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Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Frank Vincent
Go ahead and make a list of the Best Sports Movies and place Raging Bull at the top. It's the easy decision, because lots of sports movies are average, largely because they can't their heads out of the game.
Martin Scorsese's best film is about the headspace of the athlete, in this case boxer Jake LaMotta. For a sports movie, there's little time spent in the ring, and when the camera does move between the ropes, it's into a ring that's shaped formally by LaMotta's ferocious and roiling interiority. Go back and watch the fights again—you'll see that Scorsese distorts the canvas, shrinks it or makes it vast, depending on LaMotta's mood. During one bout, he photographs the fight with fire burning beneath the lens; waves of heat wrinkle the image.
Raging Bull is about the inherent ugliness of masculinity as its been conceived of for generations. Being a man in Raging Bull means being warped by jealousy, inferiority, self-loathing. It's maleness as monstrousness. No wonder the Academy gave the 1980 Best Picture award to Ordinary People, a living room drama. The truth wasn't pretty enough. —RS