Then Scorsese made a movie called Taxi Driver. "Bob [DeNiro] was the actor, I was the director, and Paul [Schrader] wrote the script," Scorsese said of the film's team. "The three of us just came together. It was exactly what we wanted."6 The film followed DeNiro's character Travis Bickle as he slid into obsession and madness. The movie, which came out in 1976, was psychologically harrowing, shockingly violent, and exceptionally good. Film critic Roger Ebert called the movie "a brilliant nightmare."7 The film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture.
Then in 1980 he released Raging Bull, a biopic in which DeNiro played the boxer Jake LaMotta. DeNiro won an Academy Award for his work on the film, as did Thelma Schoonmaker, the editor who has worked with Scorsese for his entire career. Scorsese was nominated for his first Best Director Oscar, but lost.
Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are classic examples of Scorsese Films. Both star an Italian-American actor who worked with Scorsese on multiple films and served as a sort of muse (a role served by DeNiro in the 1970s and 1980s and Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2000s). Both are set in a gritty, violent New York City. The main character in both films is unable to relate to women in any way other than the Madonna/whore complex, and falls apart when the woman in his life fails to fit into these simplistic categories. And the main character himself is a complex figure with whom it is impossible to totally sympathize, but likewise impossible to reject. "When a person does 'betray' the other - he or she - why does that happen?" Scorsese said of the essential conflict in his films. "What puts that person very often in a place where they have no choice, they couldn't do otherwise - and where the decision is not good either way - that's very interesting to me."8
Between these two career triumphs came the lowest point of Scorsese's life. His film New York, New York flopped, launching him into severe depression. He was crippled by phobias and a serious cocaine problem. His second marriage ended and a third ill-fated union with actress Isabella Rossellini soon crumbled as well. Scorsese checked himself in to a hospital to recover, and was on his way back from the edge by the time Raging Bull came out.