There are times when the Academy Awards don’t really make much sense. I suppose that’s why they call them “upsets”. Many years, there will be a film that stands out, but it ends up being snubbed by the Academy. Of course, this means that the Director that should have earned it that year, ends up winning the next year for a film that isn’t quite as good, thereby perpetuating the cycle. At any rate, I feel that Martin Scorsese is one of those directors who put out a lot of great films, which ended up being nominated for Best Director, only to lose to someone else year after year. From 1980 to 2005, Scorsese films were nominated for Best Director six times. It wasn’t until Scorsese’s 2007 film, The Departed, that he finally obtained that gold statuette. Of course, having seen the other films he was nominated for, there were many that were much better than The Departed. This week’s two movies highlight some gems of Scorcese’s career.
Length: 146 minutes / 2.43 hours
Two of the themes that Scorsese uses time and again are The Mafia and New York (see The Gangs of New York). Of course, it’s somewhat easy to understand, since whenever anyone thinks of the mafia in America, they generally think of New York. And yet, while The Departed finally won him the Oscar for Best Director, I feel Goodfellas is a much better mafia film. There are a few reasons for this feeling, including a simpler and more classic plot-line, as well as more memorable scenes and quotations. Of course, there could be a few reasons that Scorsese and Goodfellas lost out to Kevin Costner and Dances with Wolves for Best Director (and Best Picture, respectively), the most probable in my mind being that Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather: Part III split the mafia vote.
While Scorsese has been nominated for Best Director multiple times, Goodfellas is one of the two times he was nominated for Best Writing. #92 on AFI’s top 100, Goodfellas is one of the quintessential gangster films. The plot follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he becomes more and more involved in his dream job: gangster. Robert DeNiro portrays James “Jimmy” Conway (based on real-life gangster Jimmy Burke) who becomes the close friend and crime partner to Liotta’s Hill. The cast starts to get into trouble when the mob starts dealing with drugs, making everyone a little bit paranoid. Conway testifies against the mob and winds up in the Witness Protection Program as Hill just wants to live a normal life.
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours
Another commonality between Scorsese films is Robert DeNiro. Martin Scorcese has a knack for directing gritty mob-related films just as well as Robert DeNiro has a knack for playing gritty, mob-related characters. Besides the aforementioned Goodfellas, DeNiro has also appeared in Taxi Driver, which garnered him a Best Actor nomination. However, DeNiro did win Best Actor for his role in Raging Bull. Raging Bull was Scorsese’s first Directing nomination from the Academy, which set him toward a 25 year career of not actually winning said award. As was the case with Goodfellas, Raging Bull lost out to actor-turned-director Robert Redford’s Ordinary People for the distinction of Best Picture (as well as Best Director).
Raging Bull is placed at #4 on AFI’s top 100 list, as well as being the #1 sports movie designated by the same institute. What’s interesting is that DeNiro wanted to collaborate with Scorsese on this film, and had to convince the director, instead of the other way around. DeNiro portrays Jake LaMotta, a boxer who rises through the ranks of middleweight boxing. Now, boxing is a very violent sport, but Scorsese manages to make the bouts as brutal as they are beautiful. Unfortunately, as we follow Jake’s personal life, the audience finds out that he can’t keep it in the ring, as he also fights with his wife and brother. Eventually, all good things come to an end, and Jake’s ending is as a lounge act quoting Marlon Brando (from On the Waterfront).
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Scorsese snubs
Bacon #: 2 (Taxi Driver / Robert DeNiro -> Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)