- Fly, boy: Leonardo DiCaprio takes flight as Howard Hughes in The Aviator.
Martin Scorsese has perched atop the World's Greatest Directors list ever since 1973's Mean Streets. Shockingly, he's never won an Academy Award, despite four nominations. But this could finally be Scorsese's year. The Aviator (which opens Christmas Day) is his most stylistically conservative film. But it's also the one that might finally net him a gold statue. With no clear leader going into Oscar season, Scorsese's powerful biopic about Howard Hughes, the reclusive aviation pioneer and billionaire, certainly has the earmarks of a winner: epic storytelling, nuanced performances, and a filmmaker whose entire oeuvre could be honored when awards are handed out on February 27.
As we anticipate the end of Scorsese's losing streak, here are the movies that should have brought home the gold (and one that was rightly overlooked).
Raging Bull (1980)
Why He Should Have Won: Because Scorsese's first biopic (about brutish boxer Jake La Motta) contains the best fight scenes ever filmed. Because it broke Hollywood's longstanding belief that fact-based movies should revolve around heroic people. And because Scorsese has never been better at staging the evil that lurks in every troubled man.
Why He Didn't Win: Because Robert Redford did (for the stagy Ordinary People). We still haven't figured out that one.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Why He Should Have Won: Because even an atheist can get behind the story of Jesus's final hours, deftly positioned somewhere between heaven and hell by Scorsese. As his messianic hero struggles with doubt on the cross, he becomes human. Faith has never been so approachable. (Ironically, Scorsese could go up against Mel Gibson -- who helmed a bloody, brutal version of the same narrative, The Passion of the Christ -- this year.)
Why He Didn't Win: Because movies about mentally challenged oddballs portrayed by A-list actors are shoo-ins. Director Barry Levinson piled on Dustin Hoffman's quirks in Rain Man, and Scorsese never had a chance.
Why He Should Have Won: Because it's one of the best mob movies ever made. Scorsese's fluid direction -- the nightclub stroll alone should have earned him an Oscar -- elevates a tale about loathsome characters to tragic, operatic heights.
Why He Didn't Win: Because Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves supposedly heralded the return of the western, an industry fave. Plus, ballot-punchers like actors who direct, a fact that doesn't bode well for Scorsese, if Gibson and his Jesus flick score noms.
Gangs of New York (2002)
Why He Should Have Won: Because . . . well, we don't have a good argument for this one . . .
Why He Didn't Win: Because Roman Polanski's harrowing Holocaust drama The Pianist is a better film -- subtle, lyrical, and composed like a symphony. Everything Scorsese's entertaining but heavy-handed period piece is not.