Actor, director, and philanthropist Robert De Niro turns 70 years young today, and as a number of online tributes attest, he has plenty of achievements he could hang his hat on. But with all due respect, De Niro has been coasting big time for about 14 years now, and we have a birthday wish plea for him: can you please, for the love of god, take a good role in a good movie?

It'd be an understatement to say that this plea comes from a personal place: De Niro was one of this writer's favorite actors growing up, a towering and intense cinematic figure who seemed to be able to tackle any role he was handed, to add charm and depth to otherwise unhinged and unsympathetic characters. I have memories of seeing Goodfellas and Casino when I was younger on loops on TV (two films I've seen dozens of times over the years at this point), which perhaps is why I have such an appreciation for fine art. But in a pre-high school summer film course, I became a fan-for-life after being introduced to the trifecta of Taxi Driver, Godfather II and Raging Bull.

From there on, I devoured everything he was in, and was consistently blown away by the range of his roles: there was the needy, demented Rupert Pupkin in the masterful The King Of Comedy, the electric Johnny Boy Civello in Mean Streets, and the tortured Michael Vronsky in The Deer Hunter. He was the psycho Max Cady in Cape Fear, the quietly unhinged Louis Gara in Jackie Brown, and as Jack Walsh, he first dipped his toe into a purely comedic role in Midnight Run. He even made the most of his screen time in his minor roles, like that of the heroic heating engineer Harry Tuttle in Brazil.

But two movies in the late '90s changed the whole trajectory of his career: De Niro decided to fully parody his own iconic image in Analyze This, and then he made a cuddly lowest-common-denominator family film Meet The Parents. Up until that point, De Niro had still been taking roles in ambitious and mostly worthwhile films (Heat, Cop Land, Wag The Dog, the massively underrated Ronin), but everything changed when those two films came out. And it all presumably changed because they were the biggest box office hits of his career (at that point).

After that, De Niro apparently lost his ability to tell good projects from bad ones: the '00s were filled with a graveyard of monotonous sequels (Meet The Fockers, Analyze That), B-movie genre garbage (15 Minutes, Righteous Kill), shlocky dramas (Everybody's Fine, Godsend), and turgid comedies (What Just Happened?, Showtime). All his energy seemed to be focused on his activities outside acting: he directed the mediocre The Good Shepherd, launched the fantastic TriBeCa Film Festival, and became co-owner of several restaurants (including Nobu and TriBeCa Grill).

But if you look a the list of films he starred in between 1999-2013, it paints a bleak picture of an artist who no longer cares about his art. Even contemporaries like Al Pacino—who also seems to have lost his ability to choose worthy projects in recent years, favoring parodic, yell-happy "Pacino-esque" roles and running scared from anything that could be construed as "subtle"—has done some fine work in HBO films and in the theater. De Niro has stayed the course, and it's certainly worked out financially: seven of his top ten highest grossing films have come out since 1999.

Amazingly, it seems like De Niro cares about acting again, judging by the quantity of work he's taken on: he has been at his most ridiculously prolific in the past three years, releasing five films in 2011, four in 2012, and he has SEVEN scheduled for 2013. Yet it hasn't really helped improve the quality: does anyone remember Killer Elite or Red Light? Or what about Freelancers, with co-star 50 Cent? This year alone, he has The Big Wedding, Killing Season, The Family and Last Vegas—maybe some of those films have even been released already. It's hard to tell when his (non Fockers) films uniformly get two or three uneventful weeks in the US box office before fading into obscurity.

De Niro needs his About Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), his The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke), his Lost In Translation (Bill Murray)—a film crafted around him made by a director worthy of his talents, the complex kind of role that could reintroduce him to audiences in a substantial manner, making great work regularly again. There is some hope: the one exception to the 14 year drought was last year's Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell. De Niro was solid in it, a flash of his old self, able to channel some of his work in those lightweight family dramas into some real pathos in a much better (albeit, not great) movie—but let's not jump the gun just yet. He was just a supporting character in the film, as he'll also be in Russell's next film, American Hustle.

Perhaps Russell is working his way toward crafting the De Niro-centric movie I and other De Niro fans desperately want to see. But there's only one man who I trust can bring De Niro back from the edge, who understands his acting abilities better than anyone: Martin Scorsese. Scorsese is signed on to make The Irishman about mob hit man Frank Sheeran, with De Niro in the lead role (and Pacino and Joe Pesci in supporting roles).

It's by far the most exciting development in De Niro cinematic career in nearly two decades (yes, even more than Shark Tale)—but the project keeps getting pushed back, so let's hope it doesn't die in development.

I've argued with friends countless times about whether a great actor, an unquestionably great actor, can "lose" it—Marlon Brando's post-1980's work being one of the key arguments in favor. De Niro is an unquestionably great actor who hasn't produced anything great in 14 years. But he's only 70 today. Which means he hasn't entered The Island of Dr. Moreau just yet.