Critics and film scholars have called him the "greatest living American director," and several of his movies occupy spots on the American Film Institute's list of "greatest movies" and the Internet Movie Database's list of the "top 250 movies".
Scorsese originally planned to become a priest, and many of his movies bear the stamp of Catholic upbringing. He was bitten by the movie bug at a young age, and has admitted to becoming "obsessed" with movies, an obsession apparent in the three hour and 45 minute long 1995 documentary film A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies. A sickly child, he spent a lot of time recovering at home, watching the goings-on in the streets from his upstairs bedroom window. A great deal of his childhood was spent in movie theaters, and he resolved to become a filmmaker when he grew older.
Scorsese attended New York University's film school, making short films including a famous short entitled The Big Shave. He made his first feature-length film, Who's That Knocking At My Door? with fellow student Harvey Keitel, and from there he became a friend and acquaintance of the so-called "movie brats" of the 1970s: Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Brian De Palma. It was De Palma who introduced him to Robert De Niro, and the two figures have become close friends, working together in many projects. Scorsese's first movie starring De Niro was Mean Streets, a movie championed by famed movie critic Pauline Kael. De Niro's star rapidly rose after Mean Streets, and Scorsese made two more movies (Boxcar Bertha and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) before making his first lasting mark on the world of the movies with Taxi Driver.
Taxi Driver received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, and it encouraged Scorsese to move ahead with his first big project: New York, New York. This musical tribute to Scorsese's home town was a box-office failure, and the disappointing reception drove Scorsese into depression. Convinced that he would never make another movie, he poured his energies into the making of Raging Bull, which he thought would be his final project. Raging Bull (released in 1980) is widely viewed as a masterpiece and was voted the greatest film of the 1980s by Britain's prestigious Sight and Sound magazine. It kept Scorsese in the world of the movies, though without a box office smash he had to struggle to continue to make films.
Scorsese made three "minor" movies during the early-to-mid 1980s: The King of Comedy, After Hours, and The Color of Money. The latter of the three starred Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, and it won Newman an Oscar, as well as giving Scorsese the clout to secure backing for a project that had been a longtime goal for him: The Last Temptation of Christ.
Scorsese filmed The Last Temptation of Christ on a low budget, knowing that the film would be controversial and it would not rake in record box-office revenues. However, he did not anticipate the furor his movie would create. Nationwide protests against (and some in favor of) the film made it a textbook case for public protest against a film. The movie had a number of staunch supporters, including Scorsese's friend Roger Ebert. The backing of the movie by important political figures kept Scorsese from becoming an outcast in Hollywood, and it gave him the impetus to film Goodfellas, which would become his most widely-seen movie (if not his biggest box-office hit).
With Goodfellas, Scorsese returned to his native New York and reunited with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (whom he had previously directed in Raging Bull). This motion picture fable of life as a gangster has been called the greatest "Mob movie" since The Godfather, and it secured Scorsese a place among the all-time greatest motion picture directors.
Scorsese went on to direct a remake of the 1963 thriller Cape Fear, which proved to Hollywood that he could make a box-office hit. However, Scorsese's projects have continued to cast him as a figure who can make critically acclaimed pictures (The Age Of Innocence, Kundun) that only turn in modest box-office revenues. He continued to be intimately involved in filmmaking through the 1990s, making cameo appearances in movies like Quiz Show and Search and Destroy and working to help up-and-coming filmmakers (Mad Dog and Glory, Clockers). He re-visited the world of Taxi Driver in 1999 with Bringing Out The Dead, while critics said that his 1995 movie Casino looked and felt like a re-hash of Goodfellas.
Scorsese's 2002 production of Gangs of New York was seen as his biggest and most risk-taking venture to date. Originally filmed for a release in the winter of 2001 (to qualify for Academy Award nominations), Scorsese delayed the final production of the film until after the beginning of 2002; the studio consequently delayed the film for nearly a year until its release in the Oscar season of late 2002. With a production budget said to be in excess of $100 million, this was Scorsese's most expensive work. Critical reaction to the film was moderately positive (movie critics familiar with Scorsese's work felt it was flawed), and while the movie wasn't a smashing box-office blockbuster, it wasn't a dismal failure in theatrical revenue. In February of 2003, Gangs of New York received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis.
Scorsese was one of the editors of the movie Woodstock. Like Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, John Sayles, and others, Scorsese got his start in film working with low-budget director Roger Corman.
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