Thursday, October 15, 2009

Directors of the Decade: Martin Scorsese

Robert here, with a new series on the filmmakers who've shaped the past ten years. We'll feature new directors who've lent their voice to the cinematic landscape as well as veterans. First up: Martin Scorsese


Number of Films: Six.
Modern Masterpieces: None.
Total Disasters: None
Better than you remember: Gangs of New York
Awards: 9 Oscars for his films (including 1 Best Director and 1 Best Picture)
Box Office: The Departed is his highest grossing at $132 million (though no film he directs makes as much as the A Shark Tale for which he lends his voice talents.)
Critical Consensus: High praise for all. Highest praise for No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
Favorite Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in three films.


Let's talk about:
Oscar. It seems pretty obvious that the great Martin Scorsese started off this decade with a clear goal for himself: win an Oscar. Can you blame him? The man was considered by many, America's greatest living director. If I were Martin Scorsese I'd have wanted an Oscar. Not only that, but I'd have been upset that at no time during three decades of masterpieces had the Academy seen fit to give me one. For Scorsese, things weren't looking promising. Coming off of two of his weakest pictures (sorry Kundun fans) it seemed as if he'd join the ranks of Kubrick and Hitchcock. Yes, Martin Scorsese was on his way to becoming one more symbol of how unfortunate The Oscars were.


Martin Scorsese's films during the past decade have been uneven but never uninteresting. And they've demonstrated that Scorsese the man is still committed to exploring the same topics he's always been (namely New York City and the minds of single, conflicted, often desperate men). It seems unfortunate to want to view them primarily through the prism of Oscar, but more than any other filmmaker, it's inevitable. This was Martin Scorsese's Oscar decade. First up, anything but a sure thing: Scorsese directed a period piece about the violent symbolic birth of New York starring that kid from Titanic we were still tired of hearing our little sisters swoon over and Daniel Day Lewis, who himself was coming off two of his weakest pictures (sorry Crucible fans). Gangs of New York ended up a little unfocused and took too much flack. It's surprisingly easy to watch (thanks primarily to Day Lewis) even if it failed to win a single Oscar.

Next attempt: a lavish biopic about one of Hollywood's most interesting characters. The Aviator was a biopic only as Scorsese could make one... big, exhuberant, unexpectedly dark. Howard Hughes easily fit into Scorsese's world of Travis Bickles, Henry Hills and Rupert Pupkins. The film also established Leonardo DiCaprio as the real deal and Scorsese's most solid acting collaborator since Robert DeNiro.



Finally, of course it was Scorsese's least Oscar ready film that eventually won him the prize. The Departed was a modern celebration of crime cinema (more specifically Hong Kong crime cinema) and won, in part thanks to the changing tastes of the Academy (I said, changing, not improving).

A lot of watchers suggested that the lesson here was: "stop trying so hard to win an Oscar" (tell that to Clint Eastwood). And maybe it was. Scorsese heads into the next ten years, unencumbered by any need to win an Oscar. Who knows, maybe he'll win another one.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.oscars.org/press/pressreleases/2009/20091015.html

65 Films Vie for Best Foreign Oscar

Rebecca said...

Interesting - Robert cites Daniel Day-Lewis as a reason why 'Gangs of New York' is easy to watch, that is what made it painful for me. He makes everyone else look bad. You can't put Cameron Diaz in a petticoat against him without making her look really bad.
If memory serves, the only person to not be obliterated or embarrassed by Day-Lewis in that movie was Liam Neeson.

Ivy said...

Total Disasters: The Aviator, Gangs of New York

NATHANIEL R said...

Ivy THE AVIATOR a disaster? I think not. If only for the Old Hollywood sections which were so gorgeously recreated. And that plane crash! And Blanchett as Hepburn. And the costumes! And...

ok. i'll admit I like the movie more than most.

robert not sure i buy your proposal that GANGS is better than I remember. Oy that movie annoyed me.

rebecca blame not DDL for making the others look bad but the others themselves. Just think how great Madeleine Stowe was opposite him in Last of the Mohicans. She was hardly regarded as a powerhouse talent but some actors step up their game considerably when someone like a DDL is in the room. Too bad DiCaprio and Diaz didn't.

NATHANIEL R said...

also Robert... aren't you downplaying The Departed a little bit? Or maybe you're not a fan?

I think it's aged well (not that 3 years makes much of a difference) but maybe others disagree.

Univarn said...

Despite all the naysayers I love The Aviator, The Departed, & Gangs of New York (I own all 3). I think The Departed was aided by rather weak competition from overachieving movies that year. I saw The Departed 3 times in the theater (had to drag friends for some film edumacation).

Of course one film truth always stands: If lots of people like a movie/director there will always exists a much angrier group of equal size who hate.

