JOE PESCI turns 80. His 5 best roles
Born on February 9, 1943 in Newark, Joseph Frank Pesci celebrates his 80th birthday today, and this is a great opportunity to recall his iconic roles. Although he has not been seen on screens for a long time – with one exception from four years ago – his creations are still vivid in the memory of viewers, especially fans of gangster cinema. In this short list you will not find any surprises – it is rather an attempt to recall the most important roles of Joe Pesci from his rich career spanning nearly six decades.
Goodfellas (1990), dir. Martin Scorsese
It will be short: Tommy DeVito, played by Joe Pesci, is one of the biggest bastards I’ve ever seen on the screen, especially in gangster movies. His “Funny How?” is one of the most iconic movie quotes, and the line that best summed up Tommy’s abrupt nature – he could go from laughter to murderous rage. Gifted with a small stature, Pesci rose to acting heights to convey the terror that DeVito evoked, and it was rewarded – for his performance in Goodfellas, Joe won an Oscar for his supporting role, his only Academy Award.
"My Cousin Vinny" (1992), dir. Jonathan Lynn
The rare occasion that Joe Pesci played the lead role is also one of his best performances of his career. In Jonathan Lynn’s film, he played inexperienced lawyer Vinny Gambini, who faces the challenge of clearing his cousin and his friend of murder charges. Vinny is a cartoon character – he dresses inappropriately, speaks “American Italian” incomprehensible to the judge, and does not know the basic rules of the courtroom. No wonder that the accused are slowly saying hello to the prison cell. However, innate charisma and the ability to effectively question witnesses allow Vinny to give a little hope to his clients, and to himself – and his charismatic fiancée (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei) – to believe in his legal skills.
"Raging Bull" (1980), dir. Martin Scorsese
Joe Pesci and Martin Scorsese are one of the most exemplary examples of cooperation between a director and an actor. Every time Pesci starred with the creator of The Departed, his performances aroused admiration around the world. Each time, Joe played criminals or psychopaths in Scorsese, and it was the same in Raging Bull – in one of the most daring scenes of this film, his character Joey LaMotta goes into a wild fury and beats the character played by Frank Vincent, the main actor of all gangster productions. Pesci perfectly conveyed the complexion of his character here – a boxer standing in the shadow of his brother, trying to suppress his own fears with aggressive behavior and building an apparent position in the promotion industry. A strong, but essentially tragic role, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1981, and a year later won a BAFTA award for an actor making his debut in the main role. Pretty good for a career start.
"Home Alone" and "Home Alone 2" (1990–1992), dir. Chris Columbus
You probably didn’t expect to miss the role of Harry, the golden-toothed thug who, in a duet with Marv (Daniel Stern), hunted down Kevin McCallister, abandoned by his parents? One of the greatest Christmas movie hits of all time is also proof of Joe Pesci’s extraordinary versatility – in the same year (1990) he was able to play a psychotic killer (Goodfellas) and a lazy thief who slaps a kid in a slapstick way. Two years later, within a few months, another two extremely different films with his participation premiered – the above-mentioned My Cousin Vinny and Home Alone 2. If that versatility isn’t a testament to Joe Pesci’s acting prowess, I don’t know what is.
The Irishman (2019), dir. Martin Scorsese
I have already mentioned that Pesci’s collaboration with Martin Scorsese is a real success story, so it probably won’t surprise anyone that three of the five roles listed in this list are films by the creator of Casino (where Pesci also was great). Joe’s first role in years – he played in only two films before The Irishman in the 21st century – brought him a third Oscar nomination in his career. Perhaps this award was a bit exaggerated and was rather a form of recognition for Pesci’s acting longevity, but it must be admitted that in the role of Russell Bufalino he again showed incredible versatility. Although he once again played a gangster, his portrayal is completely different from what he presented, for example, as Tommy DeVito – Bufalino is calmer, composed and calculating, which does not mean that he is less dangerous. The scene in which he talks to Frank Sheehan (Robert De Niro) about the need to calm down Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) is a real masterpiece and a show of acting minimalism, which Pesci could not have been accused of once. With this one role, he showed what a great loss for the cinema is the lack of Joe Pesci on the screens.