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Remembering James Gandolfini: 10 Great Roles

By Indiewire | Indiewire June 20, 2013 at 3:29PM

When James Gandolfini passed away yesterday at the age of 51, he left behind a storied acting career dominated by an iconic TV role but also including plenty of notable films under great directors like Spike Jonze and the Coen brothers. In honor of Gandolfini's work on the small and big screens, we highlighted 10 parts that demonstrated his talent and incredible presence.

Winston Baldry, "The Mexican" (2001)

One of Gandolfini's first roles after finding success on "The Sopranos" initially seems like not much of a stretch -- Winston Baldry, a hit man in Gore Verbinski's underrated Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts vehicle "The Mexican." But as we find out, there's a not-so-Tony Soprano twist to his character: He's a hitman who also happens to be an incredibly sensitive gay man.  It's an excellent performance, and one that in many ways steals the show from his A-list co-stars. [Peter Knegt] 

Virgil, "True Romance" (1993)

It's no small feat to stand out in a cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Christian Slater and Christopher Walken, but in one of his earlier film roles Gandolfini managed to make a mark as Virgil, a brutal henchman of Walken's gangster Vincenzo Coccotti. Gandolfini was duly frightening in the role, getting a noteworthy Tarantino-scripted monologue about learning to like violence ("Now, shit... now I do it just to watch their fuckin' expression change") and a rough sequence in which he interrogates Patricia Arquette's character Alabama. [AW]

Carol, "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009)

In Spike Jones' adaptation of Maurice Sendak's picture book, Gandolfini embodied Carol, the unofficial leader of the Wild Things, whose short temper makes him a match for the tempestuous Max (Max Records). Like Gandolfini himself, Carol is a big, intimidating presence -- but underneath the gruffness there's a sincere heart and child-like curiosity that Gandolfini brought to his vocal performance, suggesting that he really was a big softy all along, albeit one capable of causing serious damage. [Casey Cipriani]

Craig Gilbert, "Cinema Verite" (2011)

In his first return to HBO post-”Sopranos,” Gandolfini played Craig Gilbert, a producer whose 1973 PBS documentary, “An American Family,” was credited as one of the first reality television shows. “Cinema Verite” depicts Gilbert as a manipulative pusher willing to say and do anything to stir up drama and create a compelling narrative. Gandolfini embodies the role with enough charisma to be convincing, and enough command to inspire crudeness. No one would ever doubt his promise, but they’d still follow orders when he breaks it. [BT]

Pat, "Not Fade Away" (2012)

Reuniting with "Sopranos" creator David Chase for the latter's film directorial debut, Gandolfini played a character who both summoned shades of Tony Soprano and yet was determinedly, tenderly mundane -- the sometimes rough mechanic parent of would-be rock and roller Douglas (John Magaro). Gandolfini and Magaro together enacted a father-son relationship shaped by an achingly authentic dynamic, as the working class, first-generation immigrant Pat takes issue with what he perceives as the frivolous dreams in his child. He also provided advice that, though Douglas doesn't want to believe it, is as true for music as a physical trade -- that success is "10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." [AW]

This article is related to: Television, James Gandolfini, The Sopranos, Not Fade Away, Killing Them Softly, Where the Wild Things Are, In the Loop

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