The Aviator (2004)

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Thinking he can overshadow an unknown actress in the part, an egocentric actor unknowingly gets a witch cast in an upcoming television remake of the classic show “Bewitched”. (Letterboxd)
All the right ingredients for a compelling biopic: Great turns (Leo’s a good lead but Kate, I mean Cate, is a standout support), a complex character to study, and an epic plot that flies high (the dual ambitions in film and aviation make for a riveting back-and-forth script) but also digs deep (“Howard, we’re not like everyone else. Too many acute angles”). Interesting editing adds some spice while a soaring climax and a great final line wrap things up nicely (“the way of the future…”).
7.5/10 (Really Good)

The Irishman (2019)

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A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa. (IMDb)
Patient direction, slick dialogue, solid turns, and impeccable production design and cinematography bring forth an engaging if unspectacular first half glimpse into mob life, marred only by de-aged De Niro’s unnerving eyes. The second half really shines though, as friendships/tensions and trust/suspicion grow, the flashbacks catch up to the driving narrative in devastating fashion (see the hotel breakfast convo), and what’s sowed is reaped (see the phone call to Jo; the meaningful final shot).
8/10 (Great)

 

Mean Streets (1973)

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A small-time hood aspires to work his way up the ranks of a local mob. (IMDb)
Aesthetically, the rawness (complimented by a rocking soundtrack) is refreshing and captivating (aside from the jarringly rough-around-the-edges sound editing), as dynamic, intimate, and largely handheld camerawork follows our characters around and lends the whole thing an air of stark realism. It doesn’t work as well with the script; occasional moments of brilliance (see Johnny Boy’s initial string of excuses) are overshadowed by an amateurish story filled with inconsequential scenes.
7/10 (Good)

 

The Departed (2006)

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An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston. (IMDb)

The double-deception plot is almost too perfect, given all the suspense and intrigue it generates, and with DiCaprio’s violent Billy and Damon’s more subtly unscrupulous Colin, offers a nuanced take on good guy and bad guy archetypes that’s further complicated by a smoky love triangle sub-plot and capped off by a bloody, twist-filled final act (the final shot was admittedly a bit much). Colourful dialogue and great gritty music and cinematography round out this impeccably acted crime drama.

8.5/10 (Amazing)

Raging Bull (1980)

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An emotionally self-destructive boxer’s journey through life, as the violence and temper that leads him to the top in the ring, destroys his life outside it. (IMDb)
The beautiful black and white gives this compelling character study-led by a dominating De Niro turn-a uniquely natural tone, making its drama all the more devastating, from the brutal boxing bouts (“You didn’t get me down, Ray”) to the dangerous domestic paranoia. A brilliant final act in which LaMotta’s underlying insecurity comes to the forefront (see the bookending green room clips, painful jail scene) mostly overshadows the at-times frustrating pacing (post-retirement came very suddenly).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Goodfellas (1990)

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Henry Hill and his friends work their way up through the mob hierarchy. (IMDb)
Magnificent in its epic scope, as seen both in its decades-long timeline and its lengthy, immersive scenes, thoughtfully written with loads of dialogue that goes beyond just plot-driving, building instead an authentic, enveloping world that yanks you along with Liotta’s engaging lead to every boisterous dinner party, roadside grave-digging, and mistress’ apartment (the coke-fueled adventures near the end are particularly wild). Great music and cool audio scene overlaps are also notable here.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Casino (1995)

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Greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two mobster best friends and a trophy wife over a gambling empire. (IMDb)
Remarkably fast-paced for its length: Engaging narration (a great juxtaposition of De Niro’s calm, calculated reflection with Pesci’s hilarious expletive-laden commentary), a wild soundtrack, and a script packed with the intricacies of casino mob life (it does get a bit confusing at points) keeps it fresh throughout and sucks you right in to seedy 70s Vegas. The plot is no slouch though, with the wild Ginger (Stone is excellent) spicing up the gangster goings-on with some feisty personal drama.
8/10 (Great)

Gangs of New York (2002)

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In 1863, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer. (IMDb)
With a meandering first two acts and Amsterdam’s too-simple switch, the plot here isn’t always on point, but its wholly immersive setting provides more than enough substance to engage, with each masterfully decorated and artfully directed scene bringing you deeper into the violent, lawless chaos of 1860s New York. The fantastic Day-Lewis (the terrifying presence that is The Butcher) lures you even further in to this edge-of-your-seat experience that’s a little rambling, but always riveting.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

The Age of Innocence (1993)

A tale of nineteenth-century New York high society in which a young lawyer falls in love with a woman separated from her husband, while he is engaged to the woman’s cousin. (IMDb)
A beautifully composed film, with its exquisitely detailed sets and costumes, that, along with a swirling orchestral score, gracefully sweep you up into 1870s New York. Striking visual edits complete this cinematic package that brings life to what is a very introspective story heavy on narration and light on outward conflict. It’s a unique combination that sits nicely in the end but feels a tad too mild and insubstantial at times throughout, despite strong performances from the three leads.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Shutter Island (2010)

A U.S Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane. (IMDb)
The chilling Alcatraz-like island setting here is masterfully portrayed, thanks to stunning cinematography and a haunting score, and the three leading males are all superb in their respective roles, giving attention to every tic and syllable. The story gets more complex and intriguing with each scene; just when you think you have a handle on it, a new twist or layer is added, leading to an eventual ending that’s certainly satisfying, if not a little too easy. A suspenseful psychological mystery.
8.5/10 (Amazing)