#10 – 'The King of Comedy'
We begin our countdown with the lighter side of Martin Scorsese and "The King of Comedy." For anyone who has seen the film, there really is no "lighter side." This is a dark drama about the dangers of celebrity worship. Robert De Niro plays a delusional comedian who kidnaps his favourite Late Night host (played by Jerry Lewis) in order to get his big break on television. It opened Cannes but flopped at the box office. It's unsettling rather than funny. And yes, it inspired Joaquin Phoenix's "Joker." And that one wasn't funny either...
#9 – 'Shutter Island'
Our 9th pick is a psychological thriller starring Scorsese's latter-day muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a U.S. Marshall investigating a psychiatric facility after one of its patients goes missing. Scorsese says he was inspired by low budget zombie films but the look of the film and the killer twist ending owes more to suspense master, Alfred Hitchcock. Like almost every other Scorsese film, it boasts an impressive cast that includes Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams. And like almost every other Scorsese film, it also features a sizzling soundtrack... while your eyes stay glued to the screen.
#8 – 'Casino'
Our #8 pick, "Casino," would rank higher if "Goodfellas" didn't exist. It's even co-written with Scorsese's "Goodfellas" partner, Nicholas Pileggi. It won a Golden Globe win for Sharon Stone and it contains all the elements that made "Goodfellas" so great: Robert De Niro as a boss, Joe Pesci as a gangster, and the unflattering evolution of a corrupt institution. And yet... it feels like a long weekend in Sin City. At first, you're excited by all the endless possibilities. Then as you leave, you're left with an empty feeling and a fuzzy memory at what you just saw.
#7 – 'Gangs of New York'
After scrubbing the rotten core out of the Big Apple in previous films, Martin Scorsese travels back in time to 1862 for even more brutal butchery in "Gangs of New York." Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it was another city, "Chicago," that charmed the Oscar voters. Our #7 film was both praised for its accuracy in its speech and its production design but criticized for its sluggish story and cartoonish violence. Led by an electrifying performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, it also debuted Scorsese's next big screen partner, Leonardo DiCaprio.
#6 – 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Gangsters don’t always get the big screen spotlight in Martin Scorsese movies. In our #6 pick, it was unscrupulous stockbrokers, led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, who chewed up the scenery in "The Wolf of Wall Street." It won a Golden Globe for DiCaprio but its more notable "achievement" was the former Guinness World Record for most F-bombs in a movie. While many critics complained that the sustained immorality of the characters were more glorified rather than vilified, audiences were definitely buying what Scorsese and DiCaprio were selling.
#5 – 'The Aviator'
Like many of his best films, Martin Scorsese's epic bio-pic, "The Aviator," is a cinematic winner that just happens to land in our #5 slot. It won 5 Oscars including a Best Supporting Actress win for Cate Blanchett (portraying Katherine Hepburn). But this was Leonardo DiCaprio's big screen showcase precisely portraying Howard Hughes, the aviation pioneer and filmmaker who increasingly suffers from OCD. Many moviegoers had remembered billionaire Hughes as the late-in-life recluse. But Scorsese aptly restores the man behind the myth... before the germs invade his mind.
#4 – 'The Departed'
The real crime in the crime drama, "The Departed," is that our #4 film marks Martin Scorsese's only Academy Award as Best Director. It's a remake of the Hong Kong film, "Infernal Affairs," and won 3 other Oscars including Best Picture. Matt Damon is the gangster playing cop while Leonardo DiCaprio is the cop playing gangster. Both earn their badges while Jack Nicholson plays a caricature of himself and Mark Wahlberg thinks he's in a comedy. It's still great cinema for what seems like an Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award for denying Scorsese the honours for greater films in his catalogue.
#3 – 'Taxi Driver'
If the 1960s were about peace and love, "Taxi Driver" put the brakes on that hope with an unflinching portrait of an unstable cabbie, portrayed by Robert De Niro, bent on murdering a pimp "and" a presidential candidate in order to clean up the dirty and corrupt city that he sees every night behind his steering wheel. Our #3 film won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival and is regarded as one of the greatest films of the decade. But the Oscar voters had no stomach for it. Instead, they gave their title belt to the feel-good "Rocky."
#2 – 'Raging Bull'
Robert De Niro puts on the gloves himself for our #2 film, the Jake LaMotta bio, "Raging Bull." Unlike "Rocky," this was about the dark side of boxing where there are no heroes, only violence and destruction, because the only thing more horrifying than LaMotta inside the ring was LaMotta outside the ring. It won an Oscar for De Niro and one for Scorsese's faithful editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. But it lost Best Picture to "Ordinary People." Now acknowledged as one of the best movies of all-time, it also stands as one of the Academy's worst Best Picture Oscar snubs ever.
#1 – 'Goodfellas'
So how do you top one of the best movies of all-time? You make another one. "Goodfellas" stands shoulder to shoulder with "The Godfather" as the two greatest gangster movies Hollywood has ever produced. Robert De Niro and Oscar Winner Joe Pesci are at the top of the game. Ray Liotta was a revelation. The dense soundtrack triggered every emotion. The cinematography and editing were mesmerizing. The tracking shot into the Copacabana Club! The beating of Billy Batts! The "funny like a clown" scene! No other movie pivots so effectively from boorish comedy to outrageous violence. This is Martin Scorsese's (other) masterpiece and our #1 film.