I hate to steer you to the troublesome navigation waters yet again, but I did a gallery of the "Ten Best" DeNiro performances for MSN Movies, and it's the same deal as the family films gallery only there are fewer films so maybe it'll be a less drawn-out pain in the ass to read.
Of course trying to discuss DeNiro in terms of a ten best is kind of ridiculous, rather like (and sorry to sound like an old boomer here) trying to come up with a "definitive" ten best Beatles/Rolling Stones song list. Can't be done. There are those that will argue that it CAN be done, that there has to be an objective measure by which ten and ten alone will constitute THE ten that are best, but, you know... In any event, I took a tack here that's not quite contrarian but definitely steered away from aleady-established fan favorites and tried to throw a spotlight on his less ostensibly showy work. It's funny, I recently wrote a proposal for a monograph on DeNiro and was asked to use a similar format, e.g., choose ten "representative" performances, and made a list/text that was quite substantively different. When considering the best he's done, and the changes he's gone through, and that his current standing was arrived at by NOT burning out in a way that a lot of his other precursors (as we understand them) did, he gets more interesting.
As a kind of compensation for the anticipated irrigating navigation, I will tell you the origin story of the phrase "It was DeNiro..."
It was the summer of 1987, and an old girlfriend had finagled for me the opportunity to house-sit this gigantic loft apartment right above Woolworth's on 14th Street. It was a weird thing, because the apartment belonged to another ex-boyfriend of hers, whose relationship pre-dated mine, but one thing about dating mores in New York in the '80s is that everyone made a big deal out of acting like they were just cool with EVERYTHING, so there you are. Anyway, this cat fellow was into finance and traveled a lot but had this one cat he totally doted on that needed feeding. So I moved in for a few weeks and basically turned the place into a crash pad where my then-bohemian then-buddies could hang out while under the influence of various psychotropic drugs, mostly ecstasy and super-speedy acid. And it was on one morning around Labor Day weekend when a bunch of us were still up at like seven in the a.m. and watching "Good Morning America" on the really pathetic thirteen-inch color TV that was the apartment owner's only mass-media machine. (He had plenty of money but was on some kind of Asia-inspired quasi-Zen "don't consume shit" kick at the time, I gathered.) Among our number was this droll cat named Kiel who worked at an East Village bar of some noteriety. Rolling Rock was the hipster beer of choice at the time, so night after night he would be subjected to the repeated entreaty "Kiel! A Rock!" so often that he came to believe (not really) that the voices in his head were ordering him to kill someone with a rock. Anyhow. He was quite good with the television talkback, so when Corey Haim and Corey Feldman were on rocking headscarves while flogging The Lost Boys, he had a good dumb-teen-mutter going on saying "So, we just want to look as much like Duran Duran as possible" and so on. Soon enough singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester came on, and she was reliably effusive as she told The Stories Behind The Songs. At one point the interviewer asked her to talk about A Very Special Backstage Visit She Had Recently Received, and she breathlessly related how a few months ago, after wrapping up a show on tour X in city X, and she's just relaxing in the dressing room area after Giving It Her All, and then someone taps her on the shoulder and she turns around and...
And here Kiel interjected, with a really perfect kind of affected-hip This Is So Awesome I'm Gonna Shrug It Off tone, "It was DeNiro." Which I hence always think of whenever someone's relating a celeb encounter anecdote in an unusually fraught way. In any event, in the case of the Manchester anecdote, I think the actual celeb was Stevie Wonder.