Top 5 Classics by Martin Scorsese

Posted on 24 May 2017
By Pierce King
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Martin Scorsese, for a certain generation, is Hollywood’s finest ever director and even those in disagreement would recognise his place in the pantheon of Americana’s finest legends. We could mention so many more films for the great man (Mean Streets, The Departed, Cape Fear) than we do here, that it seems unfair on them to miss out. But the challenge was to pick five of the best, so other greats have been put one side to focus on these, the top five Martin Scorsese films instead.

Taxi Driver (1976)

The first of four, yes four, films in this list featuring Scorsese’s first muse, Robert De Niro, here playing a haunted Vietnam vet Travis Bickle. Taking a job as a cab driver, Bickle’s voyeurism warps his thinking as he cruises around a filthy New York City, disgusted at the things he witnesses. Horrors include gun crime, drug taking and prostitution, the worst of which involves a 13-year old girl, played here by a young Jodi Foster. His disturbed thinking sees him plot assassinations, spook potential girlfriends and act out in reality his obsession with a “real rain [that] will come to wash all the scum off the streets”, in one almighty blood climax.

Raging Bull (1980)

De Niro again, this time on Oscar winning form in the biopic of the Bronx based fighter Jake La Motta. Shot purposely in black and white, the film really brings out the gritty reality of not only Boxing’s brutality and organised crime influenece, but also inner city New York life, an area of interest for both Scorsese and De Niro, both sons of the city. This character study of a flawed brute and those caught in his cross fire, chiefly his wife and brother, portrayed brilliantly by Joe Pesci, is, quite simply, one of the finest pieces of cinema ever put to film.

Goodfellas (1990)

As far back as I can remember I have considered this to be the finest of all mafia movies. Trouncing The Godfather in almost every way, Goodfellas focuses on street level hoods, not giant mansions and fancy cars. Telling the true story of Henry Hill, played in the movie by Ray Liotta and his friends Jimmy Conway (De Niro, again) and Tommy DeVito (Pesci, again) as they chart their murderous rise to the top of Paulie’s gang. The plot revolves around the Lufthansa heist, at the time America’s biggest ever robbery. Running for over three hours, the film has time to make you laugh, cry and horrify you as it deals with the heist’s aftermath, incarceration, more than enough guys who wind up getting whacked and Henry’s deflection to the witness protection programme on whose book the film was based.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Finally, a film not starring De Niro. By the turn of the century Scorsese had found himself a new model in the shape of Leonardo DiCaprio. This their fifth outing together was their best yet. Amazingly, Leo didn’t get an Oscar for his role here for his role as Jordan Belfort, an almost La Motta moment as he drives the film forward on his own in a tale of debauched Wall Street trader excess wrapped up with less morals than Scorsese’s more familiar mobsters. Keep an eye out too for Jonah Hill, in a role reminiscent of Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way.

Casino (1995)

Scorsese brings back much of the same crew he put together for Goodfellas which, coupled with the storytelling, makes this film feel like a sequel. Moving the focus from New York to the Nevada desert, the film looks at the Chicago mob’s ownership of the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas which they run remotely. To keep the casino profitable, they install brilliant gambler Sam “Ace” Rothstein, yep, De Niro, and his childhood friend and psychopath Nicky Santoro, yep, Pesci, to look after him. It’s a recipe for disaster as the pair, together with Ginger (Sharon Stone), almost bring the house down. The film perfectly captures the city and its casino culture, while focusing on the illegalities that make it all possible. Scorsese films the strip and excited masses flocking to play the slots, with their penny cups, and take advantage of the endless buffets. The feel of gambling as a rewarding experience, something anyone who has visited live or online casinos (like will recognise, permeates the movie and shows the master filmmaker in perfect command of his craft.