Top Five Scenes in Martin Scorsese Movies

TIME’s Richard Schickel has just published Conversations with Scorsese. ¬†Slate mag asked Schickel to choose¬†”five sequences from the director’s vast body of work that are not only personal favorites of his, but also have particular significance in the director’s development as, perhaps, the nation’s leading film author.” ¬†The ones they chose are pretty good. ¬†I think mine would go a little differently. ¬†Although, I must confess, choosing five is mostly impossible.

In addition to the five Schickel chose, I’d like to offer up five of my own but instead trying to find the best, I think I’ll maybe stick with the most underrated – those scenes that maybe people don’t really know about (which is what Schickel did). ¬†After the cut.

Although totally underappreciated, I’d put the scene where Rupert Pupkin brings Rita to meet Jerry Langford in The King of Comedy right up there with the best. With so many great scenes in the film, it’s hard to choose just one. But this one illustrates Scorsese’s ability to capture the misfit who not only lies to everyone else but most especially lies to himself. Jerry Lewis is simply brilliant, as is De Niro, of course. This scene is so uncomfortable you might as well be chewing glass. Rupert, of course, has visions that he’s actually famous and friends with Langford.

The kiss between Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear. She wanders in to the drama department and there is De Niro as the big bad wolf. It’s such a strange moment, so real, so frightening, so strangely erotic. Cape Fear, like many of the best collaborations between Scorsese and De Niro is so much about watching De Niro’s performance dip so completely into madness. Another favorite scene of mine from this film is when Nick Nolte hires a bunch of guys to beat up De Niro but surprisingly, De Niro gets the best out of them. The brilliance comes after he’s chased away the thugs and suspects Nolte is hiding like a coward watching the whole thing go down, which of course, he is.

The Departed is so much about the writing. Like The Social Network and other flawless collaborations, we remember the dialogue in it more so than we do the direction — and of course, the Academy could never have collectively voted on a more daring film by Scorsese, just as they are way too lame to ever have given David Fincher his due – but The Departed was something they could handle. It was something anyone could handle – but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant. The scene that stands out for me as being one of Scorsese’s best is the film’s opening. The way it opens and the way closes makes this film every bit the masterpiece of Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas. This opening tells you everything you need to know about this director:

Of the many memorable scenes in Taxi Driver, only a few of them are on YouTube. The scene where Travis Bickle first sees and meets Jodie Foster is great – Harvey Keitel throws a twenty on the seat. When Travis pulls his cab to end his shift he stares at the twenty. It sets everything off. I also love the stuff with Betsy – first, when he sees her, their weird date to a porn theater and their breakup. All of that the collaboration of Scorsese, Paul Schrader, De Niro and of course, never-to-be-underestimated, his editor, Thelma Schoonmacher.

This scene is deceptively simple. It doesn’t particularly stand out but if you want to see Scorsese’s gift as a director watch this scene. The way he shows Travis through the gun, the way the camera visually strokes the weapons, and how we see Travis pointing and taking aim out the window. No one else could have directed it. It’s Scorsese all the way.

In The Age of Innocence there is so much visual stuff going on to do what Scorsese’s camera does best — illuminating the inner life of the characters. The best scene in this film, among many, is when Daniel Day Lewis discovers that all of New York society assumes he’s having an affair with Michelle Pfieffer. It is not on You Tube so I can’t illustrate it, but the way the colors change, how the camera is trained on Day Lewis, is just astonishing.

For Raging Bull, again, too many scenes to pick just one – from the way we see Jake first meet Vicky by the pool, the wedding montage, to the fight scene with Sugar Ray – but I guess if someone put a gun to my head I’d have to point out he film’s beautiful, poetic, sad opening. It clings to you throughout the film: De Niro, the ropes, the black and white, the slo mo – it’s all there.

For sure, though, one of the most memorable shots in the film is the blood-soaked rope.

It is impossible, in the end, to find the best. These are a few offerings. Please feel free to add your own.

Meanwhile, check out the Great One himself on his films over the years.

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