Years active: 1963-present
Notable films: Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman
Mortality is on Marty’s mind. At 77, he has a healthy awareness of his own—mortality and legacy are the chief concerns in his latest opus, The Irishman, but before they were driving factors in his work they were, in retrospect, the driving force behind his work. This list isn’t about legacy, it’s about the here and now, and Scorsese kicked the decade off eager to not rest on his. Far from content to rest on his invincible filmography and a recent long-deserved Oscar win with mailed-in busy work, Scorsese spent the last 10 years throwing new challenges at himself, flexing his muscles in the areas where they were least defined. A cerebral thriller. A period piece about Jesuit priests. He made a kids movie!
Even if the mainstream didn’t come along for every stop on the journey, the acclaim never wavered. For that matter, wooing the R-rated crowd eager to revel in his specific brand of hedonism proved to be light work. He gave notorious stockbroker Jordan Belfort the Henry Hill treatment in a tour de force that so accurately depicted Belfort’s lifestyle, the film still incites debates over whether it glorifies his behavior or just faithfully documents it to this day. But what is agreed on is it’s a modern classic, one that introduced Scorsese’s singular auteurist talents to a new generation of moviegoer, while drawing a line back to the stylistic flourishes of his ‘90s films for those of us who grew up on Casino and Goodfellas.
"Relevance" is hardly an important barometer for discussing the best film directors out, but in the case of Martin Scorsese, who is 12 years the senior of the next-oldest person on this list, it must be noted. Because while we all unanimously cheered for Bong's Oscar wins and rued the total exclusion of snubbed auteurs-in-the-making like Josh and Benny Safdie, The Irishman deserved every nomination it got and some that it didn't. Five decades into his career, a new Scorsese film is still a genuine capital-e Event unless he's too busy indulging himself on a passion project to care (looking at you, Silence).
And after decades of experimentation, when he returned to the genre that made him a generations-spanning household name (see: Alexa Demie obsessing over Ginger while watching Casino on her iPad in Euphoria) it wasn't to retread on his most familiar ground. Instead, he deconstructed a genre he helped mythologize so forcefully he might've effectively put a moratorium on the mob movie going forward. In any creative field, the biggest legends don’t adhere to constructs like peaks and primes. Over the last few years, Scorsese has proven time and again, you can’t close the door on him just yet. —Frazier Tharpe