What Martin Scorsese Thinks About His History-Making Oscar Nomination

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Martin ScorseseLionel Hahn - Getty Images
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Latest News: Martin Scorsese Makes History with One of His 2024 Oscar Nominations

Few directors are as respected and acclaimed as Martin Scorsese. His newest movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, is his latest to earn him Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. At 81, Scorsese is the oldest person to be nominated for the directing award, his 10th shot at the particular trophy. He is also the most nominated living director in the category, though the late William Wyler holds the overall record at 12.

“It’s so exciting,” Scorsese shared during a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “I mean you look back—10 nominations over the years, I honestly don’t know how that happened. I don’t know because you don’t make films for awards. You make the films the best way you can make them.”

Despite his plethora of Best Director nominations, Scorsese has only won once, for The Departed.

Killers of the Flower Moon, which depicts a real-life series of murders on the Osage Nation Reservation in Oklahoma during the 1920s, is the third most nominated film at the 96th Academy Awards on March 10. The movie marks Scorsese’s fourth Best Picture nomination following Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and The Irishman (2019).

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Who Is Martin Scorsese?

Martin Scorsese is widely considered one of the most important directors of all time and is known for his gritty, meticulous filmmaking style. Scorsese’s passion for movies date back to his childhood. After establishing himself with the celebrated 1973 film Mean Streets, Scorsese went on to make what many consider some of the greatest American movies ever made, including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. He is particularly known for his collaborations with actor Robert De Niro—which include The King of Comedy, Cape Fear, and The Irishman—as well as his films with actor Leonardo Di Caprio, including Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards and won once: He took home the 2006 Oscar for Best Director for his crime film The Departed, which also on Best Picture.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Martin Charles Scorsese
BORN: November 17, 1942
BIRTHPLACE: New York, New York
SPOUSES: Laraine Marie Brennan (1965-1971), Julia Cameron (1976-1977), Isabella Rossellini (1979-1982), Barbara De Fina (1985-1991), and Helen Schermerhorn Morris (1999-present)
CHILDREN: Catherine, Domenica, and Francesca

Early Life

Martin Charles Scorsese was born on November 17, 1942, in New York City’s Flushing neighborhood. Raised by Italian American parents in the Little Italy district of Manhattan, Scorsese later remembered the area as being “like a village in Sicily.” Scorsese’s parents, Charles and Catherine, both worked part-time as actors, helping set the stage for their son’s love of cinema.

Because Scorsese was afflicted by severe asthma, his childhood activities were limited; rather than play sports, he spent much of his time in front of the television or at the movie theater, where he fell in love especially with stories about the Italian experience and films by directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. By the time he was 12 years old, Scorsese was already drawing his own storyboards, often complete with the line, “Directed and Produced by Martin Scorsese.”

Scorsese was raised a devout Catholic and even entertained the idea of entering the priesthood before deciding to pursue filmmaking instead. Although his parents “didn’t get” his mania for movies, Scorsese felt he was headed in the right direction when a 10-minute comedy short earned him a $500 scholarship to New York University.

Early Career: NYU Instructor and Mean Streets

Scorsese completed his master’s in fine arts, with an emphasis in film directing, at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He made several films during his time there and briefly worked at the university as a film instructor after his graduation. His students included Jonathan Kaplan and Oliver Stone.

In 1968, Scorsese completed his first feature-length film, Whos That Knocking at My Door? While working on that project, he met Harvey Keitel, whom he would go on to cast in many future projects, as well as Thelma Schoonmaker, an editor with whom he would collaborate for more than 50 years. Scorsese earned an early fan in film critic Roger Ebert, who called Scorsese’s films from this time “artistically satisfying and technically comparable to the best films being made anywhere.”

a black and white photo of martin scorsese directing cesare danova and harvey keitel on the set of the film mean streets
Martin Scorsese (right) directs Cesare Danova and Harvey Keitel during the filming of Mean Streets.Getty Images

