Top 100 Movies Of The 1990's: #28 Donnie Brasco

Box Office: $41.9 Million

Oscar Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay

Oscar Wins: None

MovieRankings.Net: 83/100

Available To Stream: Pluto TV, Amazon Prime ($4)

Much like how Unforgiven deconstructed the Western, Donnie Brasco does the same with the Mafia genre. Obviously, The Sopranos hits this as well but to me, that show is so much deeper and richer. The Sopranos also had the time to dissect everything from what it means to be a criminal and even what it means to live in America at the turn of the century. It tackles what it means to be a middle-aged guy as well as why we as an audience roots for such evil men. 

Donnie Brasco is focused on ripping away our expectations for a Mafia movie. Like Unforgiven and Clint Eastwood, casting Al Pacino as Lefty is perfect. We know and expect Pacino to be in charge. As an audience, we may love and hate Michael Corleone but he always demands respect. To see Pacino play this washed up loser is shocking. Of course, Pacino is flawless as Lefty, a guy who never got a break and probably never deserved one. He's a perfect character for Johnny Depp's Brasco to fool because Lefty is exactly that.


Mandalay. Shutterstock Images.

This whole movie goes against what we expect. The scene where Lefty is thinking he is about to get get whacked only to get a lion. It shows the paranoia these guys feel on a constant basis. You're never really safe. These tough guys are surrounded by fear all the time. But examine how that scene is shot. We as the audience is to assume Lefty is in big trouble because that's what we have been told as filmgoers so often. 

We are also rooting for a rat in Donnie Brasco. This is yet another frustrating Johnny Depp viewing experience where you see how talented this guy used to be before he turned his career into being a pirate for Walt Disney. Before Leonardo DiCaprio (his co-star in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (#79)) grabbed the title of being that generation's best actor, Depp was right there with Edward Norton in contention. He holds his own with Pacino in each and every scene they are in together.

Even the director Mike Newell is not what you'd expect. He is a British guy and was coming off Four Weddings And A Funeral. He wound up making an excellent Mafia movie that you'd think could only be made by someone with serious connections to the genre.

Moviestore. Shutterstock Images.

I'm guessing some people will be shocked to see this ahead of Heat. Admittedly, Heat has better specific scenes. Hell, the diner scene with Pacino and De Niro is one of the very best of the whole decade. But it also is bloated and has weird performances that completely take you out of the movie. 

What I love about Brasco is the soul of the movie. Despite being a 26 time murderer (at least), Pacino has us liking Lefty. The movie respects the audience enough to show him with his family but also cutting up people and shooting his friend in cold blood. We are supposed to be conflicted just like Donnie and I like that the movie doesn't hold our hand.


Joe Pistone (the actual undercover cop who became Donnie Brasco) is still alive. Talk about a true hero. I can't imagine being 1/1000th that brave. Check out the NYPD/NYFD hockey game on Sunday. I got to walk with some of these guys last week and they were great. 

28. Donnie Brasco

29. Heat 

30. Terminator 2: Judgement Day

31. Rounders

32. Unforgiven

33. Trainspotting

34. The Game

35. Out Of Sight

36. Carlito's Way

37. Seven

38. L.A. Confidential

39. Speed

40. Gattaca

41. Misery

42. Tombstone

43. Ransom

44. Wayne's World

45. The Insider

46. Back To The Future Part III

47. A Bronx Tale

48. The People Vs. Larry Flynt

49. Eyes Wide Shut

50. The Sandlot

51. Happy Gilmore

52. Contact

53. The Green Mile

54. Man On The Moon

55. Boyz N The Hood

56. Grosse Pointe Blank

57. Independence Day

58. The Rainmaker

59. Go

60. The Firm

61. Magnolia

62. The Talented Mr. Ripley

63. Tommy Boy

64. The Usual Suspects

65. In The Line Of Fire

66. My Cousin Vinny

67. Awakenings

68. JFK

69. Toy Story

70. Home Alone

71. Jerry Maguire

72. Titanic

73. Billy Madison

74. Apollo 13

75. Braveheart

76. Edward Scissorhands

77. Cape Fear

78. The River Wild

79. What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

80. 12 Monkeys

81. Stir Of Echoes

82. Mission: Impossible

83. Total Recall

84. Quiz Show

85. For Love Of The Game

86. Being John Malkovich

87. Men In Black

88. Scream

89. Alive

90. Three Kings

91. Glengarry Glen Ross

92. Die Hard With A Vengeance

93. The Blair Witch Project

94. Twister

95. Dirty Work

96. Election

97. Tremors

98. Any Given Sunday

99. The Wedding Singer

100. Clerks