Martin Scorsese is rightly considered one of the most gifted and influential film-makers of all time. For more than half a century, this acclaimed auteur has cemented his position in the industry by delivering at least one cinematic masterpiece per decade. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to have a conversation about film history without referring to the Oscar-winning director’s body of work.
Having said that, it often feels like the same handful of Scorsese flicks tend to dominate these discussions – you know, heavyweight efforts like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed – at the expense of other, worthy candidates. Sure, not every Scorsese outing is a gem – New York, New York is an ambitious miscalculation, while Silence is, frankly, a chore – but we’ve rounded-up 10 flicks that movie buffs shouldn’t be so quick to forget.
10 The Aviator
The Aviator was nominated for Best Picture at the 77th Academy Awards, so labelling it “underrated” is probably a teensy bit of a stretch. Even so, this 2004 biopic starring Scorsese’s frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio as business tycoon Howard Hughes never quite seems to get the love it so richly deserves.
Everything about The Aviator – John Logan’s sharp screenplay, the lead performances by DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett (who offers up a spot-on impersonation of Katherine Hepburn), the stunning cinematography and production design – is absolutely first class. Scorsese’s direction is unobtrusive yet assured, with his decision to color grade the visuals to match the filmstock of the movie’s period setting a particularly inspired flourish.
9 The King Of Comedy
Of all the entries on this list, The King of Comedy has enjoyed the most favourable reappraisal in the years since its release. When this black comedy first hit theatres back in 1982, it garnered generally positive reviews – yet it failed to click with audiences, ultimately tanking at the box office.
Fortunately, The King of Comedy found a new audience when it was released on home media, and it’s now regarded as an overlooked classic. Robert De Niro’s turn as unhinged aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin is easily as unsettling as his more famous performance in Taxi Driver, while Scorsese deftly balances the script’s satirical and thriller elements.
8 Shutter Island
Shutter Island is arguably Scorsese’s least ambitious film, but that’s no reason to automatically dismiss it. On the contrary, this adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel – which sees its director channelling Alfred Hitchcock to dazzling effect – is genre film-making at its finest. Scorsese has rarely had as much fun sitting in the director’s chair, and that enthusiasm is tangible, despite Shutter Island’s gloomy, psychological thriller subject matter.
Leonardo DiCaprio renders Teddy Daniels’ gradual mental degradation with meticulous precision, while Michelle Williams is suitably haunting as the spectre of Daniels’ wife. Toss in a twisty narrative and gorgeous cinematography – not to mention a pervasive, suffocating sense of dread – and you’re left with the perfect blend of old school storytelling and modern filmmaking techniques.
7 The Last Temptation Of Christ
Wildly controversial when it arrived in theatres back in 1988, The Last Temptation of Christ is a deeply misunderstood film. Like the book upon which it’s based, Scorsese’s movie eschews traditional depictions of Jesus by digging into the internal conflict that arises when someone is both human and divine.
Willem Dafoe’s tormented Jesus continually grapples with the implications of his godhood, and even teeters on the brink of rejecting his destiny in favor of a normal life as a husband and father. As this heartbreaking struggle unfolds, an affectingly humane portrait of Christ emerges which elevates – rather than degrades – his mission and eventual act of self-sacrifice.
6 Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Despite dealing with heavy themes like grief and domestic abuse, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is actually one of the lighter entries in the Scorsese canon. Robert Getchell’s Oscar-nominated screenplay brilliantly straddles the line between romantic comedy and drama, preventing proceedings from ever becoming too overwrought.
For his part, Scorsese deserves kudos for teasing out appropriately subdued performances from stars Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson and Diane Ladd, which further contributed to the film’s understated charms.
Martin Scorsese and family-friendly entertainment aren’t normally words that belong together in the same sentence. Yet Scorsese’s 2011 adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Caberet is an unabashedly all-ages affair that will delight kids and adults alike.
A love letter to the work of pioneering film-maker Georges Méliès disguised as an adventure film, Hugo nevertheless doesn’t require you to be a cinephile to appreciate it. What’s more, Hugo also represents a rare instance of the 3D process enhancing the viewing experience, while its pre-teen leads, Chloë Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield, prove more than up to the challenge of carrying the film.
4 Cape Fear
Remakes are a tricky business, especially when the original version is regarded as pretty dang good already. But this is Scorsese we’re talking about, so it’s hardly surprising that his 1991 update of Cape Fear tops the J. Lee Thompson film that inspired it.
Backed by a fully committed Robert De Niro – who earned an Oscar nomination for his chilling portrayal of vengeful ex-con Max Cady – and unencumbered by 1960s censorship, Scorsese serves up a more visceral experience than Thompson could hope to deliver. True, Cape Fear is another of Scorsese’s extended homages to Hitchcock – but, like Hitch, he proves that with enough artistry, the humble thriller can transcend its genre trappings.
3 Bringing Out The Dead
We’re going to be totally honest: the relative obscurity of Bringing Out the Dead is flat-out bonkers. For starters, it has a stellar cast – Nic Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames! – who bring their A-game. Then there’s the script by Paul Schrader, which masterfully captures the essence of Joe Connelly’s novel about a paramedic haunted by the ghosts of those he’s failed to save.
What’s more, the material is almost tailor-made for Scorsese (who gravitates towards troubled protagonists searching for redemption) – something he makes the most of. But none of this stopped Bringing Out the Dead from flopping at the box office before fading from view.
2 After Hours
At this point in proceedings, certain themes have started to emerge – and one of the most prevalent is this: Scorsese should stop trying his hand at comedy. That’s not to say he’s not capable of making a funny movie, but rather that audiences prefer his more serious output to his gutbusters.
Frankly, this is their loss – especially where After Hours is concerned. A biting satire that revolves around the mishaps that befall yuppie Paul Hackett on an evening out in New York City, After Hours rates among Scorsese’s most underrated flicks and is well worth tracking down.
1 The Color Of Money
We’ve already touched upon the inherent risks involved with remaking a movie, but that’s nothing compared to shepherding the sequel to a revered classic. Never one to play it safe, Scorsese did just that in 1980, when he directed The Color of Money, a belated follow up to 1961 Best Picture nominee The Hustler.
Fortunately, Scorsese manages to stick the landing, crafting a worthy continuation of the original story that bagged acting legend Paul Newman – who returns as “Fast” Eddie Felson – his only competitive Oscar. Elsewhere, Tom Cruise is magnetic as Felson’s younger rival, while the screenplay – particularly the opening monologue delivered by Scorsese himself – is razor sharp.