In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This column will explore my thoughts on 35 films I’ve selected from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is Raging Bull (1980), #4 on the list.
Martin Scorsese has 3 films on the AFI top 100: Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas. None of them would break my list of even just top 5 Scorsese films, but it’s understandable that these three have been picked considering their widespread acclaim and that they each represent a certain phase of Scorsese’s career, being released in different decades. All three also happen to star Robert De Niro, Scorsese’s main featured player, with Raging Bull being far and away the best performance of his career. He plays boxer Jake LaMotta, and the film follows his professional career, but more importantly, his personal life, as his fragile ego and deep-seated insecurities begin to eat away at him. The tumultuous relationship between him and his wife (Cathy Moriarty) is undeniably compelling, especially when it comes to a boil in a series of scenes between the two of them and his brother (Joe Pesci) near the end of the second act. The pacing starts to drag after that climactic moment, but that’s only a testament to how electric those three performances are when they’re on screen together. It’s especially endearing to watch this film now, having just recently seen The Irishman. De Niro and Pesci’s on-screen chemistry is just as palpable the first time they shared the screen nearly 40 years ago as it is in 2019.
Does it belong on the list?
This is a tough call because, while I respect the legacy and the immense amount of blood, sweat, and tears that went into making it, there are a handful of Scorsese films I’d rather see on the list instead. I say no.