Raging Bull (1980)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Raging Bull has one of the best opening credits scenes in any film. The black-and-white cinematography is slowed-down as Jake LaMotta prepares himself for a fight in the ring. Cameras flash almost hypnotically, and LaMotta's moves are ballet-like. The music, from opera Cavelleria Rusticana is wonderful, its melancholic romance embodies Jake LaMotta's life; the music's delicacy also contrasts with the bloody violence and anger of LaMotta.
This is a 'biopic,' but is not presented as a 'best of' portrayal of a person's life, a trap many biopics fall into. Instead, Scorsese and De Niro have painted a portrait of a man whose violence leads him to the heights of his sport, and ultimately leaves him isolated from everyone he loves. I forgot that I was watching De Niro while watching the film: the physical transformation is complete. It is not just the broken nose that stays with him throughout the film, but the thickening of his body as LaMotta ages. All the performances are fantastic, but De Niro is clearly giving the best of his career.
I was surprised the read on Wikipedia that Raging Bull performed only so-so when it premiered; its reputation has deservedly grown over the years. Scorsese is great at portraying tortured masculinity, something he explored in many of his films; Taxi Driver feels like an ideal companion piece to this film (though that would be a tough double bill to sit through). One of best from one of the best.