Although Hollywood blockbusters tend to be plot-driven, acclaimed films like There Will Be Blood, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull focus more on character.
Not all movies need a plot to be convincing. A plot with compelling interests and mounting tension is a sure way to grab the audience’s attention, but another way is to present a captivating character. Martin Scorsese has made a career out of character studies, he joked in his Oscar acceptance speech for The dead people which was his first movie with a true plot, having spent decades telling character-based stories.
Oscar-winning masterpiece by Paul Thomas Anderson There will be blood is a character study centered on an oil tycoon. It’s an intense cinematic experience, as said mogul’s humanity fades as his wealth grows.
10 There Will Be Blood (2007)
Loose adaptation of Paul Thomas Anderson by Upton Sinclair Petroleum! traces the rise to power of one man in the burgeoning oil industry of the early 20th century. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview is one of the best ever captured on film.
The thick, thick oil serves as the perfect visual metaphor for the evil that corrupts Plainview’s soul as it expands its empire and loses its humanity.
9 Nightcrawler (2014)
Jake Gyllenhaal delivers one of his best performances of all time on Nightcrawler as Lou Bloom, a freelance cameraman who drives around Los Angeles documenting crime scenes and selling the footage to local news stations.
Director Dan Gilroy blurs the line between reporting news and creating it. Throughout the film, Lou gradually reveals the dark depths of his psyche.
8 Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Abel ferrara Bad colonel starring Harvey Keitel as the anonymous lieutenant referenced in the title, a decidedly obnoxious protagonist whose amoral existence the film carries.
He is a corrupt and alcohol-addicted cop who takes drugs from crime scenes, forces suspected women to perform sexual acts, and hallucinates visions of Jesus Christ.
7 You were never really here (2017)
Lynne ramsay’s You were never really here is essentially a modern Taxi driver. Joaquin Phoenix plays a war veteran with the trauma of witnessing the effects of sex trafficking while fighting abroad, as well as a litany of childhood trauma.
He spends his days saving young women from sexual slavery and unknowingly becomes embroiled in a widespread conspiracy when he rescues the daughter of a local politician from a sinister brothel.
6 Taxi Driver (1976)
Robert De Niro gives one of the best performances of his career at Martin Scorsese’s Taxi driver. He plays Travis Bickle, a Marine who returns from Vietnam with post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia and spends his nights driving a taxi through New York.
Increasingly outraged by the crime happening around him, Travis decides to take up arms and embark on a grisly crusade for vigilante justice to save a 12-year-old sex worker from her abusive pimp.
5 Drive (2011)
Trailers for Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir thriller Handle were criticized for using the movie’s car chase sequence to advertise it as a Fast and Furious-esque actioner when in fact it is a haunting drama centered on the characters.
Ryan Gosling plays a driver who runs off and falls in love with his neighbor, takes a dangerous job with her ex-husband, and has to stay one step ahead of a sadistic crime boss when that job goes terribly wrong.
4 Uncut Gems (2019)
While his romanticized portrayal of Barry Egan in Drunk love still Adam Sandler’s best dramatic performance, he gave that performance a run for its money in the Safdie brothers’ crime thriller Uncut gems.
The entire movie is a two-hour anxiety attack with the terrible decision-making of Sandler’s character, Howard Ratner, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.
3 Monster (2003)
Years before Patty Jenkins’ groundbreaking work on Wonder Woman, teamed up with Charlize Theron to tell the story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a sex worker who killed seven of her clients in 1989 and 1990 and was eventually sentenced to death in Florida in 2002.
Theron’s strikingly human performance as Wuornos is not only the best of his career, but one of the best in movie history.
two The Teacher (2012)
After telling the Daniel Plainview saga in There will be bloodPaul Thomas Anderson approached another ambitious epic through the lens of a character study with Teacher. The film is a thinly veiled critique of the Church of Scientology that looks more broadly at how charismatic cult leaders inspire their followers.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a war veteran with serious emotional problems who finds a home in “The Cause,” a cult created by science fiction author Lancaster Dodd, brilliantly played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
1 Raging Bull (1980)
When Robert De Niro read about the life of Jake LaMotta, he was desperate to play him. It was necessary to convince Martin Scorsese to direct a biopic of the boxer because he is not a fan of sports movies, but Raging bull It ended up being possibly the duo’s biggest collaboration.
LaMotta’s jealousy and insecurity made him just as violent and angry outside the ring as it was in it. He terrified everyone who ever loved him and finally drove them away. De Niro nailed the tragedy of LaMotta’s story in his Oscar-winning performance.
NEXT: Wild Bull: 5 Ways Jake LaMotta Is De Niro’s Best Character (And 5 Alternatives)
Martin Scorsese’s 5 best opening scenes (and the 5 best endings)
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