Movie Mini-List #1: Bobby sans Marty
My friend “Dez,” who blogs under that pseudonym at Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, has been the biggest enabler of my list-making side since we met as freshmen in college. We swapped cassette mixes of our favorite 100 songs at some point that year. The rest is history. He kicks off the mini-lists that will accompany my ongoing rundown of favorite 100 movies with a look at his favorite eight De Niro films not directed by Scorsese. Take it away, Dez:Much like a great coach and player on a sports team, the relationship between director and actor in a film is a complicated but crucial aspect of making great movies. Sometimes, a director finds his muse in a certain actor, and together they can revolutionize the medium. Such is the case with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. The films made by this combo often occupy the higher echelons of Top Movie lists. They are expected to be there. So I thought it would be fun to throw those out of consideration, and then take a fresh look at the remaining De Niro filmography. What are we leaving out? Scorsese and De Niro made eight films together: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, New York, New York, Goodfellas, Cape Fear and Casino.
8. Heat (1995, dir. Michael Mann): The much ballyhooed pairing of De Niro and Al Pacino made all the headlines. Their one real scene together is electric (I don’t include the chase at the end), but Mann overreaches for scope in this overlong crime drama. Certain scenes are outstanding, though, even with Pacino’s bellowing.
7. Backdraft (1991, dir. Ron Howard): A bit melodramatic at times, and Bobby D. plays a minor role, but overall this firefighter drama holds up and is quite engaging. Excellent job by Kurt Russell, and it also stars one of the minor Baldwin Bros.
6. The Untouchables (1987, dir. Brian De Palma): An old fashioned mob tale (very) loosely based on fact. De Niro has one of his flashiest roles as Al Capone in 1920s Chicago. While the film mostly focuses on Kevin Costner and Sean Connery’s team of Prohibition-era Feds, most viewers find themselves waiting for the next De Niro scene. “Baseball. One man stands at the plate...”
5. The Deer Hunter (1978, dir. Michael Cimino): Much lauded at the time (Best Picture winner in 1978), and with a hell of a cast (De Niro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, John Cazale). I don’t think this one has aged quite as well as one would hope, but it’s still worth watching.
4. The Mission (1986, dir. Roland Joffe): Well executed historical drama featuring Jeremy Irons as a Jesuit priest and De Niro as a former conquistador who converts and becomes a staunch defender of the South American Indian tribes against the encroaching Spanish and Portuguese invaders.
3. Midnight Run (1988, dir. Martin Brest): While De Niro has been heralded for his more recent forays into comedy (Analyze This, the Meet the Parents franchise), I still find this the most entertaining of his comedies. He has real chemistry with co-star Charles Grodin.
2. A Bronx Tale (1993, dir. Robert De Niro): De Niro’s directorial debut is a gripping coming of age tale set on the mean streets of the Bronx. He plays against type here as the straight-arrow father/bus driver trying to keep his son from being seduced into a life of crime by a competing father figure, the local mob boss played wonderfully by Chazz Palminteri. (Palminteri also wrote the script, loosely based on his own experiences growing up.)
1. The Godfather: Part II (1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): De Niro’s channeling of Marlon Brando’s iconic Don Corleone as a young man is one of the greatest performances of the 1970s. He upstages Pacino by miles.