Few men have been more passionate defenders of cinema than Martin Scorsese over the course of his career, even if some Marvel stans might be offended by his take on those films. Even as he’s fought for great cinema to be seen, though, Scorsese has also made plenty of legendary films himself over the course of his long career. He may not have made Goncharov, but he’s still pretty great.
While many people claim the Scorsese only makes gangster movies, anyone who has looked at his career knows that to be far from the truth. Scorsese is a great director across a wide array of genres, and his work has varied across decades and partnerships with different actors. He’s one of the greatest directors in cinema history. We’ve broken down the 10 best movies by Martin Scorsese below.
Scorsese bought in hard on Leonardo DiCaprio, and that buy-in paid off in a big way with The Aviator. The film tells the story of magnate and mogul Howard Hughes as he struggles with OCD and rises to global fame. Almost 20 years have passed since the film’s release, yet this may still be the single greatest performance DiCaprio has ever given. Filled with spectacular scene after spectacular scene, The Aviator is a portrait of a man who is never satisfied and who finds himself painfully alone as a result.
Easily the most tender movie Scorsese has ever made, The Age of Innocence tells the story of a wealthy lawyer who finds himself in a forbidden love affair with a countess estranged from her husband. It’s exactly as forlorn and sentimental as you might expect it to be, but it’s also filled with the kind of lush photography that proves that Scorsese is capable of making just about anything, even a tragic romance. This movie isn’t in any way violent or profane, and it’s easily one of the best things the “gangster movie” director has ever done.
Perhaps the movie Scorsese is best known for, Goodfellas is a story about how great it is to be in the mafia — until you wake up one day and find that it isn’t anymore. The movie is loosely based on the true story of Henry Hill, a former made man who eventually went into witness protection after turning on everyone he used to work with. Along the way, there’s plenty of debauchery, lots of killing, and a few of the best sequences of Scorsese’s entire career. This easily could have made it farther up the list, but regardless of where it landed, it might be Scorsese’s definitive magnum opus.
A takedown of the financial industry and capitalism more generally, The Wolf of Wall Street is obscene, bloated, and vulgar in exactly the same way that its main character is. The movie tells the true story of Jordan Belfort, a normal floor trader who discovered that the only thing holding him back was his morals. The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie about getting rich in America and about how that desire for wealth can break your brain. Anchored by a ferocious DiCaprio performance, it proved that Scorsese still has plenty of juice left in his tank.
We should all be grateful that Scorsese is still making movies, but The Irishman feels a little bit like a definitive statement on the director’s entire career. Telling the story of a mid-level member of the mob over decades as he becomes close with Jimmy Hoffa and is eventually forced to kill him, The Irishman is about what you have left when you become part of that system. For all of the talk about the ways Scorsese glorifies life in the mob, The Irishman ends with its main character, sad and alone, trying to convince everyone that he mattered once.
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Perhaps Robert De Niro‘s most iconic performance, Taxi Driver perfectly mixes the sensibilities of Scorsese with those of his screenwriter, Paul Schrader, to tell the story of Travis Bickle. Bickle is a taxi driver who fancies himself a vigilante hero who wants to clean up the streets of the godforsaken city he drives through every night. Taxi Driver, like many of Scorsese’s best movies, is about the fragility of the male ego and every man’s belief that his life should be bigger and better than the one he currently leads.
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