One last shot at the big prize

Posted by Paul
It was 31 years ago this week when Martin Scorsese discovered how Taxi Driver, a film now widely agreed to be his masterpiece, had been received by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He probably feared that the story of a mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran was less than Oscar-friendly material, but surely must have expected some recognition. Alas, it received not a single nomination. The Oscar for Best Picture that year went to the story of a small time boxer with a million-to-one shot at the title – Rocky.
Fast forward more than three decades, and as Rocky Balboa enjoys his sixth outing, 64-year-old Marty still has an empty space on his mantlepiece despite garnering an extraordinary seven nominations. On Tuesday, there is little doubt that the Italian-American filmmaker will make the shortlist for his latest work, The Departed, but it is by no means certain that he will finally lay his hands on a golden statue.
Scorsese is understandably miffed at the repeated rejection, but he is in illustrious company – the gargantuan talents of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick failed to claim a Best Director gong between them. Why have these masters of cinema all been overlooked despite being admired the world over for their work?
When it comes to handing out awards, the Academy would seem to be repelled by directors who make gritty and controversial films, no matter how groundbreaking they may be.
You just need to look at classic Scorsese characters: Travis Bickle, the deeply troubled anti-hero in Taxi Driver; Jake La Motta, the brutal boxer in Raging Bull; the numerous thugs in Goodfellas; and, now, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Billy Costigan, who is energised by a sense of panic and desperation in The Departed.
If voters at the Academy are looking for Forrest Gump-style wholesome subjects who will promote the film industry — and some say that’s the main reason for the Oscars — they’re unlikely to find them in Scorsese’s movies.
Come March, I pray that Marty finally gets his chance to read out the speech he’s been preparing for the last 30-odd years because this will surely be his last shot. The Departed might not be his best ever film but he is long overdue some recognition. I fear, though, that he is more likely to be invited to the 2017 premiere of Rocky VII.
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