Top Ten Tuesdays – Robert De Niro

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It’s Tuesday again, and that means it’s time to look at ten films by one of my favourite performers – this time around I check out Robert De Niro, one of the finest actors of all time and someone who has perhaps more iconic performances in history. There are so many films I have not been able to discuss here, and while recent movies have not been as well received, for over thirty years he has been at the top of his game. I haven’t given much thought to the list order below, it’s a mixture of favourite De Niro performances and favourite films that he has been a part of, but really the numbers are not important.

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein

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I may get a lot of stick for this one, considering some of the much more acclaimed films I haven’t included in my list. De Niro transforms himself once again and maybe becomes the most un-De Niro of his career. Unsurprising given the character he plays here (The Monster) but he still manages to bring power, gravitas, and emotion to the role. I’ve always enjoyed this version of the story – much of it comes down to the look of the film, but you have a strong central cast in Branagh, De Niro, and Bonham Carter. The film retains a bleak tone, and a truly gothic approach, ensuring it is an authentic vision of Shelley’s masterwork.

Cop Land

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Although more famous for Stallone’s performance, De Niro also puts in another heartfelt character examination as he plays an unusually (for him) good, plain cop wanting to shut down corruption within the force. In this ensemble film with some terrific actors, De Niro stands out primarily because of how normal he is when compared to the characters he is more known to play.

Ronin

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Ronin is one of the best films ever to not really be about anything – it’s one big mis-direct for most of the movie as we follow a group of mercenaries, led by De Niro who are tasked with hunting down some mysterious briefcase for the IRA. Throw in some intrigue, back-stabbing, Russian mob, political nonsense, action, and some of the best car chases ever filmed and you have a riveting film which is endlessly watchable. There is a brilliant cast each unleashing strong performances, and De Niro leads the way tricking the viewer, his companions, and his enemies.

The Deer Hunter

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This one cemented De Niro as a long-lasting talent and features some of his most gruelling work, both physically and emotionally. We follow De Niro and his friends starting out as casual workers and hunters who are abruptly ripped out of their simple lives to the horrors of Vietnam. De Niro’s Mike is one of many characters who change dramatically throughout the course of the film, though De Niro is possibly the one who tries to hold on to his previous life most dearly even though he resorts to brutality to survive. It’s a startling, powerful film with a superb cast, and allows De Niro opportunity once again to craft another iconic figure.

Heat

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De Niro plays the villian in Michael Mann’s opus, but it is the duality between his desire for a normal life, his need for one last score, and his obsession with beating the cops which ensures the character is more than a by the numbers crook. His scenes with Pacino are electric, but so are his scenes with Kilmer, Brenneman, and so on. With Mann in control, with wonderful dialogue, and with De Niro and co at their best, this was always going to be a classic.

Godfather II

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De Niro’s first big outing sees him filling in Brando’s shows – arguably the most difficult job in cinema history, but he manages to be everything Brando was and more, carving out his own style as the young Vito Corleone entirely separate from the Don which Brando portrayed. Arguably he is more like Pacino in the first film – a young man trying to find his way in a violent world, eventually being drawn into that violence and its seductive potential rewards.

Raging Bull

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Going through some shocking physical changes earned De Niro an Oscar win, but even if he had not piled on the pounds, his performance here is nothing short of flawless. La Motta is an ugly figure, a man driven to success but easily swayed by the demons which try to pull us down, and De Niro and Scorsese never flinch from showing the grim realities of success, of downfall, of the power-hungry, and of sheer masculine brutality. The fights are wonderful of course, but it is that contrast of the glory of victory and adoration of the crowd juxtaposed with all the wife and brother beating which make this an anti-Rocky and one of the best films of the 1980s.

Taxi Driver

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To prove that he wasn’t a one trick pony (though with Mean Streets earlier he had already done this) after the success of The Godfather part II, De Niro set his sights on another iconic character. He converts Travis Bickle from words on a page to a brazen, all too real paranoid romantic, a man who is steadily losing his mind in the midst of all of the scum and filth he sees surrounding him. Scorsese and De Niro again create another ambiguous masterpiece as Bickle is a clearly disturbed and dangerous figure, but his attempts at saving others and his ironic ‘happy ending’ merged with his ultra violent descent and near assassination attempt leave the viewer with uncomfortable questions to ponder on.

Goodfellas

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The film that brought De Niro successfully into another decade and again partnered him with Scorsese and Pesci, Goodfellas is another extraordinary tale with high levels of violence, realism, and humour. Although the dreamlike quality of much of Scorsese’s work is present, this is largely an effectively realistic portrayal of mob life – from both the inside and outside, from both the good and wrong side of the law. It’s hard to say who steals the movie here with Pesci, De Niro, and Liotta all superb, but De Niro is the one who manages to hold sway over the more maniacal and obsessive other duo.