Mean Streets, released in 1973 a month before his 31st birthday, was Scorsese’s first film to be widely acknowledged as a masterpiece. Revisiting characters from Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, the movie showcased elements that have since become trademarks of Scorsese’s filmmaking: dark themes, unsympathetic lead characters, religion, the Mafia, unusual camera techniques, and contemporary music. Directing Mean Streets also introduced Scorsese to actor Robert De Niro, sparking one of the most dynamic filmmaking partnerships in Hollywood history. Actor Ellen Burstyn was so impressed by Mean Streets she pushed for Scorsese to direct the 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which earned Burstyn an Oscar for Best Actress. She called working with Scorsese “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

Acclaimed ’70s and ’80s Movies: Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, and Raging Bull

a black and white photo of martin scorsese talking to robert de niro on a new york city street
Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the set of Taxi Driver in June 1975 in New York.Getty Images

Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, Scorsese directed hard-hitting movies that helped define a generation of cinema. His 1976 film Taxi Driver starred De Niro as a mentally unstable cab driver and Vietnam veteran who is pushed to violence by his disgust with the crime and decay of New York City. Widely considered a masterpiece, Taxi Driver helped define his gritty filmmaking style and complex camera movements, and it went on to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, fixing De Niro’s status as a movie legend. Apparently, it also inspired an unstable John Hinckley Jr. to attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan five years later.

Scorsese and De Niro collaborated again with the director’s next film New York, New York (1977), a musical made in Scorsese’s signature style. The film was a box-office failure and proved to be a difficult experience for Scorsese. The next year, he focused his filmmaking talents on the music industry outright. His acclaimed documentary called The Last Waltz showcased the farewell performance of The Band, with guest performances by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Muddy Waters. In addition to being hailed as one of the greatest concert movies of all time, The Last Waltz was then spoofed in Rob Reiner’s landmark 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap.

Scorsese’s next film was the sports drama Raging Bull (1980), which was based on the life of troubled boxer Jake LaMotta. Following his bad experience with New York, New York, Scorsese expected it to be his last feature film, so he decided to “pull out all the stops and then find a new career.” Although initial reactions were mixed due to the picture’s violent nature, Raging Bull is now widely considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time. De Niro won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as LaMotta.

Abandoning thoughts of leaving the industry, Scorsese continued to make films through the 1980s. He partnered again with De Niro for the dark comedy The King of Comedy (1982) about an aspiring comedian dangerously obsessed with a famous comic (played by Jerry Lewis). Scorsese directed his first huge box-office success The Color of Money in 1986, which starred Tom Cruise alongside the legendary Paul Newman, the latter of whom reprised his role as “Fast Eddie” Felson from the 1961 film The Hustler.

Two years later, Scorsese directed one of his most controversial films, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), in which Willem Dafoe portrayed Jesus Christ as struggling with fear, temptation, and doubt. Some in the Catholic church called it blasphemous, and Scorsese received death threats for making it, but it received critical acclaim and earned the director an Oscar nomination.

Continued Success with Crime Films

a black and white photo of a bearded martin scorsese pointing upwards and smiling as he directs a film, with several people around him
Director Martin Scorsese on the set of the film Goodfellas at Hillside Avenue in Queens, New York City.Getty Images

The 1990s saw the release of two of Scorsese’s most important Mafia movies: Goodfellas, a 1990 film based on the life of former gangster Henry Hill, and Casino, a 1995 film about the rise and fall of the gambling underworld during the 1970s. Although he joked that he should make “another film about Italian Americans where they’re not gangsters,” Scorsese also said he believes that “there is no such thing as pointless violence” onscreen. “Deep down you want to think that people are really good—but the reality outweighs that.”

Goodfellas was adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s nonfiction book Wiseguy, which tells the story of the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associate Henry Hill. The film featured Ray Liotta as Hill, De Niro as gangster Jimmy Conway, and Joe Pesci in an Academy Award–winning performance as the dangerously violent Tommy DeVito. Goodfellas has been praised as one of Scorsese’s greatest films, and Roger Ebert declared it “the best mob movie ever.”