Henry said...

Oh, boy. I think I'm gonna enjoy this series.

I've seen each of Scorsese's films this decade and honestly, I'm inclined to agree with some points and disagree with others.

I actually think Scorsese improved his filmmaking prowess as the decade went along. Each film was a step up and I'd absolutely argue that both Gangs of New York and The Departed are in the "Modern Masterpiece" category. The Aviator is a valiant try, but ultimately falls short.

I thought even when the movie came out in late 2002 that Gangs... was a great film. My one slight problem was with pacing issues. And I couldn't buy pretty boy DiCaprio as an orphaned double agent gangster. Diaz was miscast as well. Watching it on DVD these days, I am surprised that the film is quite easy to watch and digest. Like, I'm still surprised when I start the movie and how easily it moves to the final showdown that coincides with the Riots. It's done with such style and grittiness endemic in Scorsese's filmmaking and DDL owns the screen whenever he's on. You felt like you were there in 19th century New York. Easily a better film than Chicago. He should have won Best Director that year.

The Aviator had Scorsese so on his game for the first hour or hour and a half. It was so full of life and moved so quickly through Hughes' life. The joy of making movies was in that half of the film. Then Cate Blanchett leaves the narrative, Hughes crashes the XF-11, and it felt like both Scorsese and DiCaprio were trying to find a credible direction for the story to go. The film just falls flat on its face. It recovers somewhat with Alan Alda, but again, they don't know where to go with that plot thread. The ending for The Aviator felt so open-ended and ambiguous that I didn't buy it.

The Departed was so good. SO good. I had problems with how bloody the ending was (which is somewhat tame when compared to the rest of Scorsese's work), but it felt like Goodfellas, where Scorsese finds a working rhythm and runs with it. The movie hums along for a good portion of its running time and is so endlessly watchable that I think people could see why the Academy could have chosen it as Best Picture. The cast is perfectly chosen and Scorsese works with each part of the cast to its fullest potential.

I think it was a good decade overall for Scorsese. Woulda been better if Shutter Island was released this year and he threw his hat in there for this year. And it's amazing for him to be in this position considering that at the beginning of the decade, a lot of us were wondering if he was ever gonna get the Best Director Oscar. I know I pretty much gave up after Gangs got 10 nods and didn't win a damn thing. Then The Aviator getting a bunch of nods, but once again losing both Director and Picture, felt like a kick to the groin when someone was already down and out.

Anonymous said...

Casino is my personal favorite...that performance he got out of Sharon Stone was amazing. He deserved an Oscar just for that.

Michael W. said...

I LOVE The Aviator. It was the one Marty should have won the Oscar for. I just can't understand it when people say they don't like it. It's a wonderful love letter to the young Hollywood.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I didn't even know people disliked THE AVIATOR? [Gasp]. I'm like Univarn I like all three. In reverse chronological order [Departed, Aviator, Gangs]. Sure Gangs isn't perfect, but it's still a good movie.

Cameron said...

I am super excited about this new series! I, also, would put The Departed in with modern masterpieces. It's definitely one of the best gangster movies of the decade. I just wish "Gimme Shelter" didn't play ever 10 minutes in it (seriously, how many times is Marty gonna use that song in his films), love him though.

Ivy said...

The Aviator was a bad movie with a bad performance by Cate Blanchett, giving gimmicky for Katharine Hepburn JUST TO WIN AN OSCAR.

Thank you, Academy, for making a true movie like MILLION DOLLAR BABY win the Oscar that year.

Agustin said...

I don't get which are the 6 movies
Gangs, Aviator, Dylan, Departed, Stones and the other one???

Matt Mazur said...

The Rolling Stones movie is horrific.

Becky said...

I'm not a big fan of Scorcese (I really hated "Age of Innocence" and then lost interest in him) but I have nothing but love for Departed. This movie gets better with every viewing, especially the masterful beginning. It adds so much to the original story that it doesn't feel like a remake anymore.

Nate said...

The Departed does get better with each viewing. I would say it is the best out of the three.

The Aviator was cool, I liked it didn't love it.

Gangs of New York.. It wasn't a horrible movie, but not a great one either. DDL was great.

Is Shutter Island REALLY coming out in February? I have a feeling they are going to move it again.

Flosh said...

Thanks for sticking up for Gangs. It's a great flawed film.

NoNo said...

Give me one or Give HIM one? Ha, Freudian Slip!

I wish that Scorcese did not try so hard to win one because I do feel like eventually they would've felt obligated to give him. Even with "The Departed" his lack of campaigning felt like campaigning if you get what I mean. I think "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator" would've been better films for it. Even if he never got one Kubrick and Hitchcock are great company to be in. You become bigger than the Oscars and I think that Scorcese is more than worthy of it.

