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From Casino to Goodfellas: 10 best Joe Pesci films on Netflix

 “I love to star in movies, but I want to have good roles. It doesn’t help to get starring roles in something that’s no good. I mean, that will just kill you.” – Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci turns 78 today and continues to be a multi-talented badass icon whose volatile on-screen presence helped him deliver electrifying performances. An integral part of every film he has starred in, irrespective of the screentime, Pesci is highly underrated with just one Oscar to his name. Known for his volatile and enraged characters as well as the comic ones, Pesci has always managed to have a commanding on-screen presence, being an all-time fan favourite due to his incredible versatility. 

Born on February 9, 1943, in Newark, Pesci has always nurtured the love for showbiz, appearing in TV shows at a young age of 10. While working as a barber alongside his mother in the 1960s, Pesci played an integral role in creating the band named The Four Seasons. He also made use of his various talents; from trying his hand at singing to the comedy circuit, performing alongside Frank Vincent, who became a close friend of his, Pesci has done it all. 

Pesci eventually starred in Ralph DeVito’s 1976 crime film The Death Collector which caught Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese’s attention. Joe was quickly cast in Raging Bull as Joey LaMotta, DeNiro’s brother, which was a very challenging role as it left Pesci with a broken rib and a mere Oscar bid. However, he avenged himself 10 years later by winning the Academy Award for Scorsese’s Goodfellas, accepting the Oscar speech with an awkward and shy speech. 

Pesci has appeared in small and leading roles in films of all nature. He continued his music career and in 1999 announced his retirement, making occasional on-screen appearances. However, Scorsese’s 2019 masterstroke saw Pesci, DeNiro and Al Pacino (re)uniting on-screen which was a visual delight for fans. His stoic and somewhat quiet performance earned him his third Oscar nomination. 

Netflix streams any of his amazing films and so we decided to rank his 10 best films on his 78th birthday today. Let us take a look at this legendary actor’s best films on Netflix, ranking them in order of greatness.  

“I’m just some lunatic macaroni mushroom, is that it?”

The 10 best Joe Pesci films on Netflix: 

10.  With Honors (Alek Keshishian, 1994)

In a heartwarming yet cliched tale, an honours student named Monty Kessler rooms with three other students while working hard on his thesis at Harvard. One night, he loses his thesis and sues a homeless man named Simon for it. Soon the two strike up an unlikely friendship and quickly grow comfortable with each other. However, Monty’s disgruntled roommate poses a threat to their relationship as does time which is ticking away with the deadline for the thesis nearing and Monty still not having a thesis ready. 

While the plot is very predictable, Joe Pesci as the homeless Simon shines through. Via his extremely emotive acting abilities. Although people often consider it to be a dumb teen movie, it really is not. The underlying message, if understood, leaves an everlasting impression. Heartfelt and funny, this is one of those underrated gems that deserves a watch to feel the potent message being conveyed. 

 “You respect each others’ empty air? That’s very profound for a couple of Harvard students.”

9. Lethal Weapon 3 (Richard Donner, 1992)

Just days before Danny Grover’s Roger is about to retire, he is once again entrusted with the duty of investigating an important case alongside his partner Mel Gibson’s Martin. They work in close collaboration with their old friend Leo Getz as well as the reservers Sergeant Lorna Cole to delve deep into the corrupt arms dealing and black-market weapons racket being carried out by a corrupt cop named Jack Travis. 

In the third film, Pesci is a real estate agent. He has a blonde hairdo and wears an earring. He is a delight on-screen and will leave the audience in splits with his annoying behaviour and talkativeness. 

“I don’t do dogs. People yes but not dogs.”

8. Lethal Weapon 4 (Richard Donner, 1998)

This is the film where we get to know more about Joe Pesci’s character. His sad past makes the audience sympathise with him. It is also heartwarming to see Leo be a part of the family photo as he is finally considered family by the Riggs and Murtaugh, something that he wished for from the very beginning. 

This film exposes the personal lives of the cops. While Riggs tries to settle down and start a family with Lorna, Murtaugh is baffled and tries to come to terms with his daughter marrying a fellow cop. However, tension is on the high when the Chinese gangsters target the cops’ families; they must seek Getz’s help to protect their loved ones.

“So we should just register you as a lethal weapon?” 

7. Lethal Weapon 2 (Richard Donner, 1989)

Following the success of the first film in the buddy cop genre, Mel Gibson and Danny Grover reunited for this second film before doing so in the third and fourth instalments respectively. They have been entrusted with the duty of protecting a difficult and obnoxious federal witness Leo Getz while having to take on South African drug dealers who are taking shelter under the garb of being diplomats. 

Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz, which debuted in the second film of the franchise, was a regular in the following two films. Neurotic and wild, he makes the stressful lives of the detectives even worse. Entertaining and playful, the film somewhat remains the best of the franchise with explosive humour and chaotic action sequences.

“I remember because 9 is my lucky number.” 

6. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Chris Columbus, 1992)

The Home Alone franchise has five released films while the sixth one is yet to be announced. The first film Home Alone (1990) was about Kevin trying to fend off the burglars who try to burgle his house but end up getting arrested by the police in the end. Following the success of the first film, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was released in 1992 where Kevin accidentally boarded a plane to New York and encountered the same burglars Harry and Marv.

