Scorsese in Academy's gang

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With his Golden Globe and DGA awards on the mantel and four other significant awards season wins in the bag, the portents were favorable for master auteur Martin Scorsese to finally collect his first directing Oscar this year. When his old friends of 37 years, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, at long last presented him with the Oscar recognition that had eluded him for so long, Scorsese went to the stage and said, "So many people over the years have been wishing this for me. 'You should win,' I'd go for an X-ray, and they'd say it, and I'd say, 'Thank you.' My friends were wishing this for me. I thank you. This is for you."

But Scorsese's victory was even sweeter when "The Departed" scored a best picture win in the closest Oscar race in decades. The win was a long time coming. The New York outsider's Oscar losing streak began with "Taxi Driver" 30 years ago. Nominated for best picture, it lost to "Rocky." Scorsese earned five previous best director nominations, all of which came to naught. Scorsese, it seemed, no matter how hard he tried to win over the Academy voters, was to remain the perennial outsider.

But as often happens at the Academy Awards, time can be an ally -- especially when the films grow in stature. It is hard to imagine now that "Raging Bull" lost to "Ordinary People" in 1981 and "GoodFellas" succumbed to "Dances With Wolves" a decade later.

The irony is that the contemporary "Departed" is an unpretentious genre remake of the Hong Kong actioner "Infernal Affairs." That makes it familiar gangster turf for Scorsese, and not nearly as overtly ambitious as his past two period outings, "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator." This time around, Scorsese wasn't thinking about winning Oscars. He didn't even anticipate that the combination of his directing and William Monahan's script would attract such a stellar cast, led by Matt Damon and Scorsese three-timer Leonardo DiCaprio, who helped to draw Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga and Alec Baldwin. Nor could he have known that this picture would earn more than $131 million domestically to become his most successful picture to date. "I've worked with Leo for 6 1/2 years and hope to for another 12 or 15," Scorsese said.

The Academy, knowing that Scorsese's main competition, veteran actor-director Clint Eastwood, has Oscars on his mantel to spare, used the opportunity to reward Scorsese with his much-deserved career prize.

The director has used the time that he could have been Oscar campaigning to work on a Rolling Stones documentary and to prep several possible upcoming projects. They include the long-in-the-works "Silence," based on Shusaku Endo's novel about two Jesuit priests who travel to 17th century Japan, and "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," a view of the president's early years based on Edmund Morris' biography. "Aviator" screenwriter John Logan is about to start working on what could be Scorsese's first family fantasy film, an adaptation of Brian Selznick's "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," set during the early years of French cinema. As a producer, Scorsese also is working with "Departed" producer Graham King on a story about the young Queen Victoria to be written by Julian Fellowes and directed by French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee.

Monahan already has started sketching out his sequel to "Departed," which would star Wahlberg and possibly old Scorsese alter ego Robert De Niro, who wasn't available for the first installment because he was working on his own film, "The Good Shepherd." But Scorsese will "never do it unless it's up to the level of the first one," Graham predicted.
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