“Movies touch our hearts, and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places. They open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime. We need to keep them alive.” – Martin Scorsese
To name one’s favourite Martin Scorsese film is to leap into a snakepit of venomous opinions as fans of the great American director battle over Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas and Casino, as to which film holds the ultimate supremacy. Though, when it comes to Scorsese’s greatest ever films, rarely are his modern efforts ever recognised, not because they are of lesser quality, but because his early films are simply too outstanding.
His contemporary films hold a chequered record of success, ranging from fabulous music documentaries to psychological horror flicks and even one 3-D children’s adventure. Whilst many directors can waver in quality as their career draws to a close, Martin Scorsese has stayed at the very heights of the industry, influencing its future with every new film and every outspoken opinion he may have.
With his latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon set to grace cinema screens in 2022, starring the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brendan Fraser, Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons, we thought we’d look back at Martin Scorsese’s contemporary legacy. Charting the releases of each of his feature films as well as two of his documentary features, let’s look back at Martin Scorsese’s ten best films of the 21st century.
Martin Scorsese’s 10 best films of the 21st century:
10. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002)
A strange mix of fantasy and reality, Gangs of New York is a pulpy, yet undoubtedly enjoyable thriller that follows several gangs that clash in the titular American city whilst living through the brutal Civil War.
With a staggering ensemble cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson and John C. Reilly among others, Martin Scorsese’s first film of the 21st century is likely his worst. Bloated and drawn-out, Gangs of New York may have been nominated for ten Academy Awards, but it fails to live up to the hopeful sum of its parts, even if it sparked the fruitful relationship of Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese.
9. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
In a strange change of pace for Scorsese, in 2010 he came out with Shutter Island, a horror thriller following Leonardo DiCaprio as a police officer investigating a missing person at a remote insane asylum.
Having never delved into this genre before, Scorsese seems like a fish out of water as he stumbles through this needlessly bumbling plot that is merely unravelled upon the revelations of its conclusion. Occasionally intense and somewhat unsettling, Shutter Island largely plays off the cliched foundations that such a genre has already provided, using every visual cue in the playbook to create a creepy tone.
8. Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)
A passion project for Martin Scorsese, Silence is an epic historical tale that tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to find their mentor who is rumoured to have left his faith.
Starring Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield and Issei Ogata, Silence tries desperately hard to appear more important than it really is, providing a loosely inspiring story that largely falls flat. Led and elevated by three fantastic lead performances, Silence simply cannot escape the ego of its own self-importance even if it does show off several glimpses of brilliance from the ever-impressive Martin Scorsese.
7. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)
A truly cinematic story of technical ambition and narrative intrigue, The Aviator depicts the life of the pilot and eccentric film director Howard Hugues, whose OCD and mental health issues led him to a glittering and troubled career.
The second film of Scorsese’s to star Leonardo DiCaprio following the release of Gangs of New York, the actor would earn his second Academy Award nomination for his insightful portrayal of the lead character, oozing sympathy and admiration. Also featuring Cate Blanchett, Gwen Stefani, Alec Baldwin and Jude Law, The Aviator would be Scorsese’s first great feature film of the 21st century.
6. Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011)
Though in his early career Martin Scorsese could have been criticised for clinging to the walls of the gangster genre a little too tightly, you have to give the filmmaker credit that in the modern era he has truly expanded his horizons.
His 3-D children’s adventure, Hugo, is an intense, frenetic joyride as well as a surprisingly loving celebration of cinema itself, with a plot following an orphan living in the walls of a train station who discovers the joys of the Lumière brothers. With a strong focus on one of cinema’s first-ever films, A Trip to the Moon, Scorsese accesses the wonder and fascination of the basic moving image, whilst delivering a timeless comedy starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Capturing popular culture when it was released in 2013, Martin Scorsese’s film follows the true story of the stockbroker Jordan Belfort and his hedonistic voyage into sex, drugs and crime that was fueled by his inflating income.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Cristin Milioti and Margot Robbie in her breakout role, The Wolf of Wall Street is a highly enjoyable, indulgent tale that showcases much of what makes Martin Scorsese so great. Whilst it may shy away from a profound message about the nature of such practises, the sheer excess that The Wolf of Wall Street demonstrates is in itself, interesting, showing a bunch of abhorrent people who we somehow admire by the film’s close.
4. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
Finally earning Martin Scorsese the elusive Best Director prize at the Academy Awards, The Departed is a thrilling crime flick that crafts a truly compelling tale of deceit, honour and violence in the face of pure evil.
Based on the fiery Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, Scorsese takes only the most promising aspects from the original film to expand upon, casting the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin to enact the story. Winning four Oscars at the 2007 Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture prize, The Departed goes down as one of the finest of the director’s celebrated gangster films.
3. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese, 2011)
A great lover of music, Martin Scorsese has made several celebrated documentaries throughout his career including The Last Waltz that featured the likes of Neil Young, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. George Harrison: Living in the Material World, is known as one of the director’s very best.
By merging together interviews, concert footage, home movies and photographs, Martin Scorsese creates a fascinating insight into the life of George Harrison. Appearing to almost overshadow the achievements of his Beatles bandmates John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Scorsese’s film shows the celebrated artist in a totally new light. Thanks to this comprehensive exploration from Scorsese, the legacy of George Harrison can be lovingly appreciated.
2. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
Perhaps Martin Scorsese is a director made for thrill, violence and class of the gangster film, with his 2019 film The Irishman being his finest narrative effort of the 21st century, recalling what made his early films so great in more ways than one.
Reuniting Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci from their time together on Goodfellas and Casino, the actors are joined by Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham and Jesse Plemons in this three-and-a-half-hour epic. As if a recreation of the crime films that made the director so famous, The Irishman plays off familiar beats following a hitman who looks back on his life as a loyal member of a crime family, whilst also evaluating the lives of such men under a contemporary microscope.
1. No Direction Home (Martin Scorsese, 2005)
There is no better film that recounts the life of the great Bob Dylan than No Direction Home from Martin Scorsese, the director’s finest film of the 21st century that excavates deep into the mind of one of music’s finest ever performers.
Focusing on the singer’s evolution from folk singer to protester to rock star, from the years 1961-1966, Scorsese’s film proves to not only provide an unprecedented view of the artist but also draw a fascinating impression of the landscape of the 20th century. Clocking in at well over three hours, this is an analytical portrait of Bob Dylan’s life that remains sympathetic and perceptive whilst leaving the individual shrouded in mysticism. Martin Scorsese’s presentation of Bob Dylan as an enigma who came to define 20th century culture is truly spellbinding.