best film:   Raging Bull. Martin Scorsese’s single best film (and there is certainly some debate here as he made one of the best films of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s) is one of the best films of all-time, and also Robert De Niro’s single finest film. From the onset of the film with the Cavalleria Rusticana Intermezzo from Mascagni and slow-motion photography, one knows they are witnessing a masterpiece.  The in-ring battles (particularly with Sugar Ray) are textbook examples of the highest achievement in film lighting and editing – frankly they are some of the most outstanding sequences on celluloid. But as beautiful as the film is, it is intercut with scenes as gritty and ugly as any in cinema history as well such as Robert De Niro’s Jake LaMotta slapping his brother (played by Joe Pesci), breaking the door down going after his wife (Cathy Moriarty), and the jail sequence slamming his fists into the wall. The craziest thing for De Niro and his superior resume is, that this is not easily his best film. De Niro is in thirteen (13) must-see or masterpiece level films including six (6) of the current top 100 films of all-time (at last update – the most for any actor in film history). For some comparison, Daniel Day Lewis (an acting god, largely the acknowledged best of his generation) is in one of the top 100 films of all-time. For more comparison, another undeniably great actor – Leonardo DiCaprio, who is at least in the conversation for the best of his generation, is in zero of the top 100 films of all-time so far. De Niro is not lead (nor the best performance) in Goodfellas and certainly his performance in Brazil is very supporting, but he is the lead (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), co-lead (Heat), or show-stopping supporting (Godfather II) in the rest. This is absolutely staggering.  There is a whole next shelf of films and ridiculous performances to pair in films like Once Upon a Time in America, The Deer Hunter, Casino, Mean Streets, 1900 and The King of Comedy that would be a career highlight (or easily on that Mount Rushmore) for just about any other actor.


De Niro as an improvisational artist – in many of his best films he has a jousting partner — here in Raging Bull it is largely Joe Pesci and they are incredible together. This is the first of their five (5) collaborations (this, one short scene in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas, Casino and The Irishman)


best performance:  Raging Bull must be on any cinephile’s very short list of best acting performances if not at the top slot itself. That same short list needs to have his work as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver as well.  But back to De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull –  this is the definition of a tour-de-force transcendent performance – a transformation –  and a landmark film and moment for acting, method acting, and dedication to a role (weight gain/body shapeshifting included along with everything else).


stylistic innovations/traits:   Robert De Niro is the greatest actor of all-time and if that was not statement enough in itself – it is not all that terribly close. He now has thirty-four (34) archiveable films, so the depth is undeniable. He leads in performances in must-see/masterpieces, leads in best performances in top 100 films, and will be all over the top performances of all-time list when that list is revealed. De Niro did not have a hot few years (like many of the greats did). De Niro really goes from Mean Streets in 1973 to 1998 without much of a blip. That’s twenty-six (26) years and twenty-eight (28) performances. There are ten (10) performances where he is brilliant in a must-see film or a masterpiece. De Niro experimented early in his career working with Bernardo Bertolucci at the height of his (De Niro’s) power in the 1970s and then went to Italy again to shoot with Leone in the 1980s – so anyone who wants to call him a sell out for some his work in the post-1998 stretch needs to think about the career choices De Niro was making when he was at the peak of his powers. De Niro often plays psychopaths, men of violence, or those bent on self-destruction. He would go to great lengths for a role (the weight has been mentioned – but how about becoming a tax driver himself for a period of time to look natural behind the wheel of the yellow car?) to take out the acting. One can just look at his first two archiveable films to see the tone he would set for his career. He could go big bold chewing scenery (Mean Streets) and then could turn around and underplay a role with great subtlety and internalization (The Godfather: Part II). De Niro won the first act of the acting face-off with Al Pacino in Heat – but would lose the second to Pacino in 2019’s The Irishman from Scorsese. De Niro’s career has dipped post 1998 and that cannot be denied either. There have been some solid collaborations with David O. Russell, and of course De Niro has been very active during all of this time – not retired or anything – and there are some cringeworthy choices and lean years in there. As tempting as it is to complain about him or make this list about best per performance average or acting range – those two categories (which are important) just cannot be used as the ultimate measuring stick – and De Niro more than makes up for them by any other metric. If anything, it is just a shame that the greatest actor of all-time has been dormant, artistically, for so long. But it may just be too much to ask of any artist/actor to go more than a twenty-six (26) year stretch, and a stretch filled with such focus and dedication, not to run out of gas…


playing a young version of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone had to felt like such a risk going into The Godfather: Part II in 1974 but it is just one of the many big swings taken by De Niro in the 1970s

the long awaited meeting of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen (the two had been dancing around each other for decades after working together, but separately, in The Godfather: Part II). Michael Mann here does not look to tell a cop versus thief story – he looks to tell THE cop versus thief story – on an epic canvas that no one had done before. If one is to discuss the collision of acting artists in Pacino and De Niro, one has to to give the edge to De Niro here as it Pacino blinks first. They are both excellent, but Pacino’s improvisations often distract, he is singing, “I’m Donald Duck” and “get killed walking your doggy” – it just needs to be just reined in a little (notice the theatrics are downplayed in the marvelous coffee shop scene with De Niro when Pacino knows he has to be on his game).


directors worked with:  Martin Scorsese (9), David O. Russell (3). Francis Ford Coppola (1), Bernardo Bertolucci (1), Elia Kazan (1), Michael Cimino (1), Sergio Leone (1), Terry Gilliam (1), Brian De Palma (1), Michael Mann (1), Quentin Tarantino (1), Barry Levinson (1), Alfonso Cuaron (1), John Frankenheimer (1).


And what are the best director/actor collaborations? Scorsese and De Niro? Kurosawa and Mifune? Bergman and Ullmann? Those feel like the three. And as an exercise, look at Mifune’s resume without Kurosawa’s films. And then look at Ullmann’s resume without Bergman’s films. As a last step, take a look at De Niro’s resume without Scorsese. De Niro’s remaining resume smashes both the great Mifune and Ullmann. Without Scorsese we have an actor with twenty-five (25) archiveable films who is in The Godfather: Part II, Heat, Deer Hunter, Once Upon a Time in America, 1900, The Untouchables, Jackie Brown, Brazil and some David O collaborations.


top ten performances:

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


from Deer Hunter here – by limiting the pictures of De Niro on the page here to five, it means leaving off…. get this… Casino, Goodfellas, Once Upon a in Time in America, Mean Streets… just to name a few



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- Backdraft
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
2011- Limitless
2012- Silver Linings Playbook
2013- American Hustle
2019- Joker
2019- The Irishman
2022- Amsterdam