Martin Scorsese Names His Top 10 Films in the Criterion Collection

“What do you do when you change how the world thinks of cin­e­ma? What’s next? Do you keep mak­ing the same kind of film? If you’re a per­son like Rosselli­ni, you try some­thing exper­i­men­tal. You push fur­ther. Not exper­i­men­tal for exper­i­men­t’s sake, but you push the bound­aries fur­ther.” With these words, Mar­tin Scors­ese describes the sit­u­a­tion of Rober­to Rosselli­ni, one of his pre­de­ces­sors in film­mak­ing he most admires, after com­plet­ing Paisan in 1946. Where to take the move­ment “Ital­ian neo­re­al­ism” from there?

Scors­ese dis­cuss­es Rossellini’s next three major films, Strom­boliEurope ’51, and Jour­ney to Italy in this Con­ver­sa­tions Inside the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion inter­view clip from Vice. Giv­en his pos­ses­sion of an enthu­si­asm for cin­e­ma as strong as his mas­tery of the craft of cin­e­ma (mak­ing him a pre­de­ces­sor of such younger Amer­i­can indie-root­ed cinephile-auteurs as Quentin Taran­ti­no and Wes Ander­son), it makes sense that Scors­ese would want to engage with the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion, whose painstak­ing­ly-pro­duced video releas­es of respect­ed films have for decades con­sti­tut­ed a kind of film school, infor­mal yet rich and rig­or­ous.

When Cri­te­ri­on, whose cat­a­log includes Scors­ese’s own The Last Temp­ta­tion of Christ, asked the direc­tor to name his ten favorite films in the Col­lec­tion, he began with a paean to Paisan. (Note: You can watch Paisan for free if you start a free tri­al with Hulu. Also watch Fellini’s 8 1/2list­ed below–free on Hulu here.) “I saw it for the first time on tele­vi­sion with my grand­par­ents, and their over­whelm­ing reac­tion to what had hap­pened to their home­land since they left at the turn of the cen­tu­ry was just as present and vivid for me as the images and the char­ac­ters,” he said. “I was expe­ri­enc­ing the pow­er of cin­e­ma itself, in this case made far beyond Hol­ly­wood, under extreme­ly tough con­di­tions and with infe­ri­or equip­ment. And I was also see­ing that cin­e­ma wasn’t just about the movie itself but the rela­tion­ship between the movie and its audi­ence.”

Here are Scors­ese’s nine oth­er Cri­te­ri­on selec­tions:

