Ranking the Greatest Acting Performances by Musicians in Martin Scorsese Movies

6. Sturgill Simpson in Killers of the Flower Moon

This has been a very good year for actor Sturgill Simpson, who turned up in Gareth Edwards’ The Creator and on this season of The Righteous Gemstones. In Killers, he brings a laid-back menace to the role of Henry Grammer, a cowboy and bootlegger who aids De Niro’s William Hale in his plot of extermination. It’s good work, if not as flashy as his work in Gemstones.

5. Kris Kristofferson in Alice Does Live Here Anymore

Kristofferson’s acting career was in its early days when he played David, the rancher who woos Ellen Burstyn’s diner waitress in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. He exudes an easy charm as he sits at her counter that makes it clear why she gives into his advances, but there’s an edge to him– you can see the lost soul peeking through his smile.

4. Liza Minnelli in New York, New York

Look, I’m not even sure if it’s fair to include Liza on this list, given that she had already won an Oscar for her work in Cabaret by the time she starred in New York, New York. Plus, the entire role revolves around her singing so, like Cabaret, it’s a merging of her many talents. But this box-office misfire remains one of the most underrated Scorsese movies, and Minnelli is utterly spectacular as jazz-singer-turned-movie-star Francine, especially in the bravura movie-within-a-movie sequence near the end.

3. Jason Isbell in Killers of the Flower Moon

Unlike Simpson, who’s been a hyphenate for a while, Isbell’s appearance as Bill Smith in Killers of the Flower Moon is his first major role as an actor– although you may have heard him as a voice on Squidbillies or spotted his walk-on as a wedding guest in the Deadwood movie. When we first meet Bill he’s married to Minnie (Jillian Dion), one of the sisters of Gladstone’s character, Mollie Burkhart. After Minnie dies he marries her other sister Rita (Janae Collins), and subsequently becomes a target of an attack orchestrated by Hale and Mollie’s husband Ernest (DiCaprio). As a white man who marries not one but two Osage sisters, Smith is a suspicious character, and Isbell leans into that ambiguity, especially in a key scene opposite DiCaprio. Is he hostile to Ernest because he loves his wife, or because he’s protecting his own potential fortune? That moment alone is enough to make you curious what else Isbell the actor will do next.

2. Mark Wahlberg in The Departed

Yes, at this point Marky Mark’s career as a rapper was long in the past, but this (Best Supporting Actor-nominated!) performance is probably the apex of his post-Boogie Nights acting work. “What’s the matter, smartass– you don’t know any fuckin’ Shakespeare?”

1. David Bowie in The Last Temptation of Christ

Casting David Bowie as Pontius Pilate is a brilliantly counterintuitive choice: Bowie, our most otherworldly entertainer, playing one of the most famous doubters. When he comes face to face with Willem Dafoe’s Jesus, he embodies skepticism almost glibly, as he coolly explains that the Roman Empire doesn’t want anything to change. This is not the alien Bowie we’re used to seeing, but an Earthman who’s almost casual about sending Jesus to his death. It’s chilling– and a great use of one of the best musician/actors of all time.

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