Reuniting Scorsese with De Niro and Pesci and once again based on a Pileggi book, Casino fittingly followed mobsters involved in Mafia-controlled Las Vegas casinos. Although less celebrated than Goodfellas, the 1995 movie also drew praise, particularly for the Oscar-nominated performance of Sharon Stone.

Scorsese also drew praise for the film Cape Fear (1991), which starred De Niro as the psychopathic but intelligent murderer Max Cady. Following the epic Kundun (1997) and the psychological drama Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Scorsese made another crime film—albeit one very different from Goodfellas and Casino—with Gangs of New York (2002), a historical drama about feuding Irish immigrants in 1860s New York City. Having grown up in Little Italy hearing stories of the old gangs, the film was a passion project for Scorsese, but it took him nearly 25 years to bring it to fruition. The film starred Daniel Day-Lewis, in a celebrated performance as gang leader Bill the Butcher, and Leonardo DiCaprio in the first of many collaborations between the actor and Scorsese.

Leonardo DiCaprio Movies: The Aviator, The Departed, and Wolf of Wall Street

Many people have drawn parallels between Scorsese and DiCaprio’s film dynamic and the one the director once had with De Niro—and audiences aren’t the only ones who are grateful. “He saved me,” DiCaprio said. “I was headed down a path of being one kind of actor, and he helped me become another one. The one I wanted to be.”

leonardo dicaprio and martin scorsese smile for a photo together while standing, dicaprio holds a golden globe statuette and scorsese has one arm around dicaprios shoulders, both men wear black suits and ties with white collared shirts
Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese have collaborated on seven movies, including The Aviator. That movie won the 2005 Golden Globe for Best Drama and DiCaprio took home Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture.Getty Images

Following Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s next film with DiCaprio proved to be one of the director’s most celebrated movies in years. The Aviator (2004) featured DiCaprio as the enigmatic and trouble business magnate Howard Hughes, with Cate Blanchett portraying movie star Katharine Hepburn. The film was a critical and commercial success and earned eleven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. (It won five Academy Awards, though not in those three categories.)

Scorsese and DiCaprio partnered again The Departed (2006), a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. DiCaprio portrayed Billy Costigan, an undercover state trooper who infiltrates the crew of Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), while one of Costello’s plants (Matt Damon) infiltrates the Massachusetts State Police. The Departed went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and finally earned Scorsese the Oscar for Best Director after five previous nominations.

martin scorsese stands on a stage and speaks into a microphone, both his hands are raised and he holds notecards and an oscar statuette, he wears a black tuxedo and bowtie with a white shirt and black glasses
Martin Scorsese accepts the Academy Award for Best Director in February 2007. He has been nominated in the category nine times.Getty Images

“So many people over the years have been wishing this for me – strangers, you know,” Scorsese joked during his acceptance speech. “I go walking in the street people say something to me, I go in a doctor’s office, I go in elevators, people are saying, ‘You should win one, you should win one.’ I go for an x-ray, ‘You should win one.’”

Following another DiCaprio collaboration with the psychological thriller Shutter Island (2010), Scorsese explored an entirely different genre with 2011’s Hugo, an adventure drama about a little boy in 1930s Paris who seeks to solve a mystery involving his late father’s automaton. It was Scorsese’s first film shot entirely in 3D, which he called a “liberating” experience, adding: “It’s literally a Rubik’s Cube every time you go out to design a shot.” Although not a huge box-office hit, the beautifully rendered feature wowed critics, garnering 11 Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe for Best Director.

Scorsese followed Hugo with The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), which starred DiCaprio as real-life investment banker Jordan Belfort, who gained notoriety for defrauding clients while lining his own pockets in the 1990s. The film earned positive reviews and five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director for Scorsese.

