Martin Scorsese first emerged as a major force in American cinema with Mean Streets (1973). He consolidated his reputation with Taxi Driver (1976), which made a star out of Robert De Niro as psychotic cabbie Travis Bickle, who slowly goes insane as he cruises the streets of nighttime Manhattan. Raging Bull (1980) also featured De Niro in a bravura performance as heavyweight boxer Jake LaMotta. Scorsese angered many fundamentalist Christians with the revisionist story line of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), but since then his work has been strongly associated with plots involving the mafia. Goodfellas (1990) was one of his most accomplished films, a brutally violent mob drama; in Gangs of New York (2002), Scorsese set out to prove that nineteenth-century Manhattan was just as violent, if not more so, as the “mean streets” of modern-day New York.
The Departed (2006), concerning the Irish mafia infiltrating and being infiltrated by the Massachusetts police, won the Academy Award for Best Film of 2006 (and Scorsese his first, long overdue Oscar as Best Director). Scorsese is also an outspoken advocate for film preservation and uses much of his personal fortune to rescue classic films that are on the verge of disintegration.
Francis Ford Coppola cut his teeth working for Roger Corman, then broke into directing with the early splatter film Dementia 13 (1963, produced by Corman). He burst into prominence with The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974), followed by the Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now (1979). After a string of smaller films in the 1980s he returned to epic scale with The Godfather: Part III (1990). Coppola’s films have always been either deliberately low-key or lavishly expansive. In The Conversation (1974), surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) descends into a world of paranoia and self-doubt as the tools of his trade turn against him. By contrast, in Apocalypse Now Coppola works on a vast canvas that visualizes the chaos of the Vietnam War through the sheer scope and scale of the production. To finish the film, Coppola had to mortgage nearly everything he owned.