Director Martin Scorsese is not only known for his filmmaking prowess, but also for his genuine love of film and storytelling.
IndieWire put together a list of 35 movies that Scorsese has mentioned over the years as being particularly important to him. Although each of us will find inspiration in our own favorite films, fellow cinephiles and aspiring filmmakers should take note -- these are movies that speak across generations and get many fundamental storytelling elements right. Take a look at these greats, and why Scorsese loves them, and you're likely to learn something invaluable.
The list draws heavily from the top ten list that Scorsese made for Criterion in 2014, which is also definitely worth checking out. These 35 films encompasses a diverse mix of genres, including drama, horror, musicals, and foreign movies. Here are a few standouts, along with examples of Scorsese discussing why the films matter so much to him.
Federico Fellini's 8½ is a movie that Scorsese purportedly watches at least once a year. He has used the film as a teaching tool in his Masterclass, drawing inspiration from the blocking, camera movements, and lighting as storytelling elements.
Scorsese saw the classic movie just before directing his first short film, and he has said that it taught him to always keep the camera moving and to create motion through editing. Scorsese told Criterion:
8½ has always been a touchstone for me, in so many ways -- the freedom, the sense of invention, the underlying rigor and the deep core of longing, the bewitching, physical pull of the camera movements and the compositions (another great black-and-white film: every image gleams like a pearl -- again, shot by Gianni Di Venanzo). But it also offers an uncanny portrait of being the artist of the moment, trying to tune out all the pressure and the criticism and the adulation and the requests and the advice, and find the space and the calm to simply listen to oneself.
The most modern entry on IndieWire's list is Spike Lee's Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman.
Scorsese held a screening for the movie in December 2018 in New York's Lincoln Center. Deadline covered the event in detail. At the time, he'd already watched the film three times. The ending in particular resounded with him with every viewing.
Scorsese spent a lot of time dissecting that ending at the event. According to Deadline, he said:
“The picture takes you to a safe place -- we’re watching a movie, it’s up on a screen -- and suddenly we’re catapulted into now. Right next to you. Because it’s not only real, what you’re seeing up there on the screen — it’s happening. It is happening. And it’s sanctioned by government. It transcends the medium, what he did there in the last 10 minutes. It’s cinema and it’s beautiful.”
Scorsese's movies are usually not so overt in their social commentary, but we can be sure that current events shape his storytelling process. He tells stories about greed, violence, religion, lust, and love. These are topics that are evergreen, and can inform your own narratives.
The Red Shoes (1948)
No list of favorite Scorsese movies would be complete without mentioning The Red Shoes, Michael Powell's iconic ballet drama.
Scorsese has spoken extensively about the film as an inspiration for his own career. He seems to relate to the main character, a ballerina torn between pursuing love and art.
“That’s the way it is with art,” Scorsese said in 2009. “Its not that you want to do it, it’s that you have to do it. You have no choice. You have to live it and it comes with a price. But, what a time in paying it.”
Here's Scorsese introducing the film with his legendary collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker at Cannes in 2009. Audience members were treated to an extensive discussion of just what makes this film so special to Scorsese -- everything from the colors, the movement, the dialogue, and the milieu.
Video is no longer available: youtu.be/VEkVwlGWhv4?t=40
What's next? Check out more Marty
Here's Scorsese's key advice to aspiring filmmakers, then you can check out an even more in-depth look at Scorsese's must-see movies. You'll also probably want to catch up on his recent comments about Marvel movies.
Which of Scorsese's favorite movies have you already seen? What are your standouts? Let us know in the comments!