This week saw the New Zealand release of Martin Scorsese's latest film, Silence, a meditative, considered work of classic Scorsesian contemplation. Even though the film failed to garner more than one Oscar nomination (for cinematography), it nevertheless stands amongst the iconic filmmaker's greatest works.
To mark the release of this film, and to honour society's emphasis on quantitative assessment, I will rank Scorsese's 10 best films in order of greatness. According to me.
There's considerable critical consensus around Scorsese' major works, of which Raging Bull is usually considered the best.
As genius as that film is, to me it's more a work of abstraction than the best example of the visceral cinematic experiences Scorsese excels at. That kind of thinking will inform the below list, which will also include his five "worst" films.
It's rightfully sacrilegious to suggest that any Scorsese films deserve to be on a "worst" list, but I'm using the term relatively here. These are simply the films that end up at the bottom of the pile when you lay Scorsese' work out by order of greatness. Let there be no confusion: Scorsese's lesser works tend to contain more cinematic vitality than most entire filmographies.
The 10 Best Scorsese Films:
1. Goodfellas (1990)
Easily Scorsese's most watched, most influential and most widely-appreciated film, this gangster drama stands as the ultimate coalescing of his multiple skills as a filmmaker - it's utterly intoxicating viewing from the opening frame to the chilling final shot.
2. Taxi Driver (1976)
A captivating descent into hell, this 70s classic demonstrates Scorsese's unnerving ability to portray human darkness in all its ugly glory. As disturbing as it is eloquent, the film's psychological potency hasn't dulled one iota.
3. The King of Comedy (1982)
More relevant now than when it was released 35 years ago, this jet-black comedy about the lengths a terrible stand-up comic is willing to go to be famous has risen in stature amongst Scorsese's filmography over the years, from the status of oddity to prescient masterpiece.
4. Mean Streets (1973)
Scorsese excels when he's exploring matters of faith, and that's especially true in this rough-and-ready-drama in which his power as a 'New York' filmmaker first really calcified.
5. Raging Bull (1980)
For all the artful abstraction I mentioned above, Raging Bull is still an insanely cool film and wholly deserving of its reputation. I simply prefer watching Goodfellas. I think everybody does.
6. Casino (1995)
It was all too easy to dismiss this as something of a Goodfellas re-tread when it first came out, but time has shown it to be much more than that and regard for the film has grown considerably and justifiably. One of Scorsese' most re-watchable films.
7. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
There's just no denying the electricity when Scorsese is addressing Catholicism. I thought a lot about this controversial portrait of Jesus while I was watching Silence.
8. Shutter Island (2010)
A hugely underrated genre thriller that once again demonstrates how much of a true movie nerd Scorsese is at heart - he was clearly having the time of his life with this spiralling nightmare of a film.
9. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
A timely re-affirmation of both Scorsese's contemporary relevance and his ability to charm the box office masses. Nobody can portray excess like this guy.
10. After Hours (1985)
This is another Scorsese film that has enjoyed an elevation in status over the years - often written off as a "work for hire" movie, this all-night comedy benefits hugely from Scorsese's unique directorial flair. And it's a heck of a lot more fun than The Age of Innocence.
The 5 "Worst" Scorsese Films:
5. Vinyl (2016)
Okay not a movie, but Scorsese directed the pilot for this high profile misfire of a TV series that proved some things are simply too cool to be dramatised on screen. Even by Martin Scorsese.
4. The Aviator (2004)
Opulent, yet forgettable, this felt torn between being an ode to old Hollywood and a portrait of obsession. Neither aspect popped.
3. Hugo (2011)
How could a film with such a grand visual imagination and scope and reverence for cinematic history be so...boring?
2. The Departed (2006)
The film that finally got Scorsese his Oscar is not without some entertainment value, but The Simpsons put it best when they said "the rat stands for obviousness."
1. Gangs of New York (2002)
Like Silence, this was a long-gestating Scorsese passion project. Unlike Silence, all that build resulted in a finished product that was more unwieldy than evocative.