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Al Pacino’s Top Ten performances to date

"Salome & Wilde Salome" UK Screening - Arrivals

More or less ever since winning an Oscar for Best Actor in Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino has seen less than his fair share of top notch roles. Luckily though, that drought ends this week with David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, which features Pacino doing easily his best work in a long time. As such, I wanted to rank his best work to date, covering both his newest film as well as some of his most exciting early roles. Obviously, someone like Pacino has more than ten great performances under his belt, but these are what make up my personal list. I hope you enjoy!

23rd Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala - Arrivals

Here now are what I consider to be Pacino’s ten best works to date:

10. Glengarry Glen Ross – He doesn’t have the most iconic role of the lot, but he certainly makes the most of his screen time. Everyone here is uniformly great, so it’s hard for anyone in the cast not to have this film on a list of their best performances. Pacino is no exception, obviously. It may not be his flashiest part, but you admire his work all the same.

9. Scent of a Woman – His Oscar winning role is one that sometimes is not given its due, but I find it to be more than a solid performance. Sure, it’s loud, but that’s kind of the point, I think. This is a brash character and Pacino never once is frightened of potential caricature. Some bad habits developed here, but he’s still very good in the role. It’s hardly a crime that he won for this one.

8. Manglehorn – On Friday you can see Pacino be quietly heartbreaking in David Gordon Green’s latest experimentation. Getting to see the master dial it back in ways he hasn’t in just about decades is truly something to behold. He hinted a bit at this with The Humbling recently, but this performance really reminds you that he’s one of the greatest at the craft of acting who’ve ever lived.

7. …And Justice for All – Pacino is perhaps best known for uttering the now iconic line of “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” in this film, but it’s an overall delight to watch Al in a court room. He doesn’t chew the scenery, but instead makes the legal system theatrical in an incredibly compelling way. A very underrated title.

6. Crusing – One of his more controversial roles at the time, this movie saw Pacino really going dark and getting into character. The flick itself may seem really dated now, but as a time capsule of a certain place and time in New York City, it can still be riveting. