5 Reasons ‘Scarface’ Rarely Makes it to Critics’ Favorite Lists

Me, I want what's coming to me.

‘Me, I want what’s coming to me.’

Although Brian De Palma’s 1983 gangster movie ‘Scarface’ is legendary within the popular culture domain, it is hardly considered a masterpiece, such as ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Godfather Part II’ and ‘GoodFellas’. Should it?

Yes, I definitely think so. There is no other movie that shows the rise and fall of a gangster more effectively than Scarface. Okay, the high is pretty brief – and consists mostly of a musical number (‘Push it to the limit’), during which Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is buying tigers and snorting lot’s of cocaine. But I guess that is what a gangster’s high would ultimately feel like; empty, shallow and unsatisfying. Even the kick of having the desirable Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t last more than five minutes screentime.

The late film critic Roger Ebert – who awarded ‘Scarface’ a maximum of four stars – said it very poignantly. ‘The movie has been borrowed from so often that it’s difficult to understand how original it seemed in 1983, when Latino heroes were rare, when cocaine was not a cliché, when sequences at the pitch of the final gun battle were not commonplace. Just as a generation raised on ‘The Sopranos’ may never understand how original ‘The Godfather’ was, so ‘Scarface’ has been absorbed into its imitators.’

‘Scarface’ is listed in IMDb’s Top 250 (position 117), but that list is put together by users’ votes. On critic lists, such as the AFI 100 Best American Films, the All Time 100 (by Time) or Rotten Tomatoes’ 100 highest ranked films, it doesn’t appear. So what is it about ‘Scarface’ that obstructs it from being seen as a masterpiece, like the before mentioned gangster classics? Here are the five most probable reasons:

1.  The chainsaw scene
Scarface 1 - The chainsaw scene
Gangster films are violent, that is accepted. But Coppola and Scorsese have a way of turning even the most off-putting bit of violence into something really stylish and cinematic. The way De Palma handles the chainsaw scene, 24 minutes within the movie, is just plain ugly. ‘Now the leg huh’, remarks the sadistic Hector as he puts the saw in Tony Montana’s friend. This scene alone puts ‘Scarface’ in the extreme cinema league. And films that are extreme in this sense are rarely considered as Academy Award contenders.

2. The general ugliness
Scarface 2 - Ugly Car
Most of it is done deliberately, but the look and feel of ‘Scarface’ is just ugly dugly. That shirt that Montana is wearing, holy Christ! Also look at the sets. Miami in the eighties is just terrible. From the refugee camp where Montana and his partners murder the communist Rebenga, to the Miami Beach area where they start their careers as drug runners, these locations are just god awful. The language doesn’t help either: ‘Why don’t you try sticking your head up your ass, see if it fits’, Montana tells Hector. Can you hear Vito Corleone utter such a line? Or how about this one: ‘This town is like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.’ That doesn’t sound like ‘Casablanca’ does it? Last but not least: the music. From the cringe worthy synthesizer sounds to eighties hits like ‘She’s on Fire’. It is so wrong, it’s right.

3. The general foulness
Scarface 3 - The Clown
‘Scarface’ is in the end a very cynical movie in which the American Dream can only be achieved through extreme violence and corruption. Tony’s quest for power leads to ton’s of dead bodies: even a clown is whacked for god’s sake! A world in which a vile assassin like Tony Montana is the ultimate hero, is just very hard to accept. And the film gets uglier and uglier as it progresses. Tony’s drunken diner speech is the ultimate example of the repellent worldview on display. ‘Is this it? That’s what it’s all about, Manny? Eating, drinking, fucking, sucking? Snorting? Then what? You’re 50. You got a bag for a belly. You got tits, you need a bra. They got hair on them. You got a liver, they got spots on it, and you’re eating this fucking shit, looking like these rich fucking mummies in here… Look at that. A junkie. I got a fucking junkie for a wife. She don’t eat nothing. Sleeps all day with them black shades on. Wakes up with a Quaalude, and who won’t fuck me ‘cause she’s in a coma. I can’t even have a kid with her, Manny. Her womb is so polluted; I can’t even have a fucking little baby with her!’ It is kind of depressing when he puts it like that.

4. The sister storyline
Scarface 4 - Sister Shooting at Tony
Incest is never a pleasant topic, and even though nothing actually happens sexually between Tony and his sister Gina, it still raises some controversy. It also adds further to the already unpleasant vibe that the movie creates. Tony’s sickening jealousy of every man who even looks at his sister, let alone touches her, leads to aggression and eventually the murder on his best friend Manny. One of the hardest parts to watch involves Gina walking into Tony’s study, undressed, asking him to fuck her while shooting at him.

5. The over-the-top climax
Scarface 5 - Climax
The climax of ‘Scarface’ is so over the top that it is hard to comprehend during the first viewing. Many gangster films end with a massacre, but this is Rambo on cocaine. Fitting how this ending may be, it is so much of everything, that it may affect the judgment of its more critical audience.

None of this really matters though. ‘Scarface’ is a true classic. And though it may not always be appreciated as it should, ‘every dog has its day.’ ‘Scarface’ could go right to the top.

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Mijn Top 20 favoriete filmmakers

1. Martin Scorsese
Verantwoordelijk voor mijn favoriete film aller tijden: GoodFellas. Maar maakte talloze andere meesterwerken; Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Casino, en vele anderen. Scorsese is een echte maestro die nooit teleur stelt.
Beste film: GoodFellas

2. Sergio Leone
Leefde te kort om een enorm portfolio na te laten, maar alles wat hij gedaan heeft is te gek. The Dollars Trilogy met Eastwood zijn de coolste films ooit en Once Upon a Time in America is een geniaal gangster epos.
Beste film: Once Upon a Time in the West

3. Quentin Tarantino
Maakt originele & uber coole films die hij baseert op onbekende pareltjes. Zijn meesterwerk is nog altijd Pulp Fiction, maar Reservoir Dogs en Kill Bill zijn bijna net zo briljant. Maakt nooit iets ondermaats.
Beste film: Pulp Fiction

4. Peter Jackson
Wist de onmogelijke missie om The Lord of the Rings te verfilmen tot een onvoorstelbaar succes te maken. Was daarvoor al een geweldig regisseur die Nieuw-Zeelandse splatter horror films maakte zoals Bad Taste en Braindead.
Beste film: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

5.
The Coen Brothers
Hun oog voor bizarre personages is hyper ontwikkeld, hun humor onovertroffen en hun pen vlijmscherp. Ze maken om de twee jaar een te gekke film al zo’n 25 jaar lang, met hun hoogtepunt in de jaren 90 toen ze achtereenvolgens Fargo, The Big Lebowski en O Brother, Where Art Thou? maakte.
Beste film: Miller’s Crossing

6. Stanley Kubrick
De perfectionist. Leverde meesterwerken af die voor altijd verankerd zijn in de filmgeschiedenis. Wist uit te blinken in verschillende genres waaronder sci-fi (2001: A Space Odyssey), oorlog (Full Metal Jacket) en misdaad (The Killing)
Beste film: A Clockwork Orange

7. Steven Spielberg
Objectief de beste regisseur ter wereld. Weet de magie van film te pakken als geen ander. Heeft talloze klassiekers op zijn staan waaronder E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List en Jurassic Park.
Beste film: Raiders of the Lost Ark

8.
Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock weet van een kartonnen doos nog tot een super spannend voorwerp te maken. Ze noemen hem niet voor niets de Master of Suspense. Is waarschijnlijk de meest invloedrijke regisseur ooit. Talloze scènes uit zijn oeuvre staan voor altijd op mijn netvlies gebrand.
Beste film: Rear Window

9. Sam Raimi
Maakte de hoogst vermakelijke Spider Man films, maar waar hij zichzelf wat mij betreft mee onsterfelijk heeft gemaakt is de Evil Dead trilogie. Heerlijke films. Maakte met The Quick and the Dead ook een fantastische western.
Beste film: Evil Dead II

10. Francis Ford Coppola
Hey, hij regisseerde The Godfather trilogie, hoe ga ik hem niet in mijn Top 10 zetten? Was ook verantwoordelijk voor de beste oorlogsfilm aller tijden met Apocalyse Now. Fenomenaal.
Beste film: The Godfather

Daarna volgen:
11. George Lucas (Beste Film: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope)
12. James Cameron (Beste Film: Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
13. Danny Boyle (Beste Film: Trainspotting)
14. Brian De Palma (Beste Film: The Untouchables)
15. Akira Kurosawa (Beste Film: Throne of Blood)
16. Paul Verhoeven (Beste Film: RoboCop)
17. Robert Zemeckis (Beste Film: Back to the Future Part II)
18. Richard Linklater (Beste Film: Dazed and Confused)
19. Robert Rodriquez (Beste Film: Sin City)
20. Jim Jarmusch (Beste Film: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai)