10 Reasons Why James Gandolfini Was One of the Greatest Actors of Our Time

We look back at the long career of this iconic actor, through his role as Virgil in 'True Romance' to Tony Soprano in 'The Sopranos'.
Like many people, when the announcement came through that renowned actor James Gandolfini had died of a massive heart attack at the age of 51, we couldn't believe what we were reading. It was so shocking that other news organizations like CNN thought that it might be a hoax as Gandolfini's name had been linked to such things in the past.

Sadly, this was not the case.

In the ensuing hours after the announcement a lot of things were bandied about. Causes, how the actor lived, what kind person he was... And the one constant that wasn't a surprise to anybody was the fact that James Gandolfini was one helluva an actor. Simply adding him to a movie, in a role big or small, elevated that project.

So it is with complete respect and devotion that we present 10 Reasons Why James Gandolfini Was One of the Greatest Actors of Our Time.

1 Tony Soprano in The Sopranos


Tony Soprano in The Sopranos
As the character of Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini made us all respect the gangster dad from suburbia. He was tough as nails but he was also a vulnerable family man. In a show that spanned 6 seasons we saw this screen legend go through every up and down imaginable. From fighting with kids, separating from his wife, killing his friends, consolidating his power, it was a relentless barrage of the everyman that kept us tuning in. So special was this show that it became one of the first pay TV shows to A) make Sunday night an event on cable and B) make people realize that the best stuff on TV was not being produced by the three biggest networks. In the final episode, we were left wondering what happened to the Soprano clan. Were they killed as they ate that meal? Did they leave unscathed and go about their lives? There was fury by many people who didn't like the absence of closure to that show. Some people say that the ending was brilliant because of that. What it all boils down to is that people loved this show and, like the loss of Gandolfini now, nobody was going to be happy whatever the outcome because Tony Soprano was gone.


2 Winston Baldry in The Mexican


Winston Baldry in The Mexican
James Gandolfini was riding the cusp of all the glory that playing Tony Soprano could give him at the time he made this film. A list actors were begging to work with him. So what does he do? He plays a gay guy in a shoot-em-up romantic comedy with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. This quirky film, directed by Gore Verbinski, is almost a declaration by James Gandolfini. No, the man wasn't coming out of the closet. Rather, it seems like he was saying to fans and non-fans alike, "Just because you think I'm Tony, don't be so quick to understand me." In a film that features some interesting performances from Hollywood's megastars, James Gandolfini as Winston Baldry is clearly the one we most want to spend screen time with.


3 Virgil in True Romance


Virgil in True Romance
In a film that is replete with interesting performances, James Gandolfini shines as the gun toting thug in search of stolen cocaine. Everything about his role here is memorable. From how he shoots his gun, to how he evades bullets, to how he barnstorms the screen with a 'take no prisoners' style. Tony Soprano was always calm until he couldn't hold that countenance. Virgil is a gleeful bull in a china shop and with less screen time, he manages to make just as strong a mark as his other extremely memorable co-stars.


4 C.I.A Director in Zero Dark Thirty


C.I.A. Director in Zero Dark Thirty
James Gandolfini is in this movie for what, 10 minutes? That may be the case, but he's also the person that decides if the main character Maya (Jessica Chastain) gets to prep the Navy Seals that eventually took out Osama Bin Laden. Director Kathryn Bigelow is no idiot. She could have cast a lot of other actors in a role that was essentially a walk on. She seemed to know that this role needed an actor that could bring gravity with minimal screen time. James Gandolfini not only sizzles in this role, we can't get enough of what he brought to the decision making process in the greatest manhunt in U.S. military history.


5 Colonel Winter in The Last Castle


Colonel Winter in The Last Castle
It is a testament to the acting chops of James Gandolfini that he could pull off what he did here. It was right after 9/11 and movies were trying come to terms with dealing with themes that some groups might not feel were patriotic. Robert Redford as Lt. General Eugene Irwin was supposed to the hero in this film. However, he was so smug and so condescending to James Gandolfini 's Colonel Winter, one couldn't help but root for the "villain" James Gandolfini was supposed to be. This says nothing of the many olive branches that James Gandolfini 's character extends throughout the film. At the core of James Gandolfini was an actor that movie watchers just wanted to love... right or wrong.


6 Mickey in Killing Them Softly


Mickey in Killing Them Softly
In this sprawling tale of gangsters, heists gone wrong, and harsh killings we are given respite in the form of James Gandolfini 's Mickey. This character, who spends much of his screen time in a bathrobe, comes into town to kill someone. When he's forced to wait he ends up falling in love with a hooker he's known for three weeks. In the hands of many other actors this role could have bordered on the comedic. Sure, James Gandolfini has some funny moments, but it all serves to underscore the tragedy that is Mickey's lot in life. Again, minimal screen time and James Gandolfini 's the one we most want to take home with us when the lights come up.


7 The Voice of Carol in Where the Wild Things Are


Carol in Where the Wild Things Are
The brutality of being a misunderstood child is on clear display in Spike Jonze 's coming of age film. In the role of Carol, James Gandolfini gives a voice to another misunderstood being. With a gentleness that makes James Gandolfini 's inimitable tone feel reverential, we are able to understand with full acuity the idea of a wild creature who destroys because that is simply what they do. Next time you watch this film, close your eyes and take in the wonderful cadence with which James Gandolfini delivers his most potent lines. It is almost as if he is speaking to each viewer individually.


8 Lt. General George Miller in In the Loop


George Miller in In the Loop
James Gandolfini plays a major military figure who doesn't want the U.S. to go to war in director Armando Iannucci 's satirical send up of Washington and world politics. James Gandolfini is so unassuming as a General here, that it is easy to get confused when you are seeing this movie. It is supposed to be a comedy, but the laughs are so understated that one might wonder if General Miller is a bit of a dim bulb. However, as the layers of this movie begin to peel away, one quickly realizes that James Gandolfini's genius lies in not going for the obvious, easy laugh.


9 Big Dave Brewster in The Man Who Wasn't There


Dave Brewster in The Man Who Wasn't There
The Coen Brothers seemed to know that James Gandolfini would be bigger than life in this black and white opus about a chain smoking barber (Billy Bob Thornton) who's murder plot goes to the dogs. James Gandolfini is mostly here to chew the scenery but it never feels like a stunt. Nothing about this character, who tells World War II yarns to anybody who will listen, ever borders on the disingenuous. We have a character that is happy just being in this crazy, celluloid world, and in a lot of ways it serves as a metaphor for James Gandolfini's whole career. He wasn't a man who sought the spotlight. The spotlight, once he was illuminated, couldn't get enough of this incredible talent.


10 Being Who James Gandolfini Was


James Gandolfini
Mike Tyson once talked about admiring Frank Sinatra. He didn't admire him for his singing or performing talents, he admired him for how he was as a person. He spoke of how Sinatra did selfless acts all the time and never wanted notice for it. In an age when actors fart and feel the need to post it on Twitter or turn it into a media event, James Gandolfini quietly conducted himself like a true gentlemen. Whether it was his work with veterans of U.S. wars, or how he treated other performers on the set, everybody doesn't like somebody but nobody has anything bad to say about James Gandolfini. May he rest in peace.

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Comments (2)

  1. Brian

    Great stuff. Gandolfini will be sorely missed.

    10 months agoby @brianFlag

  2. CelluloidDreams

    Love him in "The Mexican"!!

    10 months agoby @2movieguysFlag