Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Question of the Day: Most Underrated Scorsese Picture?

After viewing the trailer for Scorsese's newest film Shutter Island, and not really knowing what to think about it (although I will of course fairly save judgment until I actually see the film, not three second of clips strung together) I started thinking about some of the great American director's most forgotten films. Some may disagree with me, many will probably agree, but I think the man is one of the five best American director's of all time, and his films almost always have a certain energy to them that make them infectious. Take a look at The Departed, certainly one of Scorsese's lesser films, but he he almost tricks you into thinking it's really good because of the sheer energy displayed in the filmmaking. More thoughts after the jump.

So, my question is what do you think is his most underrated film? I love his brilliant 1999 film Bringing Out the Dead, which certainly has to rank up there as one of the best collaborations between him and screenwriter Paul Schrader. It's about as perfect a film that Scorsese has made, touching on all of the deep themes and religious allegories that make the films he makes with Schrader so damn great. I think it definitely qualifies as Scorsese's most underrated film.

A case could also be made for the wonderful, and not much talked about, The Age of Innocence. A film that shows Scorsese's range, making a PG-rated Victorian romance with the usual Scorsese themes simmering beneath the surface. He also masks the camera and uses iris shots to great affect, giving the film its much needed antiquated feel.

I'm sure there are others out there that people will claim are underrated. I'm a fan of his misunderstood comedy The King of Comedy, and I certainly think that is a good candidate for Scorsese's most underrated film. Perhaps it's his more recent The Aviator (which I think is the best of his post Bringing Out the Dead era of films), or perhaps Kundun...

So let me know what you think. Extra question: What is Scorsese's most overrated picture? My answer is either The Departed or Gangs of New York.


  1. I agree that Bringing Out the Dead is Scorsese's most underrated film. Little seen, maybe, because of the lackluster response to his previous film, Kundun, to, perhaps, the overwhelming response Scorsese received for his subsequent film, Gangs. I love the fact that Bringing Out the Dead shows a veteran film maker still being innovative, creative, progressive, and experimental.

    Most overrated Scorsese, in my opinion, is The Departed. Both Departed and its HK original, Infernal Affairs, both have their flairs but equally strong flaws. The end result being sometimes interesting films but both, overall, mediocre.

  2. I haven't seen Brining Out the Dead yet, so you should probably take that into account. But The Age of Innocence is a wonderful, fullbodied film which has amassed some kind of following, but is still ignored by most Scorsese fans. If I had to guess why, I would say that it's not in about the working-class males that populate Scorsese's films.

    I like The King of Comedy a a bit more than The Age of Innocence but I feel that it's finally getting the reputation that it deserves.

    I have strange tastes in Scorsese, I love him like everybody else but for different films. I really like Raging Bull and Goodfellas, but I don't count them as his best. If we have to list what we think of as his most overrated, I guess it would be one of those.

  3. Hans:

    Thanks for the comments! I agree, obviously, with your assessment of Bringing Out the Dead. I will have more on that film in the next month or so as I count down my top 10 films of 1999.

    I agree with you too about The Departed. It has its moments (like the wonderful, over-the-top performances), but overall it's a lot of noise without much bang. And that ending is atrocious...perfectly taken to task by "The Simpson's" a couple of months after the films release.

  4. Krauthammer:

    I'm with ya on why many Scorsese fans seem to forget about The Age of Innocence...it seems to be a film about a different type of conflicted male character, but nothing like the typical Scorsese male lead.

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Casino is the most underrated (followed by Age of Innocence) because it's one of the best films of the 1990s, in my opinion, yet was dismissed as being somehow repetitive. The Departed is easily the most overrated because of the Oscar. It's an improvement on The Aviator but I can't say much more than that.

  6. Samuel:

    Thanks for stopping by! I like what you say about Casino, which is probably my favorite Scorsese film -- maybe not the best -- but the one that I can pop in time and time again and never tire of watching. It was, as you say, unfairly looked over because many people thought the re-teaming of Scorsese/Pillegi/DeNiro/Pesci meant that the film was nothing more than another version of Goodfellas. Oh how wrong they were.

    Some of my favorite shots Scorsese has ever compiled are in Casino, not to mention one of the most criminally overlooked supporting performances of all time by James Woods. He's just great in that movie.

    Nice choice. I agree with you that the Oscar really makes The Departed seem like the most overrated of them all.

    Thanks again for stopping by. My summer is slowing down finally (aren't summers supposed to be relaxing and lazy? Haha), and in the next couple of weeks I will be able to catch up with some of my favorite blogs...which of course includes yours. Your Boetticher posts are callin' my name, hehe. I look forward to reading them. Until then...

