11. A Bronx Tale
De Niro not only stars in, but also directed, A Bronx Tale, a film that deals with the pressures a young man faces in attempting to live up to the expectations of two father figures. This experience is made all the more difficult when the two men “C” looks up to most have such differing outlooks on life – De Niro’s Lorenzo has made an honest living as a bus driver, while Chazz Palminteri’s Sonny is a local gangster. As expected, wonderful performances make this film stand out.
12. Once Upon a Time in America
Sergio Leone’s tale of organized crime during the Prohibition era is about as sprawling as gangster movies come. The original cut of Once Upon a Time in America was four and a half hours long, and though it was pared down for US audiences, the film still feels epic as it covers 40 years of De Niro’s character’s life in the mob.
13. The Untouchables
The name Al Capone is pretty much synonymous with the American mob in the 1920s, and the effort to bring him down is captured wonderfully in Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables. De Niro’s Capone is cocky and – as De Niro does so well – just barely keeping his rage under the surface. The moments it boils over are few but intense, and de Palma makes you feel the joy when he’s finally brought down by Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness and his team.
Awakenings brought De Niro his fifth Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Leonard Lowe, a man who wakes up from a coma and rediscovers a new life. Leonard’s story does not end there, as he must also deal with the consequences of the drug that brought him his awakening. This is a heart-wrenching story about the value of life, and definitely worth seeing.
15. Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog is an excellently written indictment on politics and the role media can play in manipulating the public. The thought of a purely fake war being used to sway an election would satisfy the fantasies of every conspiracy theorist out there.
16. Silver Linings Playbook
De Niro’s latest Oscar nomination came from this surprising film about the role mental illness – whether diagnosed or, as in the case of De Niro’s Pat senior, seen as just run-of-the-mill superstition by an avid football fan – can play in people’s lives.
Stardust is based on a novel by acclaimed comic book and fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. It has all the trappings of the genre accompanied by a lot of heart and a cast – including De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O’Toole, Claire Danes, and Ricky Gervais – that gives it immediate credibility.
Not exactly the most uplifting subject matter – namely children being placed in highly abusive conditions at a reform school – but Sleepers is very well made with quite an accomplished cast. De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, and Dustin Hoffman all star and give the kind of performances that is expected from such quality actors.
19. The Score
Thanks to great performances across the board from its three stars – De Niro, Edward Norton, and Marlon Brando – The Score is a solid, enjoyable heist movie. It’s unfortunately overshadowed by another terrific film in the genre, Ocean’s 11, which came out the same year.
While it’s not groundbreaking by any means, and nowhere near the quality of his better reviewed movies, I enjoyed Ronin for what it is: a fun international action movie with some great chase scenes, and a relatively intriguing story revolving a mysterious briefcase De Niro’s ex-CIA operative must track down.