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Essential Scorsese

With the October 6 release of Boston-based cops and mobsters tale The Departed, legendary director Martin Scorsese again sets Hollywood ablaze. Critics praise the film not only for its acting and filmmaking, but also for Scorsese's return to the kind of gritty street story that has been the hallmark of so many of his masterpieces. What better excuse—not that you really need one—to revisit some of the director's best work, or possibly see them for the first time. Here's a rundown of the essential Scorsese "street" films.

The director's third feature film, but the first to earn him serious recognition, was this tale of New York City hoods on the titular "mean streets" of Little Italy. It features Scorsese regulars Harvey Keitel and (for the first time) Robert De Niro. There's also plenty of the director's lauded creative camerawork, but much of Mean Streets' hand-held footage was due to budget restraints. And though the film is one of Scorsese's quintessential New York stories, many scenes were actually filmed in Los Angeles.
(Available on special edition DVD and in the Martin Scorsese Collection from Warner Home Video)

An iconic Scorsese film, Taxi Driver is often considered to be one of his best, along with Raging Bull and Goodfellas. De Niro is back again, this time in the lead role of Travis Bickle, a disaffected Vietnam vet who drives a taxi in New York City at night while spending his days courting a political campaign worker (Cybill Shepherd) by asking her to porn films, imagining himself the savior of a child prostitute (Jodie Foster) from her abusive pimp (Harvey Keitel) and delivering monologues in a mirror (the film's famous "You talkin' to me?" sequence was improvised by De Niro). This truly unique, dark film still hasn't lost its unsettling edge.
(Available on collector's edition DVD from Columbia Tristar Home Video)

Many critics have championed the black-and-white portrait of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta as the best film of the 1980s. More than a traditional biopic, Raging Bull is also a portrait of LaMotta's deeply disturbed inner life. De Niro appeared as the lead again, putting on 60 pounds for the role and ultimately won an Oscar for his forceful performance. Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty were also Oscar-nominated for their memorable turns as LaMotta's brother and wife. The film would earn Scorsese his first Oscar nomination for best director, a prize he rather famously has yet to win.
(Available on special edition DVD and in the Martin Scorsese Film Collection from MGM Home Video)

No, Scorsese didn't direct The Godfather, but he did helm this acclaimed exploration of made men based on the real life of Henry Hill, who worked his way up in New York's Italian mafia. Ray Liotta starred as Hill with Robert De Niro, future Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco and an Oscar-winning Joe Pesci in supporting roles. The movie delivers a vivid portrayal of mob life, spanning the '50s to the '80s. According to, the word "fuck" is used 246 times, mostly by Pesci.
(Available on special edition DVD and in the Martin Scorsese Collection from Warner Home Video)

Going all the way back to 1863, Scorsese combined a love for period epics (he's the man behind the romantic The Age of Innocence, also set in late-1800s New York) with his firm grasp of the streets on this tale of rival gangs in New York City's Five Points area. It marked the first collaboration with leading man Leonardo DiCaprio and the pair would reteam for The Aviator and The Departed, suggesting DiCaprio may be the director's "new De Niro." But Daniel Day-Lewis stole this one with his menacing portrayal of the psychotic Bill the Butcher.
(Available on DVD from Miramax Home Entertainment)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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