It seems like he's getting back to it though. "Shine A Light" was fun and "Shutter Island" looks amazing. I do hope that he does one more film with DeNiro because I love him (and them together) so much. Chances are it won't be that great but it will be better than anything DeNiro did in the last 10 years combined.

NATHANIEL R said...

by the way robert this...

"The Departed is his highest grossing at $132 million (though no film he directs makes as much as the A Shark Tale for which he lends his voice talents.)"

was EVIL of you. How fucking depressing! You live to punish us with the truth.

Arkaan said...

Of the three biggies....

1. The Aviator: The reception for this film fascinates me. I love it as Scorsese's unabashed tribute to filmmaking. I love it for Cate Blanchett's amazing performance. I love it as a tribute to the idea of human endeavour. I love it for being a biopic about flow. I love it for it's kindness to Hughes (who's easy to mock). Is it a masterpiece? Nope. As people mentioned, it deflates once Blanchett leaves. Beckinsale in no way suggests Ava Gardner (though she gives a nice performance otherwise). But of his 00 nominees, it's my favourite. Of the 2004 nominees, it's my favourite.

2. The Departed: I like this film, but I don't love it. It's definitely canny entertainment, but I miss the formal cool of Infernal Affairs. Of the five nominees, I would've voted for it or Eastwood's film (which I was more impressed with when I eventually saw it), depending on peer pressure. Without Children of Men, though, I really didn't care about the 2006 oscar race.

3. Gangs of New York. Don't get me started. I can think of fifty 2002 films that were better.

I liked Kundun quite a bit, didn't care for The Age of Innocence or Casino (his worst), think Goodfellas is awesome, and am really glad he has an oscar.

Chris Na Taraja said...

I thought Cameron Diaz did some fine work in GANGS OF NEW YORK thought she was better then Leo.

I liked it better than DEPARTED. GANGS kind of pulled my history heart strings. After seeing the movie, i went on a tour of the 5 points here in NY. After DEPARTED, i didn't want to tour anything. I thought, "did we really need to see all those folks killed like that?"

Glenn said...

The Aviator is definitely my favourite, and Gangs definitely the worst. I haven't seen his music docos though, because I find Bob Dylan and The Rolling bloody Stones to be two of the most annoying look-at-me-i-like-respectable-music artists ever.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Wow, I would totally argue Gangs of New York is worse than I remember it. If I were to nominate a movie that contains less than meets the eye.. Well, that would be The Aviator. And if I were to nominate a performance that figuratively gouged said eye - Ms. Blanchett raping Ms. Hepburn's legacy would be it.

I'm a big fan of The Departed though. It's the movie where DiCaprio actually earned the praise he got for The Aviator.

I should also fess up: I don't get the Scorsese thing. I try, but I just don't. I love a couple of his films: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Mean Streets -- I quite like a couple others: The Departed, Taxi Driver, Age of Innocence, King of Comedy, Raging Bull (though there are aspects of the latter that I despise, including its overblown reputation) -- but none of them would I brand a masterpiece. With a couple of exceptions (all of Mean Streets, most of Taxi Driver, the fight scenes in Raging Bull), I really don't find his style all that invigorating, and unless an actress works overtime to assert herself (eg. Vera Farmiga, Sharon Stone) he really doesn't know what to do with the women in his films. (My favourite of his films, Alice Doesn't..., is the clear exception to this rule.)

Urey said...

I would have been fine with Scorsese winning for either "Gangs of New York" or "The Aviator." "Gangs" gets so much hate it seems, but just for Daniel Day-Lewis and those incredible techs, I'd say it was worth seeing and worth a win for him. "The Aviator" might be a tad beneath that for me, but it was still thrilling, and I know I would have picked him over Clint (not as sure about Polanski -- I loved that entire lineup that year though). And as much as I enjoyed "The Departed" and loved Marty's big Oscar moment and speech, in the back of my head, I always go back to, "He lost for 'Raging Bull', didn't even get nominated for 'Taxi Driver', but wins for this?" That's not really fair, and it's not his fault but silly Academy voters, but still. Marty's a genius, glad he finally won an Oscar, and I wish that "Shutter Island" were playing now instead of next year. Fun series.

Billy Held An Oscar said...

My biggest problem with Scorcese is his continual casting of DiCaprio. DiCaprio's acting style is hammy and over-the-top. For me, it is a huge distraction. I look forward to the end of their collaborative period.

Bing147 said...

What's Scorcese's 6th film? I got The Departed, Shine a Light, No Direction Home, The Aviator and Gangs of New York. He did a short and some tv episodes here and there but Shutter Island isn't gonna make it.

