WRITER’S NOTE: 2012 marks the 70th birthday of Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese. So during the year, the National Classic Cinema Examiner will present a series of articles marking this great milestone. This article looks at the many trips Scorsese took to the Oscars for himself, before his two nominations this year for the fantasy Hugo.
He directed Ellen Burstyn, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Joe Pesci and Cate Blanchett to Academy Award wins. He would guide Lorraine Bracco, Winona Ryder, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg to Oscar nominations.
Yet one look at Martin Scorsese’s track record for Hollywood’s biggest night is a sluggish one, save for a landmark year in his career. He didn’t receive his first nomination for himself until 1980’s Raging Bull, though two of the actors he directed would achieve Oscar glory – one of them winning. This article looks at the nominations Scorsese received for himself, and the competition he went up against each time. Some of these times in Oscar history will certainly be debated on whether or not Scorsese deserved a certain Oscar over the person that actually won.
1980: Best Director, Raging Bull (lost to Robert Redford, Ordinary People)
Even though Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) won an Oscar and Robert DeNiro (Taxi Driver) had reached a nomination, Scorsese had not been able to direct himself to a nomination until his biopic on boxing legend Jake LaMotta. The black-and-white drama earned him his first directing nod, but had some stiff competition in David Lynch (The Elephant Man) and Roman Polanski (Tess). Yet they all lost to an actor making his directorial debut. Robert Redford would earn the prize for his family drama Ordinary People, giving Scorsese his first loss. It would not be his last, and not his last to an actor-director. Yet he probably took solace in Raging Bull‘s two Oscar wins – one of them for DeNiro’s stunning portrayal of LaMotta.
1988: Best Director, The Last Temptation of Christ (lost to Barry Levinson, Rain Man)
Scorsese’s controversial adaptation of Nikos Kazantakis’ book about Jesus earned him some of the strongest and harshest attacks on his filmmaking life. He would persevere and earn a well-deserved second directing nomination. Yet this would be the only nod the film would receive, which doomed his chances of landing the coveted statuette. He would lose to writer-director Barry Levinson for the Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise blockbuster Rain Man. By the end of the 1980s, Scorsese was 0-for-2.
1990: Best Director & Best Adapted Screenplay, GoodFellas (lost to Kevin Costner & Dances with Wolves)
Another collaboration with DeNiro & Raging Bull co-star Joe Pesci landed Scorsese back in the Oscar hunt at the start of the 1990s. Scorsese achieved his third Oscar directing nod and his first bid as a writer (joined by author Nicholas Pileggi). Yet he would face double trouble from Kevin Costner and his post-Civil War/Native American epic Dances with Wolves. For the second time in his career, an actor-director would top Scorsese on Oscar night – and Wolves screenwriter Michael Blake would walk away with the Adapted Screenplay statuette. At this time, Scorsese had four nominations – and the goose-egg remained.
1993: Best Adapted Screenplay, The Age of Innocence (lost to Schindler’s List)
For his adaptation of Edith Wharton’s turn-of-the-20th century romantic novel, Scorsese teamed with long-time friend and collaborator Jay Cocks for the screenplay. He wouldn’t achieve a Best Director nomination for this (though he was up for a Golden Globe), but he did earn his second Adapted Screenplay nomination for his efforts. He and Cocks would lose to Steven Zaillian for the eventual Best Picture winner that year, Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama Schindler’s List. Five nominations for Scorsese would gain him no statuettes, and he would not compete at the Oscars for nearly a decade.
2002: Best Director, Gangs of New York (lost to Roman Polanski, The Pianist)
Scorsese went back to his New York roots albeit through an Italian set to craft his gang epic with Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio leading the cast. The film achieved 10 nominations, including another bid for Scorsese for Best Director. He won the Golden Globe that year, and momentum seemed to be on his side for a change. Two other major films would compete in the form of the Holocaust drama The Pianist and the Oscar nod-leading musical Chicago. Once again, Scorsese would leave empty-handed – as an absent Roman Polanski (away from American soil for nearly 25 years while evading charges of sex with an underage girl) would win for The Pianist. Even with a new decade and a sixth nomination, the results for Scorsese remained the same: 0 wins. Gangs of New York would also meet the same overall fate.
2004: Best Director, The Aviator (lost to Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby)
Scorsese’s biopic on legendary entrepreneur Howard Hughes had brought Cate Blanchett her first Oscar, and Leonardo DiCaprio a Best Actor nomination. The drama also earned Scorsese a return trip to the Best Director race – and for the third time in his career, an actor would defeat him for the prize. Unlike Redford in 1980 and Costner in 1990, this actor-director was a little more seasoned behind the camera. Clint Eastwood had entered the Oscar race late with his boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, and his bet paid off with wins for actors Morgan Freeman & Hilary Swank, the Best Picture prize, and Eastwood for Best Director. Scorsese had hit the unlucky 7, with no awards to show for it.
2006: Best Director, The Departed
Scorsese looked to the world of Asian cinema – in this case, Andrew Lau’s thriller Infernal Affairs – for his inside look at the Boston police world and the mobsters they are trying to take down. With help from an all-star cast featuring DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg, Scorsese returned to the Best Director race. He was up against the man who defeated him in 2004, Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima), as well as Babel‘s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu & The Queen‘s Stephen Frears. Yet over a quarter-century after his first Oscar nomination and going through so many losses in his career, Scorsese finally broke through by winning his first statuette as Best Director. At the beginning of his acceptance speech, Scorsese famously asked, “Could you double check the envelope?” There was no need – the long wait had ended, and Hollywood’s golden prize was finally his.
Now Scorsese has a chance to achieve one or possibly two more Oscars to his mantle for what he seemed like a children’s film. He adapted Brian Selznick’s fantasy novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret for what ultimately became a love letter to French filmmaker Georges Melies and the beauty of the cinema. His work on the film Hugo earned him Best Director and Best Picture nominations, bringing his career total to an even ten. He won the Golden Globe, and is favored to win the Best Director award for a second time. Despite leading with 11 nominations, Hugo has stiff competition for Best Picture in The Artist (with 10 nods respectively). For almost 25 years, he had missed getting to the top of Hollywood’s golden mountain. After his big win in 2006 and now with Hugo, Scorsese may get the chance to stand on that mountaintop once again.