  • The Red Shoes (Michael Pow­ell and Emer­ic Press­burg­er) “There’s no oth­er pic­ture that dra­ma­tizes and visu­al­izes the over­whelm­ing obses­sion of art, the way it can take over your life. But on a deep­er lev­el, in the move­ment and ener­gy of the film­mak­ing itself, is a deep and abid­ing love of art, a belief in art as a gen­uine­ly tran­scen­dent state.”
  • The Riv­er (Jean Renoir) “This was Jean Renoir’s first pic­ture after his Amer­i­can peri­od, his first in col­or, and he used Rumer Godden’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el to cre­ate a film that is, real­ly, about life, a film with­out a real sto­ry that is all about the rhythm of exis­tence, the cycles of birth and death and regen­er­a­tion, and the tran­si­to­ry beau­ty of the world.”
  • Uget­su (Ken­ji Mizoguchi) “The boat slow­ly mate­ri­al­iz­ing from out of the mist and com­ing toward us… Gen­juro col­laps­ing on the grass in ecsta­sy and being smoth­ered by Lady Wakasa… the final crane up from the son mak­ing an offer­ing at his mother’s grave to the fields beyond. Just to think of these moments now fills me with awe and won­der.”
  • Ash­es and Dia­monds (Andrzej Wada) “I saw Ash­es and Dia­monds for the first time in 1961. And even back then, dur­ing that peri­od when we expect­ed to be aston­ished at the movies, when things were hap­pen­ing all over the world, it shocked me. It had to do with the look, both imme­di­ate and haunt­ed, like a night­mare that won’t stop unfold­ing.”
  • L’avven­tu­ra (Michelan­ge­lo Anto­nioni) “It’s dif­fi­cult to think of a film that has a more pow­er­ful under­stand­ing of the way that peo­ple are bound to the world around them, by what they see and touch and taste and hear. I real­ize that L’avventura is sup­posed to be about char­ac­ters who are ‘alien­at­ed’ from their sur­round­ings, but that word has been used so often to describe this film and Antonioni’s films in gen­er­al that it more or less shuts down thought.”
  • Sal­va­tore Giu­liano (Francesco Rosi) “On one lev­el, it’s an extreme­ly com­plex film: there’s no cen­tral pro­tag­o­nist (Giu­liano him­self is not a char­ac­ter but a fig­ure around which the action piv­ots), and it shifts between time frames and points of view. But it’s also a pic­ture made from the inside, from a pro­found and last­ing love and under­stand­ing of Sici­ly and its peo­ple and the treach­ery and cor­rup­tion they’ve had to endure.”
  • 8 1/2 (Fed­eri­co Felli­ni) “ has always been a touch­stone for me, in so many ways—the free­dom, the sense of inven­tion, the under­ly­ing rig­or and the deep core of long­ing, the bewitch­ing, phys­i­cal pull of the cam­era move­ments and the com­po­si­tions (anoth­er great black-and-white film: every image gleams like a pearl — again, shot by Gian­ni Di Venan­zo). But it also offers an uncan­ny por­trait of being the artist of the moment, try­ing to tune out all the pres­sure and the crit­i­cism and the adu­la­tion and the requests and the advice, and find the space and the calm to sim­ply lis­ten to one­self.”
  • Con­tempt (Jean-Luc Godard) “It’s a shat­ter­ing por­trait of a mar­riage going wrong, and it cuts very deep, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the lengthy and jus­ti­fi­ably famous scene between Pic­coli and Bar­dot in their apart­ment: even if you don’t know that Godard’s own mar­riage to Anna Kari­na was com­ing apart at the time, you can feel it in the action, the move­ment of the scenes, the inter­ac­tions that stretch out so painful­ly but majes­ti­cal­ly, like a piece of trag­ic music.”
  • The Leop­ard (Luchi­no Vis­con­ti) “Time itself is the pro­tag­o­nist of The Leop­ard: the cos­mic scale of time, of cen­turies and epochs, on which the prince mus­es; Sicil­ian time, in which days and nights stretch to infin­i­ty; and aris­to­crat­ic time, in which noth­ing is ever rushed and every­thing hap­pens just as it should hap­pen, as it has always hap­pened.”

For Scors­ese’s full com­men­tary on all ten of these pic­tures, see the arti­cle on Cri­te­ri­on’s site. The direc­tors of his favorite Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion films all changed how the world thinks of cin­e­ma in one way or anoth­er, at dif­fer­ent times, in dif­fer­ent places, and in dif­fer­ent ways. Scors­ese, too, has changed how the world thinks of cin­e­ma, arguably more than once in his career — and giv­en his pen­chant for try­ing new things, avoid­ing that tread­mill where you “keep mak­ing the same film,” he may well make anoth­er movie that changes it again. And if he does, here’s anoth­er impor­tant ques­tion: what spe­cial fea­tures will Cri­te­ri­on include when they put out their deluxe edi­tion?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free on Hulu: Stream Fellini’s 8 1/2, La Stra­da & Oth­er Clas­sic & Con­tem­po­rary Films

Mar­tin Scors­ese Reveals His 12 Favorite Movies (and Writes a New Essay on Film Preser­va­tion)

Mar­tin Scors­ese Makes a List of 85 Films Every Aspir­ing Film­mak­er Needs to See

Mar­tin Scors­ese Intro­duces Film­mak­er Hong Sang­soo, “The Woody Allen of Korea”

Mar­tin Scors­ese Cre­ates a List of 39 Essen­tial For­eign Films for a Young Film­mak­er

Mar­tin Scors­ese Names the 11 Scari­est Hor­ror Films: Kubrick, Hitch­cock, Tourneur & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (4)
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  • G.Sundar says:

    Mar­tin is an admir­er of Satya­jit Ray and his films. Thanks to Mar­tin, Ray received an hon­orary Oscar on his death-bed. But here in this list of his favourite films, he has not includ­ed any of 36 films made by Ray. I don’t know why!!!

  • Ca Dozo says:

    These are not Scors­ese’s favorite films of all time, this is a list of his favorite films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion. Per­haps there are no films by Ray in that col­lec­tion.

  • Ray Rappa says:


    Scors­ese’s own body of works sur­pass­es most film mak­ers then and now.…He’s dar­ing and cre­ative in all the aspects of film mak­ing from cast­ing to edit­ing, and to final print.….…His knowl­edge of the film indus­try from its begin­nings is unsur­passed.…

  • Ted Fontenot says:

    Those are good movies, but the 10 best? I can’t see it. None of those movies belong on a top 10.

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