With Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” around the corner, we’re looking at a rundown of films that the beloved filmmaker has singled out for praise throughout his 50-plus-year career. Having grown up as an asthmatic kid who spent most of his childhood binge-watching movies at the local movie theater while the other kids were playing sports outside, the Queens native has repeatedly acknowledged the great debt he owes to his cinematic heroes, crediting the influence of the many movies that shaped his critical voice while championing up-and-coming directors who are still in the midst of finding their own.
At the age of 80, the legendary director shows no signs of slowing down and already has a number of future projects lined up, including a Jerry Garcia biopic, an adaptation of Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Home”, and a movie about the life of Jesus Christ. To mark the release of Scorsese’s latest (in theaters October 20), we have rounded up ten favorites from the bushy-eye-browed director — from classic detective stories to gritty crime thrillers — that you should add to your watch list ahead of “Killers of the Flower Moon”.
1. Sudden Fear (1952)
Scorsese has made no secret of his love for classic film noir, noting in his documentary “A Personal Journey Through American Movies” how crime was a source of fascination for many filmmakers in post-war Hollywood that “allowed them to probe the nature of evil and reveal the dark underbelly of American urban life.”
Joan Crawford earned an Academy Award nomination for her gripping performance in this 1950s movie as successful New York playwright Myra Hudson, who falls in love with a budding actor she just recently turned down for the lead part in her new play. Not long after the two get married in San Francisco, however, Myra begins to suspect her husband might be after her wealth and plotting to murder her.
Not only has this nail-bitter been identified as a personal favorite of Scorsese, landing on his best film noir of all-time list, but the director also likened Margot Robbie’s breakout performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street” to Crawford’s all-bets-off feistiness, raving how both actresses “instantly command your attention any time they enter the frame”.
2. Retribution (2006)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa carved a nice niche for himself at the turn of the millennium with slow-burn psychological thrillers that implant themselves in the mind of the observer, taking real estate there and spreading like a virus long after the credits roll. Though the Japanese director is finally getting his dues overseas, the most glowing praise of all came from Scorsese, who championed him as “an absolute master of light, framing and pacing” all the way back in 2006.
In a piece published for DirectTV, the American auteur geeked out over several films from Kurosawa. Among them is “Retribution”, a murder mystery “filled with a strange dread” in which a careworn homicide detective begins to lose his grip on reality while scouring for clues on his latest case. Scorsese further discussed Kurosawa’s trademark style and pet themes, noting how his films seem to exist in the trenches between the thriller and horror genre. “Something has arrived, no one knows exactly what or how, or for what purpose: Reality is untouched except for a small, unsettling detail or two, which mutates into violence and irrationality.”
3. Wake in Fright (1971)
In this cornerstone of Australian cinema, a young school teacher gets more than he bargained for during his one-night stay on the desolated outback town of Bundanyabba, which stretches into a seemingly endless self-destructive bender after he becomes stranded having lost all his money in a gambling game with no means of resuming his travel.
Scorsese, who vividly recalls being left speechless by Ted Kotcheff’s gnarly thriller when he first watched it when it first premiered at Cannes in 1971, most recently introduced the film in a 2009 screening, describing it as a “deeply unsettling and disturbing movie that gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with its protagonist.”
You don’t have to peer too closely at “Wake in Fright” to spot the similarities with Scorsese’s darkly comic Soho fever-dream “After Hours”, which was released 14 years later. The fact that the memorable overhead shot of a coin being tossed in the air featured in Kotcheff’s film was lifted in its entirety in the De Niro-led crime saga “Casino” wasn’t exactly lost on savvy audiences either.
4. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Scorsese holds Hollywood stalwart Robert Wise in such high esteem that he agreed to take part in a special commentary feature for the home release of his 1949 boxing drama “The Set-Up”. During the conversation, he generously credited the influence of that film on “Raging Bull” and acknowledged working with production designer Boris Leven hoping that some of the man’s experience with Wise would rub off on him.
However, it was this trailblazing crime caper — about three debt-ridden crooks who team up for a big-time heist — that was singled out for praise and hand-picked by Scorsese himself in 2019 when asked to curate a program of films for the New York-based Film Forum. “Film noir was not a specific genre like gangster films, but a mood,” he said in an interview. “These filmmakers were smugglers, transforming routine material into personal expression, bypassing the censors and the strictures of the Production Code whenever they could.”
The obvious draw here is watching Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte and Gloria Grahame spew venom all over the screen, but don’t sleep on the film’s surprisingly nonconforming commentary on race relations in America.
5. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Any fan of “The Departed” looking for another hyper-realistic, gritty portrait of the seedy Boston criminal underworld centered around police informants should seriously consider giving this underlooked Seventies gem a watch. A title in Robert Mitchum’s personal catalog still not nearly as appreciated as it deserves, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” nevertheless features one of the actor’s best late-career performances as a hard-edged, two-bit crook who barely manages to make ends meet and decides to snitch on his criminal colleagues and supply the feds with inside intel to avoid another extended jail sentence.
Martin Scorsese has been an outspoken fan of Mitchum for decades, so much that one of his first creative decisions once he took directing duties to remake J. Lee Thompson’s “Cape Fear” in 1991 was to tip his hat to RKO’s former leading tough guy by bringing him back into the fold in a small supporting role.