and “Phantom of the Opera” than it does the ones which actually encapsulate the essence of what made the musicals great in the first place (like “West Side Story” or “An American in Paris”). The songs are great, sure – it’s a great musical. But when you leave it to a Hollywood cast who are there for box-office power and not their singing chops (John C. Reilly, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere), the songs fall flat. It was a weak year for good movies, but no one is ever going to look back at 2002 and think, “Oh, ‘Chicago’ was the best movie that year!” “Chicago” isn’t a good movie that beat out the more deserving…it is a poor, glitz-over-substance film that beat out the more deserving. Those films would be: “Adaptation,” “Talk to Her,” “Gangs of New York,” “Frida” and “The Pianist.”


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