best film:  The Godfather is Pacino’s best film with Part II close behind and Heat not far in the rear-view either. Pacino has been in four masterpieces—the fourth of which is Sidley Lumet’s film Dog Day Afternoon. Of the four, Dog Day is far the film most dependent on Pacino to carry it to masterpieces status but its easily the least of the four fims (the other three are in my top 100). Pacino is the story arc in The Godfather and though it’s the story of the entire family, Brando spends less time on screen than Pacino and the greatest scene (there are countless such scenes in The Godfather— but I think it may be the close-up on Pacino’s face at dinner with the subway/train noise escalating) belongs to Pacino. He’s marvelous in all of his four masterpieces but there are a couple scenes in Heat where I think he missteps.

best performance: The Godfather Part II. This is a three-horse race at the top. Dog Day Afternoon is Pacino completely unhinged. He’s frazzled, erratic, shouting, paranoid, drained. It’s a tour-de-force and would be a fine choice to be his best performance. In the first Godfather it’s his transformation that is remarkable. It’s hard to believe that in three hours the guy in the army uniform sitting with Diane Keaton at the wedding is the same man getting his hand kissed and slamming the door on her at the end. It takes fabulous nuanced acting along the way to believably pull off that transformation. For my money though it’s the serpent-like performance in The Godfather Part II that gets the nod as the single best performance of Pacino’s career. He’s so cold-blooded and internalizes most of the movie (which is extremely rare for Pacino in his filmography) but in a few key scenes he unleashes (the “you broke my heart” kiss scene with Cazale, the Keaton fight) to great effect.

stylistic innovations/traits: Pacino started his career with one of the all-time runs from 1971 to 1975. This was the peak of the American New Wave if you will and no actor had a greater impact than Pacino. He’s in six archiveable films in six years including three masterpieces, and five top 10 of the year films. He’d never top that but the rest of his career is highlighted by some fantastic collaborations with Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider) and Brian De Palma (Scarface, Carlito’s Way). Pacino has 20 archiveable films and though it may seem like he’s been in 100 credits like some of his peers (De Niro) and been bad for most the century he actually only has a total of 56 IMDB credits. He only made five films in the 1980’s (going back often to theater work). Pacino has eight Oscar noms and 1 win (sorry Denzel but this one in 1992 should have been yours). Pacino’s filmography has incredible depth. He’s very good in Nolan’s Insomnia (the man was fantastic at playing exhaustion (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon)) and as the villain in Dick Tracy but I couldn’t find room for either his top 10 performances.

directors worked with:   Coppola (3), Lumet (2), Michael Mann (2), Brian De Palma (2), Jerry Schatzberg (2) and then once a piece with Beatty, Nolan, Mike Nichols and Soderbergh

Top 10 Performances:

  1. The Godfather Part II
  2. Dog Day Afternoon
  3. The Godfather
  4. Serpico
  5. Scarecrow
  6. The Insider
  7. Heat
  8. Donnie Brasco
  9. Scarface
  10. Carlito’s Way

Archiveable films

1971- The Panic In Needle Park
1972- The Godfather
1973- Scarecrow
1973- Serpico
1974- The Godfather Part II
1975- Dog Day Afternoon
1979- …And Justice For All
1983- Scarface
1989- Sea of Love
1990- Dick Tracy
1990- The Godfather Part III
1992- Glengarry Glen Ross
1992- Scent of a Woman
1993- Carlito’s Way
1995- Heat
1997- Donnie Brasco
1999- The Insider
2002- Insomnia
2003- Angels in America
2007- Ocean’s Thirteen