Rant – Why Martin Scorsese Still Doesn’t Deserve an Oscar

I know, I know… right off the bat… cinematic sacrilege! How dare I? Who am I to talk? What illegal substance have I been smoking? How can I call myself a film aficionado and believe this? Well, let me begin my meager attempt at a rebuttal by saying this: Martin Scorsese is and always shall be one of the greatest filmmakers alive and that ever was. He’s a pioneer, an innovator and one of the greatest treasures of the art form. He’s one of my very favorite directors and one whom I’d take a bullet to get an opportunity to work with (though after the publishing of this blog, chances could be diminished), but I still don’t think the guy has deserved an Academy Award yet, though he finally won one in 2006 for “The Departed”.

Who cares about the Oscars, right? They don’t mean shit. Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. I happen to have a fascination and hold enjoyment for them, but that’s just me– and apparently other folks too. I don’t believe that they define quality, but I do appreciate and admire the notion of receiving honor and recognition for one’s work within the industry and its makers. That said, I feel people often have a very strong misconception of what the Oscar represents. People always go, “WHAT!? How has (whomever) not won yet, but (whomever) has two? That’s bullshit! The Oscars are a crock!” Well, first off… if the Oscars were given solely to great artists simply for being great and deserving them for being awesome (and yes, let’s face it, this has probably occurred – ‘unofficially’ anyway), but if you’re asking me, who plays by the rules about this sort of thing? The Oscars are awards for individual achievements of work in a given year and not for a body of work or for being friggin’ awesome. Based on that model, I will assess Scorsese’s seven directorial nominations (including his win) and go back and explain why I feel, the man hasn’t earned his yet. Though for awesome awesomeness, Scorsese has probably deserved five Oscars by now (MTV Awards and People’s Choice Awards, take note!)

1980 – How it went down:

David Lynch- “The Elephant Man”
Roman Polanski- “Tess”
Robert Redford- “Ordinary People” (WON)
Richard Rush- “The Stunt Man”
Martin Scorsese- “Raging Bull”

If you haven’t already stopped reading this article, this may be where I lose ya. Well, hard to believe it took till 1980 to recognize the man. They passed him up on “Taxi Driver” even though it was up for Best Picture! (I know, right?) So, “Raging Bull”, is one of the seminal films of all time, frequently cherished and loved by generations past and present. And who wins that year? Robert Redford. The matinee idol turned director. Well, I agree with the assessment of Raging Bull. It’s a brilliantly directed film and one of Marty’s best, but for my money, I’ve balls enough to admit that “Ordinary People” is a quietly better film and one of my favorites of all time. Its simplicity and brilliant sense of focused direction on a disintegrating suburban family would go one to be a template for the dysfunctional white collar family for years to come and thus, Redford’s masterful handling of the piece, which could have been mired in one-dimensional melodrama, took the cake. If you haven’t seen the film or not recently, do check it out again. It’s held up well.

1988 – How it went down:

Charles Crichton- “A Fish Called Wanda”
Barry Levinson- “Rain Man” (WON)
Mike Nichols- “Working Girl”
Alan Parker- “Mississippi Burning”
Martin Scorsese- “The Last Temptation of Christ”

Marty scored nod #2 for his ultra controversial religious themed drama about the last days of JC. What? Jesus had human thoughts and yearnings!!!??? = Catholics go cuckoo. Well, Scorsese handled the material mostly in a strong manner and got a pretty good performance, if not somewhat over the top, by Willem Dafoe, but I’d argue that this film is not actually one of his best and wasn’t really deserving of the nomination. That said, I’m a sucker for “Rain Man”. This is one of my more unabashedly sentimental votes and I supported Levinson’s win for this. 1988 was a year of very good films, but flashy directing jobs were not in overabundance. Levinson’s quiet and graceful handling of “Rain Man” had my money. Other notable directors not nominated that year were Stephen Frears for “Dangerous Liaisons” and Robert Zemeckis for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

1990 – How it went down:

Francis Ford Coppola- “The Godfather Part III”
Kevin Costner- Dances with Wolves (WON)
Stephen Frears- “The Grifters”
Barbet Schroeder- “Reversal of Fortune”
Martin Scorsese- Goodfellas

Here’s yet another instance where if by now anyone’s still reading, heaven help me, you’ll say sayonara at this point, right? I mean, “Goodfellas”, another of the cinema’s most revered treasures and what many consider the very best mob film ever… okay that and first two “Godfather” films, (which I think are stronger than the wiseguys). Okay, so… yes! It was a tough decision and “Goodfellas” is amazing! Marty handles it so coldly and brutally, a way most of his films would follow. While he delivers the goods big time here, my one big issue with “Goodfellas”, a grade A film, is that I think that the story called for a little more heart and soul to balance the ruthlessness and coldness of the film. I would not say that’s true of “Casino” or “The Departed”, but I think there was more to be explored in the soul of the film’s characters that he kinda scrimped on. So, Kevin Costner, like Redford a pretty-boy actor turned first-time director beats out Marty the auteur. You know what… I’m gonna buy it. Fuck it! I love “Dances with Wolves”. I think it was my fav film of 1990. I love its majesty, its boldness, its heart and its pre-”Avatar” and “The Last Samurai” theme. By now, you think I’m a softie prude who only likes things light, right? In time, maybe I’ll convince you, though I do keep my Coke’s Diet. Bottom line: I feel Costner deserved it… but just barely.