Also, Scorcese's last two films of the 90s don't include Kundun, they were My Voyage to Italy and Bringing Out the Dead. Both of which are terrific.

I'll rank the 4 of the 5 this decade I've seen like:

1. Gangs of New York-I agree that this is very underrated, brilliant work by Day Lewis, easily watchable, just some terrific film making. A bit unfocused in spots? Of course. But it has a beautiful flow nonetheless.

2. The Departed-A very fun film which I happily own, its not among his best work and probably not in my top 10 of 06 but its a very good film nonetheless and my #2 of the 06 nominees and since Letters was never gonna win, I had no problem with Marty finally getting his Oscar. Its a very good film, just not a great one, though its endlessly rewatchable and the soundtrack is stunning.

3. Shine a Light-Not one of the best documentaries of the decade or anything but its still pretty great. Some of the greatest cinematography of this decade with a ton of the best in the business involved and does a great job of showing just how much these guys still rock.

4. The Aviator-Can't stand it. DiCaprio I like often but here I found him out of his depth. He's fine in the early parts but as the film goes on I felt he lost his grasp on Hughes. Blanchett was awful for my money, as someone who knows Hepburn, that was a caricature, nothing more. She didn't even try to grasp the real woman. My least favorite Blanchett performance. The rest of the cast were fine and it looks pretty enough but its an average film at best and among Marty's worst.

Still really need to see No Direction Home.

Anonymous said...

Great idea for a series! "The Departed" is my favorite of his movies since "Cape Fear", which is my favorite of his movies since "Taxi Driver", which is my favorite of his movies (I obviously need to see "Goodfellas" and "Raging Bull" as an adult to correct my ranking).

And while we're on the topic, who is in your opinion THE Director of the Decade? If someone asked me, I honestly have no idea what I would say.

NATHANIEL R said...

anon nothing to rectify if you love Taxi Driver (imho better than Raging Bull for sure). But I highly recommend King of Comedy, too. They're my two favorites.

as for who is the director of this decade. It's a great question. Some of the ones that come immediately to mind (Paul Thomas Anderson) were really 90s holdovers...

can't wait to see who Robert picks next (no, i do not exercize editorial control on who is featured)

moviefreak said...

First... how Scorsese lost to Robert Redford, and Redford's debut no less behind the camera, is an insult. Scorsese wasn't even a boxing fan and knew nothing about the sport and those boxing scenes look so realistic they look like it's actual boxing footage. Michael Chapman's cinematography in that film is sublime too. Scorsese and pic were robbed.

Now for this decade, I actually really liked Gangs Of New York. I own it. The period detail ( The Five Points section, costumes ) is amazingly genuine looking. Ballhaus does some great camera work throughout the film, especially the beginning battle. If I had my choice to recast DiCaprio and Diaz, I would have. I could easily see Christian Bale in the Amsterdam role and plenty of worthy actresses to play Jenny. Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Julie Deply to name just a few. DDL though I disagree, saying his previous two films as being the worst he had done. I thought The Boxer was a good movie and the boxing in that relaistic as well.

I liked The Aviator. But I could see where some wouldn't have been so high on it. I think it's truly Leo's best work to date. Also the cinematography by Richardson is awesome. Blanchett is pitch perfect as Hepburn and was Alda really better than Baldwin in support ? I think that topic is debatable. Baldwin owns every scene he is in.

The Departed was my favorite movie of that year. The pacing is what makes it. It grabs you by the throat and never lets up till the very last scene. It's not Scorsese's best work, but it was good enough for a long overdue Oscar win.

I read Shutter Island a couple of times and have seen the trailer. I have no idea why this was pushed back. Seems odd. I think it would have definitely been in the race come Oscar voting.

And Scorsese's next... the George Harrison documentary will be, if anything, interesting. Not my favorite Beatle but I didn't dislike any either. Then a long gestated adaptation that sounds like Scorsese's baby; Silence and his third collaboration with Day-Lewis. Very interested in this prjoect as it's another topic and terrain totally new to Day-Lewis and Scorsese. But I don't think we'll see that till 2011.

Peter said...

If The Departed is not a modern masterpiece then I don't know what the term means.

Eric Kimberly said...

The Aviator is my favorite though I haven't seen Gang of New York. Does anybody else love After Hours? That is my absolute favorite Scorsese well maybe behind Taxi Driver. His best movie is Raging Bull though.

Anonymous said...

Peter said...

"If The Departed is not a modern masterpiece then I don't know what the term means."

Come on. An English language remake of an Asian action movie - that's not the definition of "modern masterpiece". Like many others have mentioned, The Departed was neither that year's best movie, nor Scorsese's best work. You cheapen the term masterpiece if you apply it to everything!