6. The Conversation (1974)
A career-best Gene Hackman stars in this slow-burn thriller about a private surveillance expert who gets roped into a murky conspiracy after inadvertently capturing a possible murder confession on tape while tailing a young couple. Captivating from first frame to last, Francis Ford Coppola’s paranoid thriller is today regarded as a landmark achievement of the 1970s, with its cautionary tale of the dangers of mass surveillance becoming increasingly relevant in our new media age where everyone’s personal data is being sold, shared and leaked by companies to the highest bidder.
“The Conversation” was one of the many titles mentioned in Martin Scorsese’s conversation with FastCompany, where he was asked to curate a list of 85 movies everyone should watch at least once. It is easy enough to see how the director of “Goodfellas” and “Casino” would have recognized a kindred spirit in one of his contemporaries — another key player of the New Hollywood movement whom he would later on establish a close friendship and collaborate in the 1989 anthology movie “New York Stories”.
7. The American Friend (1977)
Though not a name closely associated to the thriller genre, this stylish, stripped-down crime noir loosely based on the novel Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith ranks amongst the finest work by German-born arthouse legend Wim Wenders. Featuring heavyweight Hollywood directors Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller in brief but memorable roles, “The American Friend” zeroes in on a terminally ill middle-aged man (Bruno Ganz), who is lured into the underworld by a shady American art forger living in Hamburg (Dennis Hopper) and tempted to commit murder in order to ensure his family’s financial future after his death.
Two Wenders pictures, this 1977 thriller and the equally phenomenal “Kings of the Road”) made their way into Scorsese’s 2012 list of essential foreign movies. “I’ve known Wim for many years now. For both of us, cinema and music are inseparable, so I like to think we’ve always had a special kinship,” said Scorsese, who first collaborated with the German director in the 2003 PBS series “The Blues” before appointing him as a member of the advisory board of the World Cinema Foundation he founded in 2007.
8. The Long Good Friday (1980)
Bob Hoskins chews up the scenery as an amoral London crime boss whose desperate efforts of going legitimate and seal a lucrative real estate deal are suddenly put on hold after a number of his high-ranking henchmen are ruthlessly targeted in a string of murder attempts orchestrated by a two-timing traitor within his ranks. With his entire criminal empire threatening to implode from within, it’s up to the boss of the family to track down the culprit without jeopardizing the business deal that will seal his legitimacy.
A solid title to have in your back pocket that will likely get your adrenaline juices pumping once again in the off chance you ever grow tired of rewatching “Goodfellas” on cable, “The Long Good Friday” was also one of the 50 titles Scorsese singled out as must-see British movies in his personal letter to fellow filmmaker and self-proclaimed cinephile Edgar Wright.
Featuring volcanic performances that set the screen aflame, wall-to-wall needle drops, and no shortage of wise guys well out of their depth, John Mackenzie’s gritty crime thriller remains essential viewing for gangster films aficionados and Scorsese-heads alike.
9. Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
Martin Scorsese wasn’t exaggerating when he contended that Robert Mitchum WAS film noir. As a perennial Hollywood A-lister throughout the forties and fifties, the legendary actor learnt his trade playing rough-edged antiheroes and tough guys with a heart of gold, with his big breakthrough coming in the 1946 noir staple “Out of the Past”, in which he stars as a former private eye working at a gas station.
In the mid-seventies, an older, grizzled Mitchum returned to the genre that once made him a household name with a one-two punch of pulpy detective stories based on novels by Raymond Chandler. “Farewell, My Lovely”, the first and strongest of the two, saw him embrace type by playing hard-boiled private eye Philip Marlowe, a character previously played by Humphrey Bogart and Elliott Gould, who crawls through Los Angeles criminal underworld after being hired to retrieve a stolen necklace and investigate the murder of a client.
10. Pi (1998)
While presenting Darren Aronofsky with the John Huston Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema back in March 2013, Martin Scorsese recalled being mesmerized by the “maddening energy and intensity” of his 1998 breakout film, an independent black-and-white thriller shot on location in Manhattan on a meager $60,000 budget that left a big impression on the Queens native.
An unprecedented word-of-mouth hit at the Sundance Festival, “Pi” revolves around Max Coen, a number theorist who’s driven to the brink of madness in his pursuit to find patterns of numbers in nature that may hold the key to predict the future and manipulate the stock market.
“It was a most auspicious debut, a disturbing picture about a brilliant mathematician living in a tiny apartment, but I just went with it,” Scorsese said of the film. He continued his speech by adding that the way Aronofsky has carefully and steadily protected his own voice and unique vision throughout his career is a “hard thing to do these days”, noting how each picture of his is “more fearless and vivid than the last”.