With a Four-Decade Canon, One of Tinseltown's Greatest Gets His Due

    Until I hit my teens, I was a fan of Steven Spielberg, a director with infinite imaginative capacity. I would even fight for “”A.I.”” when my friends beat on it. The man could expose the simplest themes, distill them through the eyes of a wide-eyed child and release it all within two hours.

    Then I started learning another set of human truths, like: people have sex, they do drugs, they shoot each other when they’re pissed, a lot of people say racist things and classic rock is a fucking good soundtrack to any beat.

    And that’s when I became a Martin Scorsese fan.

    By college, I realized that taste in cinema matures like taste in beer: You start light and watery before you move to a bitterer brand, one that shows you that there is a paradoxical joy we find in things that are dark and seedy.

    Scorsese, a 40-some-year directing veteran, is the filmic master of identifying that gloom and realizing it onscreen in a way that is visceral and primitive, but always honest. Naysayers burn him for methods they say are hyper-real and hyperviolent, but those critics must be oblivious to how I close I’ve come to stabbing somebody with a pen or backstabbing somebody with a butcher knife (referencing “”Casino”” and “”Gangs of New York,”” respectively).

    The people in Scorsese’s world have muddled values and conflicted souls that are attractive to any 20-year-old moviegoer fresh off a brooding, introspective emo phase, and their lives are mucked even more in brutality — these are humans who can channel their darkest and most depraved emotions.

    So, with the 79th Academy Awards approaching — and as Scorsese prepares another glazed-over look when the cinematic elite pass him over for the Best Director award a sixth time — I’d like to write an ode to the top four underappreciated pieces directed by the underappreciated filmmaker, a lifetime auteur who, in every decade, has graced a normative and bland Hollywood with some much-needed spine.

    (Note: These films are not underappreciated in any sense of obscurity, but are rather misunderstood pieces that you should revisit to understand the crux of Scorsese filmmaking.)

    4. “”The Departed””

    Preproduction for Scorsese’s most recent triumph must have been like raiding the candy store for directors: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Dicaprio and a couple of Boston-born badasses who came together to rehash solidly hardcore material from the best of Chinese cinema. Everything great about the original (its operatic sense of drama, fate and circumstance) is turned up a notch — but the film drives on a high-wire so smoothly you could boil an egg on its engine. The underpinned tension lets Scorsese truly bare his teeth and blow his load all over the screen.

    Watch pivotal scenes (i.e. Martin Sheen hitting blacktop) to realize that cinematic pressure takes an exhaustingly extensive time to build — and the longer and harder the work, the better the climax.

    3. “”Casino””

    There are always questions when it comes to “”Casino”” — most of them having to do with its link to Scorsese’s preceding gangster epic “”Goodfellas.””

    Most of them sound like: Why is Scorsese using the same old caste of actors? Why is Scorsese using a documentary style again? Why does “”Casino”” seem like a sequel to “”Goodfellas””?

    Well, I’ve got a question for you: Who the fuck wouldn’t want more of “”Goodfellas””?

    “”Casino”” does manage to stand apart, though, especially with its setting. The film did for Las Vegas what “”Goodfellas”” did for Brooklyn. The fittingly gaudy and outlandish tale of Sin City’s origins exposes its soullessness and teaches a lesson: “”Kickback city”” makes no bones about squeezing a guy’s eye out of his socket or burying two brothers alive after beating them for hours — as long as the money is coming in.

    2. “”Last Temptation of Christ””

    Every fresh take on religion gets burned at the stake, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood couldn’t flex enough muscle to shake the categorical sense of the church. Scorsese’s version of Jesus Christ (Willem Dafoe) caught major flak for his tortured and edgy portrayal of God’s son, who contemplates retreat from his task of saving humanity hours before he is to be nailed to the cross.

    Such a humanistic take might jar traditional Catholics, many of whom cling to the ideal that Christ gladly welcomed his painful sacrifice. Scorsese gifted the story with some human truths — because, really, if I was getting crucified, I don’t care if it was to save my momma or the world, I’m going to have some form of cold feet.

    1. “”Bad””

    It may be beyond anyone’s memory, but Michael Jackson’s “”Bad”” was a return to form for MJ and an outlet for Scorsese. In 1987, the director was embroiled in fights with dogmatic Catholics over “”Temptation.”” As “”Bad””‘s director, Scorsese did what he does best (spit in the establishment’s eye) by placing a “”Wanted for Sacrilege”” poster on the wall.

    The nine-minute film version of the music video is more than a soapbox; it’s characters deal with Scorsese-esque coming-of-age stories, and there are frills no one should miss (i.e. the face-off between Wesley Snipes and MJ, the Jazzercise session in a parking garage and that sick-ass roller-skating moonwalk).

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