  7. Goody! A question of the day. And a good one. Alas, my answer won't live up to it...

    I'm tempted to say his most overrated film is Bringing Out the Dead, mainly because I had no attraction to it at all and I'm stunned it has a kind of cult following. In fairness though, I've seen it once and it deserves another chance. ("It deserves another chance." Don't say that often about a Cage flick.)

    Beyond that, I think Raging Bull and Goodfellas are somewhat overrated, but they shouldn't be punished for staying in the argument for so long. So I'll go with The Departed, which has its moments but was wildly overrated from the get-go.

    Most underrated (I did these out of order, damn...) ... that's even harder. I think Casino is his best film, but since few would agree with me, maybe that's my answer. I would also like to say though that for all its immediate hype The Aviator seems on its way to being forgotten, and it's a better film than that.

  8. As for SHUTTER ISLAND, I think it looks like Scorsese in CAPE FEAR mode, meaning it should be better than standard Hollywood schlock and pretty damn entertaining, but it doesn't look like Oscar bait.

    I think Scorsese's most underrated film is KUNDUN. I would go as far as to call it a masterpiece (or a near-masterpiece at least) and it is completely unlike anything he has ever done.

    For his most overrated, that's a hard call...would it even be fair to say ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANY MORE? Most people don't even mention that in his canon of films -- but I never understood the appeal of the film or of Flo's "Kiss my grits."

  9. I actually like The Departed, it's pulpy fun which works wonderfully with its broad strokes.

  10. I'm gonna say After Hours, which wasn't even mentioned yet. Bringing out the Dead is one of my favorites as well.

    King of Comedy's genius has been realized now that celebrity is less dazzling to us; Casino got slammed because it was DeNiro and Pesci as gangsters again, but it's one of my favorite films. So beautiful to watch.

    Overrated is definitely Gangs of New York. The Aviator gets some blowback from this, but it's a much better picture. I haven't seen Kundun yet for some reason. Hello netflix.

  11. Jason:

    I hope you give Bringing Out the Dead another chance. I think it's one of his five best films. Interestingly enough I think the one film you point to as being forgotten or underrated, The Aviator, got the same treatment in 2004 that Bringing Out the Dead received in 1999. I think The Aviator is sandwiched between two of Scorsese's most overrated films, and I guess they're overrated because of all the media hype that surrounded them. You're right, though, about The Departed...it seems that film was destined to greatness before anyone had seen it.

    I too love Casio...in fact I prefer it to Goodfellas.

    Thanks for contributing.

    (Oh, I'm about half way through your Mann conversation with Ed, and I am just eating that thing up...I'm going to let it marinate for a few days, then I'll comment.)

  12. David:

    I like your comparison between what Shutter Island looks like and what Cape Fear was. I think it will be a fun departure for Scorsese.

    I love Kundun, and have forgotten about Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, so I can't really comment on whether that is overrated. I need to see it again.

  13. Krauthammer:

    I liked The Departed, too. But we're talking about Scorsese's most overrated or underrated films, here, so even though it may sound like some of us are ripping on a movie, I think it's just in comparison to the rest of the master's oeuvre. I like that you call The Departed "pulp fun" which is exactly what it should be taken as.

  14. Tommy:

    Great call on After Hours. I know Ebert loves that movie. I didn't much care for it the first time I saw it, but I was just a punk high school kid then who thought every Scorsese movie was supposed to be like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, hehe. Imagine my surprise when I watched New York, New York and The King of Comedy when I was 17, hehe.

    I'll have to give After Hours another shot. As you say: "Hello Netflix". Haha.

    It does seem that The King of Comedy is gaining momentum from cinephiles around the blogosphere as a favoritre Scorsese picture.

    I think Gangs of New York is a good choice for most overrated, considering all of the hype surrounding that picture pre-release.

    Thanks for stopping by, Tommy.

  15. IMHO, here's the rundown:

    Most Underrated: Age of Innocence, Bringing Out the Dead, Casino, and I don't think anyone has mentioned it here yet, but "Life Lessons," his segment for New York Stories was incredible.

    Most Overrated: Goodfellas. It is a great movie, but I frequently see it listed among the best films of all time, and it's not that. Casino IS better for one thing. And next to Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, two other films often found on those lists, Goodfellas comes in a distant third.

  16. Tony:

    It seems like a lot of people here think that Raging Bull and Goodfellas on the list for overrated movies. Personally, I think a lot of the praise for Raging Bull warranted, but you're right about Casino being better than Goodfellas.

