Robert De Niro
RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER, THE KING OF COMEDY, GOODFELLAS, THE GODFATHER PART II, MEAN STREETS, ANALYZE THIS, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Is it better to flame out or fade away? I’ve heard this question asked specifically about Robert De Niro, a giant in his craft who has had less than spectacular results in recent years. But for every Grudge Match or Dirty Grandpa there are more than enough Goodfellas, Midnight Runs and Cape Fears to cement his place in the canon and on this list—and, hey, you can’t discount performances in Joy or Silver Linings Playbook, either. At his height, De Niro was as vivacious, as intense, as introspective as any film actor in history. He broke on to the scene as the fresh-faced predecessor of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone in the flashback sequences of The Godfather Part II, for which he won the Academy Award for a supporting role; only two years later he was unidentifiable as the grizzled maniac Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Just between these two roles, the dichotomy of quiet serious respect vs. unhinged terrifying insanity shows, and De Niro mastered both ends. As with most great actors, De Niro benefited by becoming a favorite actor of great filmmakers who told great, complex stories: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Michael Cimino, to name a few. He was also able to build his particular type of acting during a time when character type roles were leading films with the New American Cinema of the 1970s. Certainly, De Niro’s vital talent would have pulled through no matter the era, but he was a perfect face and performer for the perfect storm of young and powerful filmmakers working in a time that their crazy ideas could be championed.