The one and only Marty Scorsese (I can call him Marty) is 71 today. Despite being one of American cinema’s most legendary directors, Scorsese didn’t win a Best Director Oscar until 2006’s The Departed. Some of his most acclaimed films are Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990), Raging Bull (1980), and Mean Streets (1973), all starring Robert De Niro, a frequent and trusted collaborator. His films have received 75 Academy Award nominations (winning 20 times), 10 Golden Globe awards, 23 BAFTAs, and he was given the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1997.
Born in Queens in 1942, Scorsese was raised in Little Italy by acting parents, and he quickly developed a passion for the movies. He earned an M.F.A. in film from NYU in 1966, and he made his first feature film the next year, Who’s That Knocking at My Door. It didn’t take long for him to join the ranks of his contemporaries like Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
Under the mentorship of director John Cassavetes, Scorsese combined violence, redemption, grit, and rock music (consistent elements in his films) to create Mean Streets, a breakout hit. A few years later, he released what is, in my opinion, still his best film: Taxi Driver. This dark fever dream remains one of the most powerful films that I have ever seen, watching Travis Bickle descend into insanity with unprecedented confidence and profundity.
With such a well-known filmography, it’s difficult to recommend something people may not have seen. I do know that Gangs of New York was a formative experience for me. I was young when it was released, and my parents had rented it back when people still did that. I didn’t know what it was, and I sat with them and was struck most harshly by Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Bill the Butcher, but I was mesmerized the entire time. There’s a brief scene where Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon wakes up after having sex with Jenny (Cameron Diaz), Bill’s past flame, and Bill is sitting there quietly, beside the bed. He tells Amsterdam a story about when he cut out his own eye. The scene ends. And somehow, it’s deeply moving and tender. Scorsese tells grand thematic stories, he loves to tell stories, but he’s no stranger to giving us a moment of pure, emotional cinematic force.
His next film, DiCaprio-starring The Wolf of Wall Street, will be released on Christmas Day.