James Gandolfini's Most Memorable Movie Moments

James Gandolfini's Most Memorable Movie Moments

Sep 11, 2014

The great James Gandolfini passed away on June 19, 2013 at the age of 51. Although we lost a titan of the acting world that day, we haven't had a chance to really start missing him yet since he still had a few finished films awaiting release. This week, his final performance in his final film is hitting theaters and it all feels too real. Gandolfini is gone and we'll soon be able to watch his final finished role.

To celebrate the release of The Drop and the career of the one and only James Gandolfini, we're taking a trip down memory lane and remembering some of his best big-screen performances. For millions of people, he was Tony Soprano on HBO. For movie fans, he was countless other great characters. These are only a few.

WARNING: Many of the following scenes are NSFW

True Romance

Gandolfini's role in Tony Scott's True Romance may be small, but it certainly leaves an impression. As the violent thug known only as Virgil, Gandolfini (looking very young and shockingly svelte) sweats menace. Even his smile feels violent and terrible. In one of the film's most notorious sequences, he confronts Patricia Arquette's Alabama in her hotel room and after a tense and uncomfortable conversation, nearly beats her to death. Virgil may not be a complicated character, but he's one of the most terrifying thugs in movie history. Gandolfini could have made an entire career out of playing henchmen and violent lackeys, but he was just too good at it. He elevated a minor role into something truly and memorably unpleasant.

 

In the Loop

As one of the few Americans in this feature spin-off from the BBC series The Thick of It, Gandolfini turned in a hilarious comedic performance in a film where every actor is on point. Gandolfini holds his own in every scene, standing toe-to-toe with his British costars, matching their verbal antics (and vulgarity) perfectly. In one of the film's best scenes, Gandolfini's humane but hypocritical general has a war of four-letter words with Peter Capaldi's borderline psychopathic Malcolm Tucker and the results are a thing of profane beauty. Gandolfini wasn't always given the chance to showcase his comic chops and In the Loop makes us realize just how much we missed out.

 

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly is full of veteran character actors strutting their stuff and stealing scenes, but it is Gandolfini who walks away with the whole film. As Mickey, a professional hit man who's lost his nerve, Gandolfini was able to showcase his range across a handful of key scenes. He's wryly funny, blisteringly angry, and ultimately deeply sad, a man broken by his chosen profession who would rather indulge himself with food, drink and sex than violence. He's not a major character (and Brad Pitt's lead character chooses to dispose of him as soon as he realizes that he's washed up), but he's the first person you think about when finish watching the movie.

 

The Mexican

Complicated and real gay characters weren't common on the big screen in 2001, which is why Gandolfini's performance in The Mexican has stood the test of time. The film itself is rather forgettable, but Gandolfini's Winston Baldry is a keeper. In the film's best scene, Julia Roberts suspects that Winston, who abducted her as part of a more complicated criminal plot, may be gay. The resulting conversion and admission is funny and charming as hell, making us wish that the film's main story (about Brad Pitt and his attempts to smuggle a rare gun across the Mexican border) could be completely cut to make way for more of Gandolfini. It's typical of him: he takes a supporting part and puts the sexy movie stars right in his shadow.

 

The Man Who Wasn't There

Gandolfini doesn't survive the first act of the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, but he certainly leaves an impression. As the boisterous "Big Dave" Brewster, he's the exact opposite of Billy Bob Thornton's quiet and reserved barber, who blackmails his obnoxious acquaintance to raise money for a major business investment. To watch Gandolfini and Thornton's scenes together is to watch two actors in perfect balance. Gandolfini overacts just enough to balance out Thornton, who is intentionally acting like he's barely there. It's a master class of cinematic performance and it makes us wish Gandolfini could have stuck around past the first half hour.

 

Where the Wild Things Are

It's James Gandolfini who provides the wounded heart and soul in Spike Jonze's unexpectedly dark and moving adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. As the monstrous but strangely innocent Carol, Gandolfini transforms his nasally and threatening voice into something more childlike. He's silly one moment and terrifying the next, effectively capturing the wild mood swings of an adolescent. Despite his size, Carol is just a big kid, lost, alone and afraid of the world. Gandolfini captures that rage and that innocence, giving life to a character that simply would not have worked with any other actor.

 

Romance and Cigarettes

Although many people couldn't see past his Tony Soprano persona, Gandolfini possessed a range and fearlessness that separated him from many of his peers. Perhaps his strangest work can be found in John Tuturro's Romance and Cigarettes, which asked him to do something he had never done before: sing. An oddball "working class" musical, the film finds its ensemble cast breaking into song as they go about their daily lives, singing along with an odd selection of pop hits. Gandolfini really can't carry a tune, but he commits to the conceit, throwing himself into each performance with abandon. It takes a special actor to know he's not a singer and to still sing his heart out.

 

 

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