A Robert De Niro Tribute is being held this week at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. In the next two days, four Robert De Niro movies will be presented as two double bills: Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Mean Streets on Feb. 5, and Penny Marshall's Awakenings and Scorsese's Cape Fear on Feb. 6. Both double-feature programs start at 7:30 p.m. (Photo: Mental patient Robert De Niro in Awakenings, with doctor Robin Williams.)
De Niro himself was on hand at the Aero on Monday afternoon to chat about David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, a comedy-drama starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and which earned De Niro his seventh Academy Award nomination. Note: De Niro is not expected to attend either of the two double-feature screenings.
Taxi Driver: Mad cabbie turned vigilante hero
Although the Martin Scorsese / Robert De Niro collaboration Raging Bull (1980) is considered by some to be the best (American?) movie of the '80s, Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) remains De Niro's most iconic movie and performance. Inspired by the real-life story of Samuel Byck (more directly played by Sean Penn in Niels Mueller's The Assassination of Richard Nixon), Taxi Driver follows the transformation of an unbalanced New York City cabbie into a deadly vigilante. Jodie Foster and Cybill Shepherd co-star.
Mean Streets: God and hoodlums
In the less well-remembered Scorsese movie Mean Streets (1973), which turns 40 this year, the lead character is played by Harvey Keitel, a devout Catholic whose life is at odds with his religious convictions. Robert De Niro plays his problematic cousin. Curiously, as per the American Cinematheque's press release, the New York-set Mean Streets was mostly shot in Los Angeles.
Awakenings: Sentimental drama with surprisingly subdued De Niro
In Penny Marshall's Best Picture Oscar nominee Awakenings (1990), Robert De Niro shares the screen with Robin Williams – with whom reportedly there was conflict on the set. If so, the highly sentimental final result doesn't provide any evidence of acrimony between the two stars: Williams overacts as a kind-hearted, dedicated neurologist, but shockingly, De Niro – hardly the most subtle of actors – is a model of understatement in a role reminiscent of Cliff Robertson's in Charly (1968).
Cape Fear: Violent remake
And finally, Cape Fear (1991) – another Martin Scorsese / Robert De Niro collaboration – is a no-holds-barred thriller with De Niro as a psycho ex-con out to avenge himself against public defender Nick Nolte and his family, which includes wife Jessica Lange and seductive daughter Juliette Lewis. Cape Fear earned De Niro his last Oscar nod – that is, until Silver Linings Playbook 21 years later.
By the way, Scorsese's thriller is a remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck, Polly Bergen, and Robert Mitchum as the persistent psycho. Both Peck and Mitchum are featured in the remake.
Robert De Niro: Oscar 2013 top contender
And remember: Silver Linings Playbook was released by The Weinstein Company in North America. That's the same movie company that brought you the last two Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director Academy Award winners: Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, and Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, starring Jean Dujardin. It's Oscar 2013 campaign time, and Robert De Niro, even if only for sentimental reasons (and for the Weinstein push), is a top contender for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
For the record, Robert De Niro's previous Oscar nominations were for the following movies: Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978), Raging Bull (1980), Awakenings (1990), and Cape Fear (1991). De Niro won for both The Godfather: Part II (as Best Supporting Actor) and for Raging Bull.
For more information on the Robert De Niro Tribute, visit the American Cinematheque website.
Robert De Niro movie Awakenings, with Robin Williams photo: Columbia Pictures.