The Untouchables

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People forget that De Niro was even in this movie. In fact, it’s rare that I hear people talking about the movie at all, unfortunate because it features one of De Niro’s best performances – and the same can be said for Costner, Connery, Garcia, and Billy Drago. De Palma keeps the tension high, the entertainment flowing, and De Niro is free to give his version of an Al Capone who is on his way out thanks to superhero good guy Eliot Ness. It’s an unusually beautiful film given the subject matter, and although there is plenty of violence there is a lot of heart as Costner leads his family – both at home, and his family at work to hopefully safer times. De Niro is excellent as Capone in a performance which drew a substantial amount of criticism, but he comes over as a Tony Montana style leader, his grasp on reality and on his own power pouring away, even as he still leads with an Iron Glove (or baseball bat).

What is your favourite De Niro performance and film – is it something I’ve missed from my list? Do you prefer De Niro’s comedy roles or his more serious, dramatic performances? Let us know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesdays – Al Pacino

download   Greetings, Glancers! It’s Tuesday again, and that means it’s time to publish another Top Ten list. Today we look at one of the best actors of all time, one whose performances and films are always ranked right at the top of any critic’s lists – Al Pacino. I can’t remember what the first Pacino film I ever saw was, but I believe I came to start watching his movies quite late – at some point in my early teens. The first films I guess I would have seen him in would have been Dick Tracy or Scent Of A Woman – neither of which are featured in my list. The ten films I’ve selected will be fairly generic in that I imagine most other people would pick almost a similar list. That’s not to say of course that he has only had ten stand out performances – there’s quite a few other films, both from his 1970s peak, and more recently that could have made the cut. Lets do this.

10. The Devil’s Advocate

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Pacino is known for being… passionate.. in his performances, with sudden, fierce outbursts of emotion a release of untapped aggression. In The Devils Advocate he gives one of his most bravado, shouting, performances, usurping the smooth Gordon Gecko and creating an unholy union of Patrick Bateman, Rupert Murdoch, Holland Manners, and The Devil Itself. The film is an interesting mix of religious scares, post modern paranoia, and one percenter ambition and revelry, but Pacino steals the show and looks like he’s having impish fun throughout.

9. Serpico

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Riding high on the success of The Godfather, Pacino set his sights on a more heroic figure, that of NY Cop Frank Serpico, who wants to avoid being pulled into Police corruption and expose the many cops and officials who are abusing their powers. What could have just been another drama about dirty cops becomes one of the most impactful and hopeful versions of the trope, and Pacino creates his second iconic character. Along with Scarecrow and Needle Park, Pacino had already proven with his opening handful of films that he was a force to be reckoned with, bringing a vulnerability, power, and wild array of talents to the table.

8. Glengarry Glen Ross

As good a satire on the pointlessness of working for a living as Office Space, this one features a powerhouse cast delivering quotable dialogue and memorable performances – Pacino, Lemmon, Baldwin, Spacey. Taking all of the wit and cynicism from Mamet’s great lines, each cast member seems to enjoy chomping on each word with ferocity, Pacino delivering monologues and devising underhanded schemes with relish.

7. Carlito’s Way

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I’ve always seen this one, perhaps unfairly, as a mishmash of a few of Pacino’s more successful films. It has the temperate flavor of earlier gangster hits and the cool of his more noirish 90s thrillers, but it does have a life of its own with De Palma creating his trademark dread, and with Penn and Leguizamo backing up a brilliantly tired, reluctant Pacino. It’s a more thrilling tale than most mainstream gangster dramas, with less of an artistic nuance but who needs that when you have violence, action and plenty of one-liners?

6. Heat

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Michael Mann’s best film pairs (finally) Pacino with De Niro as the pair embark in a game of cops and robbers. We only see the two greats together for a couple of scenes, but both scenes are vital and electric. Brilliantly though, Mann packs the rest of the cast with some of the best actors of their generation, producing possibly the finest cast of the decade – with Voight, Kilmer, Judd, Portman, Sizemore, Noonan, Azaria and many many others each leaving an impact. Mann completely masters the film, giving each character space to breathe and we get a true sense of each person’s life – their desperation and fears. We don’t even notice that the story is a fairly unoriginal piece with Pacino’s world-weary cop trying to track down De Niro’s ‘one-final heist’ criminal. Beautifully shot and littered with iconic moments from the opening shoot-out to the diner scene, Heat is a ‘modern’ classic.

5. Donnie Brasco.

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Continuing the world-weary themes, Pacino again delivers a performance where we feel a jug full of sympathy for him. This time he is paired with undercover Johnny Depp. While Pacino wants out of the criminal life, Depp becomes more embroiled in its seductive ways blurring the line cleverly between good guy, bad guy, and circumstance. Much of the film shows Pacino’s Lefty introducing Depp’s Brasco to the mafia, its rules, its key players, and eventually its crimes – it is in these scenes that we can’t fail but fall a little for Pacino – a man who kept just missing his chance at the big time, only to be pushed around by younger thugs. Depp is also very good in one of the increasingly smaller straight roles of his career, and like Heat we get more than glimpses into the home life of each character, meaning the neatly wrapped-up ending has a double ache for the viewer.

