best film:  Raging Bull. Scorsese’s supreme masterpiece has moved to my #4 film of all-time. The opening credits, the battle with Sugar Ray (my god that lighting) and the slow-motion drive-by sequence with Frank Vincent are amongst the most beautiful images and sequences on celluloid. But as beautiful as the film is, it’s intercut with scenes as gritty and ugly in cinema history as well such as De Niro slapping his brother Joe Pesci, breaking the door down going after Cathy Moriarty, and the prison sequence slamming his fists into the wall. The craziest thing for De Niro is that this is not easily the best film. De Niro is in nine masterpieces. That’s the most for any lead (by at least 2) in film history. He’s not lead (nor the best performance) in Goodfellas and certainly his performance in Brazil is very supporting—but he’s the lead, co-lead, or show-stopping supporting (Godfather II, Mean Streets)  in all the rest. Six of these nine masterpieces are in the top 100 of all-time. That’s absolutely staggering. They’re not quite at the masterpiece level but you can add 1900 and Casino to the list of films that are Must-See and worthy of being in their respective year’s top 5. Even if you take out his work with Scorsese (and why would you when you have Max von Sydow, Mifune, Mastroianni, Kinski so high on this list with their directors?) he’s been in five masterpieces and has a resume that could be a top 25 actor.

best performance: Raging Bull is the best screen performance of all-time. I’d listen to arguments (and probably have made a few myself over the years) on a handful of others focusing mainly on: Brando in On the Waterfront, Marie Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. The next tier of best performances of all-time may include Stewart in Vertigo, Mifune in Seven Samurai, Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, and it’s also going to include another De Niro performance—his work as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver). But back to Raging Bull– it’s the definition of a tour-de-force transcendent performance. It’s an inhabitation of LaMotta- a transformation- and a landmark film and moment for screen acting, method acting, and dedication to a role (weight gain included along with everything else).

stylistic innovations/traits: It’s De Niro over Stewart, Brando, Bogart, Pacino, Nicholson Day-Lewis and others—and I don’t think it’s terribly close actually which is what is so amazing. De Niro gave us 29 archiveable films (and possibly counting of course as he’s still busy), most likely the greatest actor/auteur collaboration, the record for leads in a masterpiece, leads in a top 100 film, the best performance of all-time, and probably two of the top 10-15. To do his top 10 performances below I had to leave off a great performance in a top 5 of the year quality film (1900). De Niro’s run didn’t go for a few years here and there (like say Pacino or Nicholson in the 70’s) but really goes from Mean Streets in 1973 to Jackie Brown in 1997 (or 1998 if you want to include Ronin and Great Expectations). That’s 27 archiveable films in 25 years during that stretch. He experimented early in his career working with Bertolucci at the height of his run in the 1970’s and then going to Italy to shoot with Leone in the early 80’s. On the screen De Niro often played psychopaths or men of violence and/or self-destruction. He’d go through great lengths (becoming a taxi driver himself for a period of time) to make his performance seem natural. If you look at his first two archiveable films he really set the tone for his career by really going for it wildly over the top- (Mean Streets) to great success and underplaying a role and adding subtlety and internalizing brevity when the role called for it (Godfather Part II). De Niro won the acting face-off with Pacino in Michael Mann’s Heat (I mean in most careers being this good in a top 100 film of all-time is an easy career highlight).  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his career post 1998 which, from an archiveable standpoint, consists of only two films—collaborations with David O. Russell. De Niro hasn’t been retired during this time of course, he’s been busier than ever turning out a ton of crap. As much as I complain about him now and lament the waste of talent– it still can’t erase his resume and whatever he lacks in a per film/performance average he more than makes up for by any other metric. If anything it’s just a shame that the greatest actor of all-time has been dormant, artistically, for so long. Perhaps I’m looking at it wrong and maybe any artist/actor only has so much to give and after being so dedicated for so long he just ran out of gas…

directors worked with:  Scorsese (8) of course the collaboration to end all collaborations, David O. Russell (2) and then once a piece with Francis Ford Coppola, Bertolucci, Leone, Kazan, Cimino, Gilliam, De Palma, Michael Mann, Cuaron, and Tarantino

Top 10 Performances:

  1. Raging Bull
  2. Taxi Driver
  3. The Godfather Part II
  4. Deer Hunter
  5. Heat
  6. Mean Streets
  7. Once Upon a Time in America
  8. Casino
  9. Goodfellas
  10. The King of Comedy

Archiveable films

1973- Mean Streets
1974- The Godfather Part II
1976- 1900
1976- Taxi Driver
1976- The Last Tycoon
1977- New York, New York
1978- The Deer Hunter
1980- Raging Bull
1982- The King of Comedy
1984- Once Upon a Time in America
1985- Brazil
1986- The Mission
1987- Angel Heart
1987- The Untouchables
1988- Midnight Run
1989- Jacknife
1990- Awakenings
1990- Goodfellas
1991- Cape Fear
1993- A Bronx Tale
1993- This Boy’s Life
1995- Casino
1995- Heat
1997- Jackie Brown
1997- Wag the Dog
1998- Great Expectations
1998- Ronin
2012- Silver Linings Playbook
2013- American Hustle