To say Martin Scorsese is a living legend is not an overstatement. As a director, since the 1970s he has brought some of the best movies to the screen, many now considered classics – Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Colour Of Money, Casino and many more. As a producer he has multiple credits, and his documentaries are as entertaining as any of his scripted films. Shine A Light, about the Rolling Stones’ Beacon Theatre performance during the band’s Bigger Bang tour in 2006, remains one of the best doccies I’ve seen.
Scorsese is a lover of New York, in all its gritty glory, and his passion for filmmaking extends beyond the camera to the establishment of The Film Foundation (to restore prints of old and damaged films); The World Cinema Project (“to preserve and present marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions generally ill-equipped to preserve their own cinema history”); and The African Film Heritage Project which “aims to locate and preserve 50 classic African films, some thought lost and others beyond repair, with hopes to make them available to audiences everywhere.”
The list of awards and accolades speaks for itself.
As the great man approaches his 79th birthday, his youngest daughter, Francesca, 21, is ensuring the Scorsese name reaches a new generation. She stars in We Are Who We Are, a coming of age series – which has been described as a “slow burn” – created and directed by Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (of the evocatively brilliant Call Me By Your Name, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar).
“If beautifully shot, languorously paced character and mood pieces are your thing, you are going to be very happy with eight hours of this, especially if it maintains the opening episode’s ability to avoid ever tipping into smugness at just how much beauty and talent it has managed to assemble and play with,” says The Guardian.
The series comes to Showmax in March 2021. While you’re waiting, here are 10 Scorsese films and series to stream.
The Age of Innocence (Netflix)
Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer – simply exquisite on-screen together in this story taken from the Edith Wharton novel about manners and hypocrisy in the 1870s – navigate the perils of a love triangle, and the opposites of sweet and scandalous.
“Scorsese has placed his indelible stamp on this picture, not only through the camerawork, but in the potent tension that builds between the main characters…The Age of Innocence is a sumptuous motion picture, a feast for the senses,” says Reel Views.
Boardwalk Empire (Showmax)
During its five-season run from 2010 to 2014, this HBO series picked up 57 Primetime Emmy nominations. Scorsese executive produced alongside creator Terence Winter (who made The Sopranos and other mutual projects with Marty), and Mark Wahlberg.
It begins in Atlantic City in 1920 on the eve of Prohibition. The central character, gangster Nucky Thompson, is played by Steve Buscemi. Scorsese directed the pilot episode, which is described by Den Of Geek thus: “First and foremost, Boardwalk Empire definitely looks the part. The pilot reportedly cost $20 million, and every dollar is up on screen in the lavish period detail. Costume, set design and special effects (there’s even some impressively unexpected CGI gore) are as good as we’ve ever seen in a television programme.”
Gangs of New York (Netflix)
Daniel Day Lewis joins the great director once more, and Leo DiCaprio is on board for the first of his five movies with Scorsese. They will collaborate again – along with Scorsese favourite Robert De Niro – in Killers of the Flower Moon for Apple TV+ later this year.
Gangs of New York is a fairly self-explanatory title, and it’s set in the 1860s. Scorsese scholars will recognise and identity his signature style in many of the scenes. The film received 10 Oscar nominations.
Scorsese directs Robert De Niro alongside Ray Liotta as the real-life Henry Hill, an insane Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, Lorraine Bracco (The Sopranos), and Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) in the story of Henry Hill’s life. At the beginning, Hill (Liotta) states he always wanted to be a gangster, and so he was (until he snitched and went into witness protection).
Wrote the late Roger Ebert: “Most films, even great ones, evaporate like mist once you’ve returned to the real world; they leave memories behind, but their reality fades fairly quickly. Not this film, which shows America’s finest filmmaker at the peak of his form.”
Pretend It’s A City (Netflix)
It’s hard to encapsulate New York City in any better way than the team of Scorsese and Fran Liebowitz. This is a love affair that examines the piece of the world they love, warts and all, with no fluffy filters. Liebowitz has opinions on everything and is not afraid to voice them.
“When we met, there was an instant rapport, which, I think, is really the nature of true friendship,” says Liebowitz of her long friendship with Scorsese, in an interview with The Guardian. “The kind of connection we have is really as rare as true love and romance. It’s not the same, but there is something chemical about it. It’s something that just happened – there is not really an explanation for it.”
Rolling Thunder Revue (Netflix)
Many of Scorsese’s music documentaries focus on the musicians and genres that have served as personal inspirations for him, and Screen Rant has a ranking list from IMDb based on the box office. This 2019 doccie, about Bob Dylan, comes in at number two.
“It’s entirely possible to watch and enjoy Rolling Thunder Revue without picking up on how it blurs the line between fact and fiction, but this feels like a movie that wants to get caught. It becomes a richer, fuller experience when you start to pick up on the mischievous ways in which Scorsese is messing with the record,” says Indiewire.
An epic historical drama, Silence is based on the book by Shūsaku Endō, in which two 17th-Century Jesuit priests travel from Portugal to Edo-era Japan via Macau to locate their missing mentor and spread Catholic Christianity.
“Silence is beautiful, unsettling, and one of the finest religious movies ever made,” says Vox.
The Irishman (Netflix)
This is the dream team, reunited from Goodfellas days: Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci, and Al Pacino. That alone should be enough to pique interest, with a cast that includes Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale (Vinyl), Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel. De Niro plays a hitman, for which the code is he paints houses, and the movie presents a scenario for the still unsolved disappearance of union man Jimmy Hoffa.
The movie is as famous for its 10 Oscar nominations as it is for being Scorsese’s longest and most expensive film. It is, says Variety, “a coldly enthralling, long-form knockout — a majestic mob epic with ice in its veins.”
The Wolf of Wall Street (Netflix)
Scorsese, Terence Winter and Leonardo DiCaprio come together for this film about the insane excesses of the stock market wizards in the 1980s. It’s based on the memoir by Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio). Jonah Hill is in it too, and holds an unusual record, which you can find out about in Netflix’s History of Swear Words, episode 1.
“This is Scorsese, people, delivering a cinematic landmark,” says Rolling Stone.
Executive produced by Scorsese (who directed the first episode) and Mick Jagger, Vinyl stars Bobby Cannavale (The Irishman) as a 1970s record label executive fuelled by cocaine and alcohol, made for HBO. Terence Winter was on board too for a while.
The linking of the names indicates the Hollywood connections that are always in play; it’s all about who you know. The series was short lived, however, and was cancelled after its first season. Scorsese was upset too, and if only he had directed more episodes … who knows?