May 25, 2012

Personal De Niro

I was watching one of my personal favorite Robert De Niro films recently, and I was thinking about how he hasn't made a quintessential Robert De Niro film in a really long movie. A film that is highly entertaining featuring Robert De Niro dominating the screen in just about every scene. Seems as if he has been mailing it in for well over a decade now. That's a shame, because he still shows flashes of brilliance every once in a while, but nothing that can sustain an entire film.

So I started thinking about my favorite De Niro films. Not films that he was in, necessarily. I love The Godfather: Part II, and De Niro is awesome in it. But it's not a De Niro film, if you know what I mean. Same with a film like The Untouchables. He was great as Capone and the film was a ton of fun, but it's not a De Niro film.

So here, without further ado, are my personal favorite Top 5 De Niro films in chronological order:
  1. Raging Bull (1980)
  2. Midnight Run (1988)
  3. Goodfellas (1990)
  4. Mad Dog and Glory (1993)
  5. Ronin (1998)
I know, I know.  Lots of controversial choices there. No Taxi Driver or The Deer Hunter or The King of Comedy or Cape Fear or The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Sacrilege, right? Those are all great films, well...most of them. It's just that I could watch any of those five listed above at any time and enjoy it as much as the first time I saw them. Taxi Driver is always a film I've had a tough time with. It's a classic and quintessential De Niro, maybe THE quintessential De Niro film. But I've never loved it as much as the rest of the world.  Same with The King of Comedy. The Deer Hunter I recall just as much for the performances of John Savage and Christopher Walken.

Raging Bull was the first De Niro film I ever saw that just floored me. He disappeared into that role like I've never seen him do before or since. Just a brutal portrayal of a damaged man and maybe the best boxing film ever made, and that's saying something.

Midnight Run wouldn't work without the comic pairing with Charles Grodin, but that doesn't make it any less of a classic De Niro film in my book. He was flat-out awesome in it as bounty hunter Jack Walsh.  It's hard to tell, but I hope he had as much fun making that film as I have watching it. Which I have several dozen times now. One of my favorite films of all-time.

Goodfellas might seem like an odd choice at first. It's more of a vehicle for Ray Liotta, who is awesome in it in his own right. Or Joe Pesci for that matter. But having re-watched it a few weeks ago, I was amazed at how much of a De Niro film it is. Much of the drama and action in the film comes as a result of his character's actions and/or behind-the-scenes dealings. Often quiet or composed, he lets his facial expressions do most of the acting. And he dominates doing so. Why not the similarly themed Casino?'s good, but it feels like a pale comparison to Goodfellas.

Mad Dog and Glory is probably the one that has most of you scratching your heads. I just loved how he played against type. Normally that wouldn't result in a De Niro film, but I think it worked to near perfection in this one thanks to some inspired casting like Uma Thurman, David Caruso and Bill Murray. I think it's one of the more underrated films in his catalog.

Ronin is the film that got me thinking about all this. I love that film, and I watch it nearly ever time it's on. Just watched most of it again on Wednesday night. Another film that De Niro is out front of with a fantastic supporting cast like Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgaard and Jean Reno. Not only does it feel like a quintessential De Niro film, but it also feels like a quintessential John Frankenheimer film as well. I used to love it for the breath-taking car chase scenes through crowded French streets, but now I watch it for De Niro and the rest of the actors.

Do you have any personal favorite De Niro films that I may have missed?


RW said...

Raging Bull was his best, for me. And I'm a Taxi Driver guy, simply for what it was in the time it came out in. Context was everything. Today, not so much.

But don't forget his little bit in Brazil.

However, I have been mad at De Niro for a long time now. He's been phoning it in for decades. I've moved on from him.

sybil law said...

Yep - Raging Bull here for me, too. But The Godfather part 2 was just SO effing great. Totally get what you mean about it not being quintessential De Niro, though. Really, though - even though I agree with you and RW, I'd rather watch him coast through films than watch almost anyone else.

Heff said...

Yeah, I hear ya. For years now, I've considered that Fokker "Robert De Nerdo". He needs to get back to what made him.

Verdant Earl said...

Loved his little bit (lil bit) in Brazil. He had a great little bit (lil bit) as a gay Pirate captain in Stardust if you get a chance to see that.

Verdant Earl said...

I go back and forth between Raging Bull and The Godfather: Part II as to which one is the better overall film. They are both great.

Verdant Earl said...

Would love to see that. Jack Nicholson has had a few amazing films later in life like About Schmidt. No reason De Niro couldn't pull off something similar.

savannah said...

"Ronin" has been one of my go-to films since forever! in fact, we just watched it last week! the MITM has it on his laptop for "faraway from home viewing" but, i digress. i thought he was hilarious in the 2 films with billy crystal, "Analyze This" (1999) and "Analyze That" (2002). his version of "Cape Fear" still scares the beejus out of me, as does "This Boy's Life!" now, i need to have my own little di niro film fest here, sugar! ;~) xoxoxoo

Verdant Earl said...

Savannah - Wasn't a fan of either of the Analyze films, but I did like This Boy's Life. Have to see that one again.

marty mankins said...

My top 3 would be: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Meet The Parents.... ha ha.. just kidding on that last one (it was pretty funny though). I'm actually a "Cape Fear" for my number 3 De Niro movie choice.

Verdant Earl said...

I definitely thought about Cape Fear. He was excellent in that. I couldn't stand the over-production of the film though. So distracting.

Dr Zibbs said...

I think Goodfellas might be my favorite movie of all time.