The Sunday Dozen: Martin Scorsese

Film director’s month continues with someone who is still alive. Yay, Team Marty.

I selected the featured image of Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson because I’m a fan of both artists, so why the hell not? They became fast friends and occasional roommates after making The Last Waltz. Robbie has served as musical director on many Scorsese films. Besides, it’s cool to see a New Yorker and Canadian with palm trees in the background.

As a young film buff, I heard the buzz about Mean Streets and the prodigy who directed it. I was blown away. The prodigy has become a veteran with a prodigious resume as a director and producer.

I’ve been a Scorsese fan for so long that I feel as if I know him but not in a Rupert Pupkin stalkery way. That’s why I call him Marty.

This was a tough list to winnow down. Marty has made so many fine films on a wide variety of subjects. As a pulp fiction and noir guy, I like his crime-centered films the best. He’s also made some swell documentaries in the last twenty years as his feature output slowed down. Marty is prolific as well as prodigious.

The Martin Scorsese Dozen is in order of preference and reflects my personal taste. All twelve are 4-star films in my estimation. You might not agree but I’m the bull goose loony in this asylum not you. Why I made a Cuckoo’s Nest reference in a Scorsese post is beyond me. Sometimes, I even surprise myself.

I’m trying something different this week. Marty’s movies are chock-full-o-music, so I’m posting tunes from their soundtracks at the end of each entry. I won’t be posting the most obvious songs either: messing with my readers is my jam.

Hopefully, this musical experiment won’t blow up in my face like the weird aging shit Scorsese used in The Irishman. I’m not a fan of computer-generated imagery.

Let’s get started.

Goodfellas: It’s hard to make a movie that’s both realistic and surrealistic but Marty pulled it off in 1990. The wise guys are a bunch of schmoes who sit around busting balls until they go into action then they’re brutes. That’s the realistic bit.

The surrealistic bit comes near the end with Henry Hill’s cocaine fueled paranoia about everyone and everything. I tried cocaine a few times and never liked it: all it did for me was give me a runny nose and keep me awake all night. It was like the world’s most expensive head cold.

There are so many stunning performances in Goodfellas that it’s hard to keep track. The standouts are Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, and especially Joe Pesci. There’s nothing scarier than an angry short man.

A somewhat relevant aside: Goodfellas is full of players who would go on to The Sopranos. That makes Marty David Chase’s mommy or some such shit.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

Taxi Driver is one of the Scorsese movies I’ve seen the most. In my film buff memory, it’s paired with Robert Altman’s Nashville. Creepy stalker films were in vogue back then and nobody was creepier than Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle. Unfortunately, Taxi Driver inspired real life weirdo John Hinckley to stalk Jodie Foster.

The other thing that sticks with me about Taxi Driver is Bernard Herrmann’s score. It perfectly evokes the sordid and steamy streets of New York in the Seventies.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

Raging Bull: It’s not a fun ride but it’s a fascinating character study of another creep played by Robert DeNiro. Jake LaMotta was a violent asshole in the ring and out.

I’ve only seen Raging Bull twice because it’s so disturbing but it packs a powerful punch. Pun intended. It always is.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

The King Of Comedy: Speaking of creeps played by Robert DeNiro, Rupert Pupkin is one of the most original characters in cinematic history. He’s a schlemiel who thinks he’s a bad ass. He’s a stalker who thinks he’s hero. He’s a guy who thinks he’s funny but is not.

Jerry Lewis as talk show host Jerry Langford is the focus of Rupert’s obsession. His character is a rich successful creep. Lewis was essentially playing himself. It’s the only time I liked him onscreen.

The first time I saw The King Of Comedy in a theatre, I sat through two showings. It’s the only time as an adult that I’ve done that. I did, however, make my father sit through two showings of Mary Poppins when I was seven.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

Casino: It’s best described as a crime fiction epic. It tells the story of Las Vegas through the eyes of characters played by DeNiro, Pesci, and Sharon Stone.

Don Rickles did a stellar turn as Bobby D’s right-hand casino man. Marty likes to cast old school comedians in dramatic parts. It works for me.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

The Departed brought Marty his long overdue first Oscar. It’s a fictionalized account of Whitey Bulger’s life of crime. The star performances are by Jack Nicholson as the gang boss and Mark Wahlberg as a hilariously obscene FBI agent with a heavy Boston accent.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

Mean Streets is my first Scorsese love. It was mentioned in the introduction. I have only one thing to add: Johnny Boy was the first creep DeNiro played in a Scorsese movie. A truly scary and creepy character.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

The Last Waltz: I attended this concert. I saw a short, dark, and intense man racing about Winterland. Marty wasn’t famous yet, so I didn’t realize who he was until I saw this movie. What’s not to love about The Band and their music? It was also when Marty met Robbie.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

Gangs Of New York may be one of my most controversial picks as a great Scorsese film. As a history buff, it really speaks to me. It perfectly captures the stink, stench, and funk of life in the 19th Century. They were not only mean streets, they were stinky streets.

Hammy though it may be, I love Daniel Day Lewis’ performance as Bill the Butcher. I would not have wanted to be around him when he made this film. Method actors are weird.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

The Age Of Innocence: By 1993, Scorsese was tired of hearing that he was a men’s director. So, he made a classic film of a classic book written by a classic woman writer, Edith Wharton. It’s a triumph, especially the performances by Michelle Pfeiffer and Wynona Ryder.

It also clicked the period and costume film boxes. Marty proved he could do it all.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

The Aviator: When I was a young man, Howard Hughes was a subject of fascination and media speculation. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hughes is one of a long line of creeps in Scorsese movies. This time it was a rich and deeply weird creep. What’s creepier than becoming a recluse with unkempt hair and claws for toenails?

Continuing the Marty can too direct women theme, Cate Blanchett is luminous, spunky, and funny as Katharine Hepburn. She was among the first to catch on to Hughes’ lunacy. Forgive me: we call crazy rich people eccentric.

A nugget from the soundtrack:

The Color Of Money is a movie that has grown on me over the years. Tom Cruise’s character is so bumptious and annoying that you want to pop him one. Along with Jerry Maguire, it’s the quintessential Cruise character: a frenetic creep. It’s what Marty was going for and Cruise delivered.

Then there’s Paul Newman’s Oscar winning return as Fast Eddie Felson. The Hustler is an old favorite of mine, so I loved revisiting this character.

A nugget from the soundtrack. It’s the obvious one this time:

That concludes the Martin Scorsese Dozen.

Here’s some lagniappe: a video Marty directed for Robbie Robertson.

The last word goes to the director and some of the cast of Goodfellas in the bar in which Joe Pesci whacked Michael Imperioli:




2 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: Martin Scorsese

  1. Well done. Your commentary is excellent. You are in good company, here.

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