With his seventh nomination, director Martin Scorsese finally won a Directors Guild honor on February 4 for his work on this year’s hit crime drama, The Departed. Scorsese, by now a national treasure, was nominated for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, among others, but the grand prize eluded him. Exactly 30 years ago, Scorsese was up for Taxi Driver but lost to John Avildsen for Rocky.
Hollywood’s relationship with Scorsese has been an odd one. They’ve continually shown their appreciation for his work by giving him a nomination, inviting him to the party, but then handing the win to someone else, usually a director who made a weepy instead of a gritty crime drama or a black and white boxing movie. With each loss, though, it seemed a debt was incurring. The debt burden became so heavy, in fact, that Harvey Weinstein, then of Miramax, took on the personal mission of “winning Scorsese the Oscar” when the two joined forces for Gangs of New York.
Weinstein’s strong-arm tactics came off as acts of desperation, the kiss of death for any Oscar contender. By the time The Aviator rolled around two years later, the residue from the Gangs of New York debacle was still hanging in the air. Clint Eastwood’s big win for Million Dollar Baby was a cakewalk, despite The Aviator winning almost every Oscar it was up for, except the big ones, picture and director.
The Directors Guild gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award that year, while they gave their big prize to Eastwood. It seemed Scorsese’s Oscar chances were over. He was destined to rest in history, like Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock – acclaimed directors who never won Oscars for directing their films. Honorary Oscar, here he comes. This year, however, Scorsese surprised everyone by directing his best film in years, The Departed.
No one had any idea the movie would come to dominate the critics’ groups; mostly, though, Scorsese was honored for director. Best Picture itself seems to be split up, with different movies taking the major awards leading up to the Oscars. The Departed won the Critics’ Choice award for Best Picture by a landslide, but lost the prize for Drama at the Golden Globes to Babel, though Scorsese won Director. Little Miss Sunshine won the Producers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild for Ensemble. Everyone assumed Scorsese would win the DGA, but we’d become so accustomed to his losing, we just assumed it would go to someone else. But they gave their prize to Scorsese in the end.
If the Academy goes for The Departed, it will be the first gangster pic to win the top prize since The Godfather won back in 1972. Writer Monahan calls the film a redux of a Shakespearean tragedy, which explains why it ends the way it does. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan is a Shakespearean hero if there ever was one. But it is also a remake of the popular Hong Kong movie, Infernal Affairs. The films have similar plots but are so completely different The Departed can’t really be called a remake, though that’s what people have been calling it.
The movie is a smashing success, but can it finally be the one that brings Martin Scorsese to the podium to pick up Director and Picture at the Oscars? It’s still uncertain. But it’s hard to imagine a film that popular and that entertaining being turned down. But we Marty fans are like Chicago Cubs fans; we’re so used to losing we don’t dare dream.
Scorsese has been developing his craft in different ways since first bursting on the scene as a genius. He has made documentaries, like No Direction Home, on Bob Dylan. He has worked on film preservation and has a unique appreciation of those who came before him. He himself is now part of that film history he so carefully observes. When he received his award he called The Departed a tribute to crime genre directors Sam Fuller, Robert Aldrich and Don Siegel.
Sometimes great things happen to us when we never see them coming. “This picture, for me, started out as a genre film,” Scorsese said at the DGA ceremony. “I didn’t think I’d be standing here today, I really didn’t,” he said.