    I'm glad you mentioned Scorsese's "Life Lessons" segment. I haven't seen it, but I have heard great things. I need to add that film to the queue. I'm glad you mention the two films I feel most strongly about as being the most underrated: Age of Innocence and Bringing Out the Dead.

    Thanks for commenting, Tony.

  17. Overrated and underrated are very complicated, context dependant, terms. It's true that THE DEPARTED got an Oscar, but I never got the impression it was really considered to be a masterpiece. It was simply the year Scorsese got his Oscar.

    Also, I was always under the impression that THE AGE OF INNOCENCE was highly praised, so I can't say it was underrated. I'll give the general underrated award to THE AVIATOR, which had a very special feel to it and seems to have been forgotten. In terms of setting atmosphere, CAPE FEAR and KING OF COMEDY are both great films as well.

    Speaking of context, I must note that GOODFELLAS is the most underrated movie in this comments thread, yet it is my favorite Scorsese movie. It's got perfect rhythm. The sequence at the end, when he's got his brother cooking in the kitchen while the FBI helicopters are in the sky and his wife and him try to get rid of the drugs and the guns – that's perfection.

    I never understood the appeal of GANGS OF NEW YORK, so this would be my overrated choice.

  18. Most underrated? I'm gonna say COLOR OF MONEY. Yeah, Paul Newman won the Oscar but among Scorsese fans it doesn't get nearly the love it deserves. Aside from Newman's wonderful performance, Tom Cruise is actually quite good as the cocky pool hall punk who gets schooled on the road with Newman.

    Richard Price's screenplay crackles with great dialogue... like the bit where Newman's character bets Cruise that he can pick up a girl at the bar in a certain amount of time and teaches him a lesson about "human moves." Not to mention, the camerawork by Michael Ballhaus is fantastic. He really conveys the dynamic energy of pool playing and follows the balls as they zig zag around the table during various matches.

    Overrated? Hmm... CAPE FEAR. This always seems to be on TV and was a huge commercial hit but is such an unnecessary remake as the original was brilliant and did not need to be remade or updated. And Robert De Niro, while disappearing into the role, his character is just a caricature.

  19. Great question. I love Scorsese, but I tend to value different movies than a lot of others. My favorites are After Hours and King of Comedy, both small, intimate psychological films. I think After Hours in particular is one of his most underrated, as most people tend to consider it a minor work, perhaps because it's not as dark as Scorsese's more often talked-about films. I also really like Bringing Out the Dead, which is surely underrated, but that one is a minor pleasure, more akin to The Departed than anything else.

    Another film that I think a lot of people like but probably doesn't get mentioned much because it's a part of an anthology, is Life Lessons, his contribution to New York Stories. It's almost a tribute to Kenneth Anger in its style, and it boasts great, substantial performances by Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette. It shouldn't be forgotten just because it's a short.

    As for overrated, Raging Bull strikes me as turgid in comparison to the vibrancy of Scorsese's best work. I know that's an unpopular opinion, but what can I do?

  20. Yaeli:

    Thanks for a stopping by and commenting! I love what you say about the terms "overrated" and "underrated" being context dependent. When I thought of this question I was thinking in terms of what do cinephiles think of his work. Surely his most overrated film is something along the lines of Gangs of New York or The Departed because they received so much hyperbolic praise before their release. The Departed is called a masterpiece by a lot of people, and it hasn't even been 5 years since its release.

    The Age of Innocence was highly praised upon release, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it has been underrated or forgotten. I think a lot of people, like the mention of Scorsese's short "Life Lessons", dismiss (or disregard) that film because it's not your 'typical' Scorsese picture. I definitely think it's underrated.

    I love what you say about Goodfellas and that magnificent ending. However, I think a lot of us here think that within the context of Scorsese's oeuvre, Casino is the better, and less appreciated, film. But I certainly agree with your assessment of that final sequence. It's a masterpiece in editing.

    I agree with you 100% about Gangs of New York. I never understood the appeal of that movie. I actually found it kind of boring the first time I saw it, but subsequent viewings have me warming up to it.

    Thanks for contributing!

  21. J.D.:

    Nice call with The Color of Money. I haven't seen that in a long time. I always think of that film being received much like Cape Fear, your choice for the most overrated picture, as nothing more than commercial fair with big stars and nothing else going for it. Newman is memorable in the role, and I've always thought that Cruise is a somewhat underrated actor (when he's motivated). I also like what you say about Price's dialogue and Ballhaus' camera...great thought, there. I'll have to re-watch this one soon.

    Thanks, J.D.!