2002 – How it went down:

Pedro Almodovar- “Talk to Her”
Stephen Daldry- “The Hours”
Rob Marshall- “Chicago”
Roman Polanski- “The Pianist” (WON)
Martin Scorsese- “Gangs of New York”

So, it took another 12 years for Marty to get back here after being passed up for “The Age of Innocence” and “Casino”. But back for nod #4, he’s now considered one of the most overdue directors for the win, and with a whopping 10 Oscar nods, “Gangs of New York” poses a formidable threat for the win. I was never a big fan of this film. I found it majestic, sweeping, played to perfection (by Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis), but in the end a hokey mess that was both uneven and dissatisfying as drama. Sure it deserved technical nods and Day-Lewis deserved the Best Actor nod, but I don’t know that Marty deserved to take a spot here in lieu of say Peter Jackson for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” or Spike Jonze for “Adaptation”. Roman Polanski won and absolutely deserved it for “The Pianist”, but I often contemplate whether it’s his best film or not.

2004 – How it went down:

Clint Eastwood- “Million Dollar Baby” (WON)
Taylor Hackford- “Ray”
Mike Leigh- “Vera Drake”
Alexander Payne- “Sideways”
Martin Scorsese- “The Aviator”

Here’s another two instances where 1.) Marty crafted a very well done film with enjoyable technical skill and passion, but whose story called for more heart than the director provided in the final product. This isn’t to say that Scorsese acted insensitively to the storytelling, but there’s just something disjointed about “The Aviator” which barred me from feeling it should been nominated for Best Picture and 2.) I don’t think Marty should have been nominated here. And I think the same case I made for “Goodfellas” applies to this film. “The Aviator” is no “Goodfellas”, but I still respect the film. I guess I’d have voted for Alexander Payne, but if I’d had my way, Terry George for “Hotel Rwanda” would have been nominated and won and Quentin Tarantino would been nominated at least for “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” – but I digress.

2006 – How it went down:

Clint Eastwood- Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears- “The Queen”
Paul Greengrass- “United 93”
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu- “Babel”
Martin Scorsese- “The Departed” (WON)

Okay, so after 6 tries, Marty finally caught the bouquet for his slick, cold, brutal, and undeniably compelling ‘cops and criminals from Boston’ entry, “The Departed”, adapted from the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs”. The film also won Best Picture and Marty got a huge standing-O upon winning. A great moment, a great film, a great director, but…. once again… I didn’t think it was quite the best. I feel the win was propelled mostly by sentiment and the fact that he had a good film under his belt. Adding to that, “The Departed’s” ultraviolent style is not typical Academy fare. I wish Paul Greengrass would have won (though with his film not up for Best Picture that was almost an impossibility statistically). “United 93” was expertly and sensitively handled by Greengrass. A 9/11 drama arguably made “too soon”, but if you ask me, not so. It was compelling, at times brutal and hard to watch. It was a film where you knew how it would end, but you kept rooting for the passenger until the last second. Edited in real time and giving a three-dimensional treatment of the Al-Qaeda hijackers, this is one excellent and unforgettable piece of directing. Otherwise, Marty would have been my vote in a second.

2011 – How it went down:

Woody Allen- “Midnight in Paris”
Michel Hazanavicius- “The Artist” (WON)
Terrence Malick- “The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne- “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese- “Hugo”

Back for lucky nomination #7, Scorsese directs a rare, family friendly film in 3D no less that appears to be about the adventures of an orphan living in a Paris train station, but somehow evolves to be a love song to cinema preservation using Georges Melies as a character to portray the issue… um…. Hell yes! This is a fine nomination, a worthy achievement by Scorsese and one of his finest and most sincere films. Heart and magic are the name of the game and he was up against some pretty formidable talent, but I think the right person won. French director Michel Hazanavicius’s bold and unique vision for “The Artist”, an almost entirely silent picture made in the 21st century, employed some truly jaw-dropping and scenery chewing moments that reinforced a wonderful notion, that “…most people speak rubbish and not worth a listen”, quoted from the 1993 film “The Piano”. Words are not required for good dramatic or comedic storytelling. This man deserved that Oscar!

Marty’s still an active guy and, perhaps one day, I will think his achievement in directing is better than any other director’s, but nothing will take away the fact that he is and always will be… one of the best… ever.

AND A SPECIAL MENTION:

Okay, so I mentioned at the beginning that Marty was passed up in 1976 for “Taxi Driver”, which is in my opinion, his finest work and overall one of the best films ever made. Dark, brutal, engaging, moody but not devoid of a heart and soul (however troubled), he competed in a year of brilliant work, but just missed the cut. However, had be been nominated it is unlikely, I would have wavered my feeling that Sidney Lumet who was nominated for directing “Network”, another one the best films ever made, should have gone home with Oscar. So who actually won that year? John G. Avildsen for directing “Rocky” (let the face palms begin) Who else was nominated that year? Ingmar Bergman for “Face to Face”, Alan J. Pakula “All the President’s Men”, Lina Wertmuller “Seven Beauties”….. Let the face palms echo into next month.

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