Martin Scorsese looks at the changing face of Oscar season over four decades
And can I just say, I'm glad you brought that up, because I talked to Thelma specifically about "Bringing Out the Dead" because that's one of my favorite films you've done. I just love that film and it deserved a lot more acclaim than it received.
But they didn't want to pursue it. They also didn't know how to sell it, and that's not a criticism; it's a hard film to figure out how to sell. And maybe it should've been made, you know, more independently, and on an independent budget, so to speak. But there was no sense for a studio to follow, to throw money at it. It just wasn't. And it's a tough movie, you know. It's difficult subject matter.
It's also part of a stellar year in 1999, which I consider one of the best years for movies.
We were written off. George Lucas and I were completely written off. It was New Year's Eve/Day, and I was getting ready to go someplace for New Year's Eve that night. It was 1999 and on CNN there was a woman being interviewed, talking about the industry, and she said, "This is the year we saw the demise of the old guard, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas, and the beginning of the new guard," you know, Paul Anderson, Wes Anderson, all terrific. It was a great time; they're right. But we were just — that morning! Once again, it's happened a number of times.
But I don't really know. The reality was that with "Gangs of New York" and the way it was promoted, it did fairly well, from what I understand. So that did it. And then I became good friends with Leo. I liked working with him. And so I wanted to do a Hollywood spectacle and that became "The Aviator," a kind of Hollywood film, you know? In other words I sort of, like, marked time and tried to figure out what else I wanted to do afterwards. So that began this business, and somehow the films were made in a very, I don't know, polished way — Bob Richardson's cinematography, the editing of the film, the special effects, the strange characters, you know, the performances were really good. So it got picked up by the Academy again. And that started this whole process. Except for "Shutter Island."
Which was on my top 10 list that year. I think it should have made it, too. Not to be too greedy!
[Laughs.] Yeah, and I'm sorry if I'm going long-winded, but I don't know. Don't you think it has a lot to do with the performance and the box office power, too, of Leo DiCaprio?
That's probably a big part of it. I do feel like, because Harvey was so insatiable as far as getting awards recognition and, you know, that became the rally cry of "Gangs" and "The Aviator," those of us who observe this stuff: Marty needs his Oscar.
Well, and people don't like to be told what to do.
That's absolutely true.
So that backfired for him. And I was in the middle. But I campaigned every which way I could for "Gangs of New York" because quite honestly I had everything in it. Whatever money I had, everything. And I don't even want to give the excuses because it's nobody's business, but I believed in the picture and I campaigned for it, that's right. And so, you know, it was a situation where, "You can't tell us what to do. We'll give the Oscar to 'Chicago.'" [Laughs.] "You can't dare tell us we're going to give you an Oscar for 'Gangs of New York.' And that Scorsese, too, in the middle of all of this. He's trying to get an Oscar!" No, I just wanted the picture to be successful. What am I going to do with an Oscar at the age of, what was it 56, 60 something, whatever? I was 60. Who cares? I mean, not "who cares." Put it this way. It isn't certainly "who cares" because with an Oscar, at that time, it would've been easier to make another film, you know? But it became — not that it was easy — but the other one was "Aviator" and that was financed very, very well and put together very nicely and it turned out to be pretty satisfying. So I really had no argument there. It was "Departed" where things really changed.
Does this one, "The Wolf of Wall Street," feel different at all because both you and Leo are actually producers on this one? Does it feel like more of, this is your baby and the culmination of a partnership, maybe?
I think, ultimately, as we were making the picture, there's no doubt I felt that culmination of the collaboration, you know? And people use "collaboration" because you can't really describe what that is. You work with people you really like or love and have similar tastes and that sort of thing. And this really seemed to hit all the levels. So we felt good about that as we were making it. Quite honestly, I didn't know how it was going to be received. And also, to tell you the truth, I didn't really care. I just wanted to get it done. What I mean by that is I wanted to make the movie and finish it and make the statement. I wanted to make sure I wasn't distracted or taken off course by concerns that had nothing to do with the truth of the subject matter, you know? The reason we made the movie.
Were you surprised that you had to defend it?
No, not at all no, no. I've been fighting that since "Mean Streets," and, you know, certainly with "Goodfellas," "Casino," you know, a number of films. There was a lot of trouble, of course, with "The Last Temptation of Christ," difficulty even with "Kundun." So no, you know — look, I don't even use the word "defend." I mean I don't know if I have anything to defend at all up there. If you're offended by it you're offended. If you can be offended by this and not be offended by people being thrown out of their houses and people not being found culpable in this situation and walking away with millions of dollars of bonuses — I'm offended by that.