4. The Godfather

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The one that started it all. An epic in every sense of the word, I can’t say much more about this classic so I’ll just say that it contains some of the finest performances you’d ever hope to see, and prime among them is Pacino’s as Michael Corleone. We witness him change from a humble war hero who has sought to distance himself from the family business, his romantic tendencies, his growing anger at attacks on his family, and his eventual first kill in the name of vengeance. From there it is a dark descent into becoming what he never wanted to be, closing out the outside world in the interest of maintaining the family, and wiping out anyone who dares interfere. Once we see the struggle within during the cop assassination scene, and once he watches Apollonia’s murder he gives one of the cruelest, coldest, commanding performances ever.

3. The Godfather II

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I can’t say whether the sequel is the stronger film – they are both exquisite. Pacino is once again superb, now an established household name, and a much more ruthless figure than in Part One, though balanced with his attempts at being a father and husband. The film juxtaposes the breakdown of the Corleone family and Business with its inception decades earlier – De Niro playing a younger Vito, and Pacino struggling to maintain both facets of his life. It’s an incredibly intricate, tragic, violent tale with no winners.

2. Dog Day Afternoon

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While much of The Godfather trilogy sees Pacino in a relatively restrained fashion, Dog Day Afternoon allows him to give masterclass in energy, with the actor frantic, visceral, and always veering between total breakdown and the convincing sting of a politician. Ably backed-up by the always flawless John Cazale, Pacino is like a tornado, twirling and blasting his way through the bank, making all the wrong decisions, stirring up a media frenzy and getting the public on his side even as he holds numerous hostages at gunpoint. As the film progresses we are forced to sympathize or empathize with him, and more and more excellent side performances are given. By the time the tragic ending passes by, we are breathless and in awe.

1. Scarface

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The film which fully let Pacino off the reins; one of the most ludicrous, audacious, and entirely brilliant performances in movie history. Inexplicably despised upon release by most critics, the film is now rightly viewed as a classic, one which doesn’t shy away from the extreme violence and debauchery which is prevalent in the drug running business. Pacino again gives a wonderful portrayal of a man changing over time – from his early almost harmless ambition, to his violent, ruthless, power-hungry newcomer, and finally to his cocaine soaked, invincibility cloak wielding boss. Filled with memorable, quotable dialogue and timeless moments, Scarface is one that I’ll continue to watch and love till I’m facedown in a pool riddled with bullet-holes.

Let us know in the comments section what your favourite Al Pacino performances and/or films are!

Heat: Heat Is Cool But Left Me Cold

Mr Man is known for his flashy 80s era MTV style films, and Heat is no different, even if it’s not the same as anything he’s done before. This film is known throughout the universe for having the largest cast of stars in history- you could play 6 degrees of Kevin Beacon with this alone! Yes, if you have a favourite actor or female actor, you can be sure they pop up here somewhere. Let’s have a closer look:

We have Alfred Pachinko starring as a disgruntled cop on the hunt for disgruntled bank robber Robin DeNiro.

DeNero has a gang of criminals under his claw;

Valerie Kilmar with her lovely donkey tail

Tim Sizeless as a disgruntled fat man

Charlston Heston as a mob warlord

Ralph Lungren as a bodyguard

John Fought as a grizzly old something

Will Smith as the wise cracking kid from the hood

Dani Trey-Ho-Tep as a Mexican smuggler

Steve Busheemee as The Man With No Plan

The list goes on. DePesci wants out of the gangster life so he divorces his current femme foetal Charlotte Theron and chases weather girl Amy Bremmennemaneman. She is his one chance at freedom, but will the love of a gangster’s life prove to much for him?

Val Killman is married to Ashleigh Dudd and has a skinny daughter called Natalie Porter. He is always cheating on his wife though with a list of women and strippers played by the likes of Angelina Jolly, Nichole Kilmer, Hank Wazarea, Grace Jones, Mad Una, and in a shocking camero Kirsten Dunce.

Al Pacman lives with his ‘slow’ brother Jimmy Depp and is getting divorced from his wife Diane Keaton. They have a suicidal daughter played by Amidala Portman. His police force consists of Paul Weller, Art Metro, Donald Sutherfield, Harrison Sierra, and Harvey Kitten.

There are a few shoot outs and some excitement moments but mostly it’s just talking and crying. I like films with lots of actions, and this is a film about cops and robbers so there should really be more shootings, cars flying over jumps, snakes in suitcases, poison darts, and pens that shoot fire etc. Plus it’s at least 4 hours long, and as there are so many characters and actors double crossing each other I just got confused. This must be based on a Shakespeare novel or something. I am very upset at this.

Best Scene: Supposedly when Al and Rob meet in the movie it was the first time they met in real life. I thought they had been in several other films with each other but I must have been wrong. There’s a first time for everything!

Warhol
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