[caption id="attachment_182605" align="alignleft" width="300"] DreamWorks[/caption]
James Gandolfini was taken from us too soon — way too soon — at the relatively young age of 51.
Gandolfini was arguably best known for his role as Tony Soprano, the troubled head of an East Coast Mafia family, on the HBO series, "The Sopranos," which ran for six seasons from 1999-2007. The show was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series every year it was eligible, winning in both 2004 and 2007. Gandolfini was nominated six times for Outstanding Lead Actor and won thrice.
Gandolfini was excellent in the part, though his successful film career allowed him to show off his remarkable range and remind us that there was a lot more to this guy from Jersey than just, well, a guy from Jersey. Here are his most decidedly un-Tony-ish movie roles.
5. Leon Panetta, 'Zero Dark Thirty' (2012)
[caption id="attachment_182611" align="alignright" width="300"] Columbia Pictures[/caption]
You can't get much more polar opposite from a New Jersey mobster than a high-ranking CIA official. Gandolfini had a small but memorable role in "Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow's intense cinematic portrait of the ten-year manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Gandolfini's Leon Panetta appeared later in the film as the CIA bigwig responsible for greenlighting the raid on what Maya (Jessica Chastain) correctly believed to be the stronghold in which bin Laden was hiding out. Gandolfini's silent bemused reaction is priceless after Chastain identifies herself as "I'm the motherf**ker who found him."
4. Michael, 'Violet & Daisy' (2011)
[caption id="attachment_182608" align="alignright" width="300"] Cinedigm[/caption]
Geoffrey Fletcher's surrealist thriller follows the strange "Alice in Wonderland"-like misadventures of two teenage female assassins, Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan). What starts off as a slick n' sexy genre film takes a rather sinister turn when we're introduced to Michael (Gandolfini), a mysterious figure who sets the girls on their bizarre and dangerous path after they wake up to find him just kind of sitting there in their bedroom. Gandolfini is notably playing against type here, delivering a soft-spoken, melancholy but commanding performance as a man just chock full of secrets, one who serves as both angel and devil as the hot young killers tumble further down the rabbit hole.
3. Douglas Lloyd Riley, 'Welcome to the Rileys' (2010)
[caption id="attachment_182609" align="alignright" width="300"] Samuel Goldwyn Films[/caption]
James Gandolfini's perhaps most heartbreaking performance is in the criminally underseen "Welcome to the Rileys," the 2010 Sundance favorite about Doug and Lois Riley (Gandolfini and Melissa Leo), a middle-aged couple growing apart after the death of their teenage daughter. When Douglas gets sent to New Orleans on business, he befriends the troubled Mallory (Kristen Stewart), whom he sees as someone he can "save" ... and who can give him a second chance at being a father. It's a Sundance movie, which means it's pretty short on subtlety, but the three leads are all at the top of their game, with Gandolfini nailing his character's deep sadness, quiet desperation and limitless compassion.
2. Winston Baldry, 'The Mexican' (2001)
[caption id="attachment_182607" align="alignright" width="300"] DreamWorks[/caption]
One of James Gandolfini's most celebrated performances is his portrayal of Winston Baldry, aka Leroy, a gay and completely lovable hit man — and the best thing about the otherwise complete and total mess that is "The Mexican." The movie stars Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, but you really wouldn't know it — Gandolfini manages to steal the entire movie from his A-list (and much more expensive) co-stars with his effortlessly charismatic and completely charming performance. Indeed, 12 years later, many people can't even tell you what "The Mexican" is about (it involves a cursed pistol, or something), but they remember how good Gandolfini is in it — and how so notably different his character is from Tony Soprano.
1. Carol, 'Where the Wild Things Are' (2009)
[caption id="attachment_182610" align="alignright" width="300"] Warner Bros.[/caption]
What was that we mentioned earlier about how you can't get much more polar opposite from a New Jersey mobster than a high-ranking CIA official? Replace "high-ranking CIA official" with "island-dwelling giant monster-thing" and you'll have the more accurate statement. James Gandolfini provided the voice of Carol, the main 'wild thing' who befriends young Max (Max Records) in Spike Jonze's strange and wonderful screen adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book, "Where the Wild Things Are." Gandolfini — and Carol's puppeteers — perfectly represent a young boy's gonzo imagination and uncontrollable id in one big lumbering, overemotional and very hairy package.