James Gandolfini’s 12 Greatest Roles

James Gandolfini’s 12 Greatest Roles

1
True Romance
True Romance
Warner Bros.
Kicking off his career as an onscreen Mafioso, Gandolfini took on the role of mobster henchman Virgil in Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino's True Romance, charged with the deplorable task of raining blows upon star Patricia Arquette... before getting his comeuppance (and hard) when she strikes back with a vengeance. A smaller role, certainly, but one of the film’s most unforgettable scenes, imbued with a sting thanks to Gandolfini's commitment to the character’s criminality.
2
Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly
The Weinstein Company
As a washed-up hitman who's thrown away much of his fortune — and life — on whiskey and whores, Gandolfini manages to bring pathos to a vile killer who's contemptible in almost every way. Somehow, he still makes us care.
3
Get Shorty
Get Shorty
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Adding yet more gang activity to his résumé with the crime comedy Get Shorty, Gandolfini took on the task of running some sordid operations (armed, regrettably, with some particularly incompetent worker bees). As "Bear," Gandolfini exhibited the gruff and burly mob man identity that defined the genre in this offbeat satire, having obvious fun with the quirky caricature.
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4
The Man Who Wasn't There
The Man Who Wasn't There
Working Title Films
As a murderous department store manager who makes the sorry choice of tangling with Billy Bob Thornton, Gandolfini teased out the pathetic side of his persona — the whiff of Willy Loman-esque desperation that he'd also convey later in Killing Them Softly.
5
Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty
Columbia Pictures
In a film already carrying so much weight — a film about war, terrorism, and the tireless quest to apprehend the most infamous monster in the world — it would take quite a performance for an actor to come in two thirds of the way through the picture and deliver a fresh new plate of anxiety, simply for his presence as an American authority figure. Gandolfini, as the director of the CIA, lays waste to the spines of everyone around him, hiking up the tension (and excitement) of the powerful film.
6
Crimson Tide
Crimson Tide
Hollywood Pictures
It requires a formidable presence indeed to hold your own with titans like Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. But Gandolfini did just that as warmongering Lt. Bobby Dougherty in Tony Scott's pressure-cooker submarine thriller. Onboard the cramped, claustrophobic sub USS Alabama, his hulking physical presence came across as even more intimidating.
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7
12 Angry Men
12 Angry Men
MGM Television
It would come as no easy task to remake one of the greatest dramatic triumphs in cinema history: 12 Angry Men. But the cast assembled for the 1997 TV movie would prove a treasure trove, amounting unparalleled veterans like Jack Lemmon, Ossie Davis, and George C. Scott. Of course, as a relative newcomer, Gandolfini had his work cut out for him, but more than kept up with the team of longstanding big screen heroes as the sixth juror in the fateful case.
8
In The Loop
In The Loop
IFC Films
As an unflinching adversary for Peter Capaldi's sharp-tongued Malcolm Tucker, Gandolfini brought both an air of tension and a thick layer of comedy to the revered political satire In the Loop. As the hardnosed Lt. Gen. George Miller, equipped with a booming comeback to any one of Capaldi’s acerbic jabs, Gandolfini stole more than his share of scenes, laying down stone-faced threats of violence that are at once hilarious and horrifying.
9
Not Fade Away
Not Fade Away
Paramount Vantage
Underneath that rhinoceros-tough veneer Gandolfini is a softie in his reteaming with Sopranos auteur David Chase. In the 1960s, his Pat is the dad to a teenager (John Magaro) trying to start his own Stones-style rock band. Forget the Stratocasters. When Pat is diagnosed with cancer it's your heart-strings that will be plucked.
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10
The Mexican
The Mexican
DreamWorks
Gandolfini had played many a hitman by the time he took the role of Winston Baldry in Gore Verbinski's 2001 south-of-the-border comedy-thriller. But he had never played a gay hitman before. Gandolfini's genius was being able to take a character that could have been a flamboyant stereotype and make him very, very human.
11
Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are
Warner Bros.
When you think of James Gandolfini, you are inclined to recall the tough guys, the villains. But the actor can handle heartwarming with the best of 'em, offering his timbers to the character Carol in Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. As a close companion to adventurer Max, Carol offered the hero (and the audience) a friend, a parental figure, and an insight into childhood vulnerabilities. Thanks to Gandolfini’s voiceover work, all of these elements carried through with extreme power.
12
The Sopranos
The Sopranos
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
And finally, of course, The Sopranos. As Mafioso, family man, tortured son, and duck enthusiast Anthony Soprano, James Gandolfini exhibited the full range of the human scale of emotionality and morality. We loved Tony, and we hated him. We sympathized with him, and we found him deplorable. Gandolfini managed an actor's dream with Tony, giving us a mysterious, captivating, true-to-life yet fantastical character in his greatest role of all.

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