Does THE ACADEMY know something we don’t?
Smash the door down, barge into any film buff conference, mention Robert De Niro, and you will see a room full of grown ups swoon – some with start crying because they’re too happy, others will immediately begin kissing. Throw Al Pacino’s name into the mix, and you’ll have to leave. Just back out of the door the way you came in. You don’t need to see what happens next. No man does. And yet, at the height of their acting prowess – known to those who follow history by years as “the 1970s” – they were virtually ignored on Oscar night.
De Niro got the Best Supporting Actor nod in 1974 for playing a young Marlon Brando in The Godfather Part 2. But their classic turns in Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter – all totally overlooked. Read more…
Women in Cages
It’s an enormous day for the acting community as three of the greats share a birthday. Sean Penn turns 48, Robert De Niro is 65, and the amazing Donnie Wahlberg is 39. No doubt Hollywood will be partying hard this evening, as swathes of actors hit the town to take ecstasy and dance to old school rave classics. It’s going to be a big one. Hence, we thought we’d ignore Penn and the lesser-known Wahlberg, and get De Niro something, so we sat staring intensely at one another, trying not to blink, discussing gifts, and it wasn’t long before it boiled down to a toss up between some nice ham, or a trailer for a film that he really should have starred in. In the end we got him both. Happy Birthday De Niro!
A doff of the cap to a great man…
If ever there was proof that it’s not just great looking guys who get all the breaks, it’s Sylvester Stallone – a man who was blessed with his mother’s weird skew-if face, and a voice box that begins somewhere in his stomach and stops just before his throat. And yet, he has conquered Hollywood, made squillions of dollars, and single-handedly reinvented the hard working underdog hero – in many ways, you could call him the Bruce Springsteen of cinema. Hence, with Bruce enjoying a lavish late moment in the sunshine, we thought we’d turn to Sly Stallone, and honour his four finest moments…
1. First Blood
Stallone plays a grumpy Vietnam veteran who has lost all of his buddies in the war, so has taken to walking the planet in an almighty huff. Never has a man looked so serious for the length of an entire film. It begins with him wandering into a tiny little town innocently searching for a missing friend, but a dangerously unlucky sequence of events find him lurking in the woods, attempting to fend off hundreds of disgruntled police officers and army types. All he wanted was a bite to eat. Steve McQueen was reportedly keen on the role before Sly stepped in, and a suicide ending was rewritten, presumably so that he could bulk up, smear on some baby oil, and churn out three appalling sequels. The first Rambo film, however, is excellent.
Stallone had an astonishingly successful 1980s, with Rocky III and IV, Tango and Cash, Over The Top. But the one that really stands out is Cobra, the story of a match-chewing renegade cop who could be just as deadly as the bad guys. In this case, the villains took the form of a gang called New Order – not disappointingly, the electronic band featuring Bernard Sumner on vocals.
The one that really put Stallone on the map, it even won the 1976 Best Picture Oscar, up against greats like Taxi Driver, Network and All the President’s Men. The tale of a washed up boxer gifted a chance at the big time, it famously features Stallone trying to woo a nerdy woman called Adrian. Many people mightn’t remember that Rocky actually loses the fight against Apollo Creed. He wins in Rocky II though, before going on to bust up Mr T (Rocky III), the giant Russian robot (Rocky IV), and probably some other tough guys.
4. Cop Land
Just when we thought that Sly was just a great big lump of beef that could just about muster a grunt here and there, he thought he’d do some acting – upstaging the great thespian chums Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel while he was at it. The story of a fat old policeman with hearing difficulties, this is probably the fourth greatest corrupt cop movie of all time, behind Serpico, Training Day and LA Confidential. It’s that good.
Ladies and gentleman, John Cazale!
Don’t be fooled by the way they stride grinningly around the planet, when the doors shut, and the staff have been angrily dismissed, actors weep hysterically into pillows. If discovered, they claim to be getting into character, but the truth is that they’re petrified that one day they might make a bad film. Everyone’s done it – De Niro, Pacino, Brando, Nicholson, Depp. Everyone. Sean Penn’s been in mostly appalling films. But, of course, as with everything, there is an exception that proves the rule – in this case, it’s the late John Cazale, who made just five films before bone cancer got him in 1978. All of them excellent. The five – The Godfather, The Godfather Part Two, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter – were all nominated in the Best Picture category at the Oscars, and his co-stars included: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Christopher Walken, Harrison Ford, and his girlfriend Meryl Streep. In each of the films he was absolutely brilliant. Hence, the greatest of all time? Quite possibly.
Not just a picture of shattered flowers…
The power of the visual metaphor should never be underestimated. Fans of the film Angel Heart will be familiar with the scene where Robert De Niro is waffling on about eggs being like souls, or some such hocum pocum, before suddenly biting menacingly into a hard boiled one that he had in his pocket. The single bite told you everything you needed to know – this man was evil personified, he ate souls for breakfast. O. M. G. That was scary. Which leads us slightly clumsily onto another visual metaphor – this time a hip hop related one, coming from the rap game’s Beatles, De La Soul. This album was the sublime follow up to the even more excellent 3 Feet High and Rising – a conscious rap classic, which found them not jheri curled and obsessed by guns (as was the fashion), but a little bit nerdy and loved up. And yet the group didn’t take kindly to everyone calling them cute little hippies, so decided to kill off their flowery reputation with a bold album title, and the brutal murder of some innocent looking daisies on the cover. The image is startling, vivid, and raw – even if the reality of the picture would only seriously affect an oversensitive housewife, or an ecologist like Sting. A fine record.
Here’s one of the popular cuts…
One or two big names just missed out…
Some names were coined to become glorious. You are, for example, unlikely to meet someone unsuccessful called Hercules or Agamemnon. Likewise, there has never been an ugly human being called Bo. It’s all in the name. And when it comes to acting, one of the strongest names you can have is Robert. It’s a proud, almost aggressive title, and below are the four best Roberts to light up the silver screen, in our humble (but amazing) opinion:
1. Robert Duvall
It was a close one, but Duvall takes De Niro’s place, because he’s equally serious, but far more diverse – De Niro, at his best, essentially plays De Niro. Plus, unlike De Niro, Duvall has never been bad in a film, and often he’s been the best thing in it – The Godfather Part One, Apocalypse Now (below), Tender Mercies, Colors, Days of Thunder, Open Range. Hence, our top Robert.
It’s all politics, man, politics
What a great time January is at the pictures. It’s when all of the serious, po-faced, Oscar contenders are dusted down and wheeled out, so that important men in half-moon spectacles can judge whether they’re socially conscious enough or not. This also means that studios like to unleash their most childish screwball comedies at the same time, for those who can’t take watching Kate Winslet pretending to be a Nazi, or Benicio Del Toro mutely embarking on a revolution – this year, cheaper thrills include Sex Drive, and Role Models.
Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when the Academy can get it all embarrassingly wrong, so in the run up to The Oscars, we’ll be occasionally prodding a fat sweaty finger into the mix to complain about their past mistakes. First up, 1990.