  22. Ed:

    Looks like you and Tony are in agreement about "Life Lessons". I need to see that ASAP. I have heard nothing but great things, and you're right, it shouldn't be forgfotten merely because it's a short. Some of the best writing I've read from Faulkner, another great American master of his field, are his short stories...and certainly things stories like "A Rose for Emily" or "Barn Burning" or "The Bear" aren't forgotten. Short works should be recognized just as much as features or novels.

    After Hours was mentioned earlier, too. I'll have to watch that one again. I really hated it when I saw it in high school.

    A lot of people have been throwing around Raging Bull as most overrated...I find this interesting. I know that overrated in this conversation doesn't equal "not good", but I've always found that the praise that film receives has been more than warranted. I would love to hear some arguments against the film from all of you who claim it's overrated. I'm intrigued.

    I can see why you think it's turgid...I mean the film is certainly Scorsese's most operatic and in-your-face, but I think that style befits the story Scorsese wanted to tell about LaMotta -- kind of Greek tragedy in the Bronx.

    Thanks as always Ed for stopping by!

  23. Though I like Color of Money, I think the problem some of us old fogeys have with it is that it was an unnecessary sequel to a superior film, The Hustler. And Newman's Felson, to my mind at least, seems so different from his original performance... I know what they were going for, Newman now has to train Cruise who is a hotshot like he used to be in the first film. But it rings a little too meta for me.

  24. But it rings a little too meta for me.

    I'm intrigued by this statement. Do you dislike meta-film, or do you just feel that a meta-narrative story doesn't quite fit the type of film The Color of Money is (or is paying homage to)?

    I will agree with you that The Hustler is (obviously) the superior film. It's been so long since I've seen The Color of Money, though. I really don't remember much about it. I need re-watch it again.

  25. I don't mind films with meta-narratives. But I prefer not to be thinking on the meta-level while watching the film.

    If a story is engaging on a human level, then with deeper analysis later I am able to find more going on in the margins of the text, it is then that I think a picture succeeds.

  26. Kevin J. Olson

    Yeah, you should check it out. It has aged quite well, I think. It's one of several films that has been percolating in the back of my brain for a potential post on my blog.

    Tony Dayoub:

    I agree that COLOR is an unnecessary sequel to THE HUSTLER but that being said it is still an enjoyable film with top notch performances. As for Newman's Felson being different, I kinda think that's the point. When we catch up with him in COLOR there's been a lotta water under the bridge and Felson has probably seen some hard times but managed to break even somewhere along the line. He's more comfortable in his skin. More confident about who he is and his limitations and Newman nails that vibe so well. Plus, I love the relationship he has between Helen Shaver. The scenes between them are excellent and I can almost imagine a whole other film that just follows them around. I also like how Scorsese draws attention to the generation gap... like how Felson is disgusted when he notices that one of his flunkies (a nice bit part by John Turturro) does cocaine. And, as always with Scorsese, the soundtrack is killer.

  27. Tony:

    Makes sense Tony. Thanks for clarifying.


    After what you've written here I am definitely adding this to the top of my Netflix queue. Great stuff from you as always.

  28. I'd say the most underrated is also my favorite Scorsese, 'Life Lessons' I count it as a feature since it's 61 minutes long or so. It's one of my favorite (if not my favorite) films about the process of painting. Painting (you'd think) would be very hard to film and make interesting-- yet Scorsese makes (IMHO) his most impressive visual film. If you are familiar with Dostoyevsky's 'The Gambler' you'll like it even more.

    rounding out his top 5 'underrated' is 'Kundun', 'Age of Innocence', 'After Hours' (I'm STILL obsessed with Linda Fiorentino because of this), and 'Cape Fear' (in my opinion is most 'entertaining' film-- it blows 'The Departed' away).

    overrated 5 are, 'Gangs of New York', 'The Avaitor', 'Goodfellas', 'Casino' and 'The Departed'. I am so so on 'Bringing out the Dead' i'll watch it as it is a Scorsese, but i'd watch about 8 or 10 of his others first.

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  30. Hard to say for me what his most underrated film is. I know when someone says Scorsese, people immediately think of GOODFELLAS or RAGING BULL.

    But for me, I think of AFTER HOURS and ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. I count those more as underrated because they aren't obvious Scorsese films. THE KING OF COMEDY as well.

    Overrated? That's easy. THE AVIATOR, KUNDUN, GANGS OF NEW YORK and CASINO just don't do it for me. I liked THE DEPARTED, but I wasn't in love with it.

  31. Raging Bull is a masterpiece.