While fans are upset about the first film not streaming on Netflix, the sequel is equally entertaining with its share of physical comedy and the burglars’ predicament. Pesci as Harry especially leaves an indelible mark with his comical performance. Pesci is hilarious and deserves a special mention besides Culkin’s brilliant performance.

“I won’t forget to remember you.”

5. Casino (Martin Scorsese,1995)

Adapted from yet another Nicholas Pileggi novel, the film revolves around Robert De Niro’s Jewish American gambling expert persona by the name of Sam “Ace” Rothstein who is entrusted with overseeing the operations at Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. The trials and tribulations faced by Ace include operational difficulties due to subsequent Mafia involvement which lead to the further disintegration of his relationships and marital life, with a rapidly changing Las Vegas as its background. 

A fine blend of violence, tragedy, mishaps, exuberance, jazz and humour, the film is a delicately balanced masterpiece. Supported by a brilliant ensemble including Joe Pesci, James Woods, Sharon Stone, Frank Vincent, Kevin Pollard etc., Robert De Niro as the principal character delivers an outstanding performance as the troubled casino handler while Pesci as the mercenary Mafia operative who is entrusted with the responsibility of making sure that they receive their share is compelling. A tale of American opulence and excess, the exhilarating performances take Scorsese’s carefully crafted humorous and jazzy film forward. 

“For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It’s like a morality car wash.”

4. One Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)

Sergio Leone’s magnum opus was a gangster film about Jewish gangster and organised crime in New York City; when Leone finally directed the film, he died shortly after, making this his final film. Adapted from a novel, The Hoods, the film, which was considered by the Italian composer Ennio Morricone as Leone’s “masterpiece”, revolves around the lives of David (known as Noodles) and Maxmillian (known as Max), who leads a group of gangsters in a Jewish ghetto to prominence.

A nearly perfect depiction of the American society, this is indeed Leone’s finest film as it explores themes of childhood, friendship, trust, loyalty, betrayal, greed, loss and the gangster life. To enhance the effect the soundtracks which been employed, brought out the themes of the bygone times and the past slowly disintegrating into fragments, fading away. With Robert DeNiro as Noodles and James Woods as Max, Pesci appears in a somewhat smaller role as Frankie Monaldi.  

“It’s 10:25. And I’ve got nothing left to lose.” 

3. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)

An old school masterpiece, the film focuses on Frank Sheeran, a truck driver-turned-hitman who works in close collaboration with a North-eastern Pennsylvania crime family, headed by Russell Bufalino. Frank begins “painting houses”, a code word for contract-killing and is cold and charismatic. Eventually, he is introduced to the fiery Jimmy Hoffa who has ties with organized crime. Scorsese’s brand-new outlook on the gangster genre is phenomenal.

 Finely curated, the film boasts of a heavyweight ensemble, including Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci etc. Pacino is exhausted and vulnerable yet loud and funny. DeNiro as the cold-blooded killer does not talk much and carries out his orders without breaking into a cold sweat. Pesci is equally compelling and communicates with his mere presence. Reminiscent of Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, the film conveys how the upcoming modernity is changing the ways of the old world. The film ends on a poignant note, and with Scorsese’s name in the credits, it is almost heartbreaking to think of how the golden era has come to an end. A brilliant epic, it features the dream team while paying tribute to the dying genre via the inevitable doom that awaits the characters.

 “You don’t know how fast time goes until you get there.” 

2. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese,1980)

Robert De Niro plays the protagonist Jake LaMotta, an Italian-American middleweight boxer. As he rises through the ranks to bag the crown, he falls in love and gets married to a beautiful girl. However, overcome by psychological demons like self-destructive and uncontrollable rage, sexual jealousy and gluttony along with his general animosity severely affects his interpersonal relationships. 

The brutal fight sequences coupled with a man’s wounded ego causing rifts in his relationships weigh heavily; the film is poetic and psychologically scarring at the same time with an intense and brutal script by the legendary Paul Schrader. Joe Pesci rose to prominence with this film as Jake LaMotta’s supportive brother and manager Joey who tries hard to help his brother battle his inner demons. Jake’s slow and steady emotional degradation leads to his isolation; the beautiful monochromatic cinematography brilliantly captures the depressive and gloomy atmosphere that pervades through the screen. De Niro is explosive as the “unsympathetic hero” whose insecurity and obsession leads him to crave control over events inside as well as outside the boxing ring.

“If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win.”

1.Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)

Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, the film revolves around the lives of three pivotal figures and their lives as a part of 1960s and ‘70s New York mafia. It follows the journey of a young, petty criminal Henry Hill, who along with his friends, the jack-of-all-trades Jimmy Conway and the intimidating Tommy DeVito, ascends the organized crime ladder to live a life of luxury. Unbeknownst to him, the brutalities soon cause a sea change in their lives,  bringing into the picture the question of survival. 

An obvious fan favourite, this film made Scorsese the household name he is. The film, which questions the extent of willful ignorance on the part of an individual towards his compatriot’s immorality,  stars an incredible ensemble comprising Robert De Niro, Jo Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino. The rehearsals led to a variety of improvs and ad-libs which gave the actors creative freedom to express themselves and the best ones were retained in the improvised script. Pesci, who received the Oscar for it, shyly accepted the award with “um, ah it’s my privilege, thank you.”

 “Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”

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