Still, some people criticized the movie for allegedly glorifying Belfort’s illegal actions and unethical lifestyle. Scorsese pushed back against these claims, saying: “I find that it’s disappointing at times, it’s frustrating, but on the other hand, the film seems to be about something that people can talk about. Some people may disagree, some may not, but this is an open dialogue, and it’s exciting.” The Wolf of Wall Street also set a Guinness World Record for most instances of swearing in a film, using the F-word alone 506 times.

Latest Films: The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon

robert de niro, martin scorsese, lily gladstone, and leonardo dicaprio standing side by side and posing for photos at the cannes film festival
Martin Scorsese with Killers of the Flower Moon cast members Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, and Leonardo DiCaprio at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2023.Getty Images

Scorsese followed the success of The Wolf of Wall Street with the epic historical drama Silence (2016), which starred Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as 17th century Jesuit priests traveling to Japan during a time when the Tokugawa shogunate has banned Catholicism. Scorsese had wanted to make a film adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s novel since reading it 1989. “Questions, answers, loss of the answer again and more questions, and this is what really interests me,” Scorsese said of making the film. “Silence is just something that I’m drawn to in that way. It’s been an obsession, it has to be done.” Although the film received positive reviews, it proved to be a box-office failure, earning just $22 million against its budget of $50 million.

In 2019, Scorsese rekindled his screen partnership with De Niro—along with other old collaborators like Keitel and Pesci—for the Netflix feature The Irishman, based on the confession of the alleged murder of union boss Jimmy Hoffa by hitman Frank Sheeran. It marked Scorsese’s first film with celebrated actor Al Pacino, who portrayed Hoffa. The project reportedly torpedoed Netflix’s budget with production costs of over $150 million, due in part to the expensive special effects used to de-age many of its actors, though the final product was widely praised.

Scorsese’s new movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, came out in October 2023. It marks his seventh collaboration with DiCaprio and his eleventh with De Niro. The film depicts a real-life series of murders on the Osage Nation Reservation in Oklahoma during the 1920s. DiCaprio portrays Ernest Burkhart, a member of the murderous conspiracy who marries Mollie Kyle (portrayed by Lily Gladstone) to gain her trust.

Filming was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the budget for the film ballooned to $200 million, but Killers of the Flower Moon drew widespread praise since its premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in May. It earned seven Golden Globe nominations, including Best Motion Picture - Drama, as Scorsese personally netted nods for Best Director and Best Screenplay. (He cowrote the movie with Eric Roth.) At age 81, Scorsese then became the oldest nominee to ever compete in the Academy Award’s Best Director race. The 2024 nomination also broke a tie with Steven Spielberg for most nominated living director. Scorsese could also be among the recipients of the Best Picture trophy at the March 10 Oscar ceremony.

After Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese and DiCaprio will once again reunite for The Wager, based upon a nonfiction book by David Grann. It tells the story of a British ship that crashes on a South American island while chasing a Spanish vessel. After the surviving crew find safety, they are accused of having committed mutiny. The movie is not yet complete, nor does it have a release date.

Wife and Children

rome film festival the irishman premiere martin scorsese
Martin Scorsese and his wife Helen Morris attend the Rome Film Festival in October 2019. They have been married for nearly 25 years.MAURIX - Getty Images

Scorsese has been married five times, including to Laraine Marie Brennan, Julia Cameron, Isabella Rossellini, and Barbara De Fina.

He has been married to his current wife, Helen Schermerhorn Morris, since 1999. Their daughter, Francesca, is an actor and filmmaker who has appeared in her father’s films The Departed, Hugo, and The Aviator.

Scorsese has two older daughters: Catherine and Domenica. Catherine was born to the director and his first wife, Laraine Marie Brennan. Domenica is Scorsese’s daughter with his ex-wife Julia Cameron. Like Francesca, Domenica is an actor and appeared in her father’s films Cape Fear and The Age of Innocence.

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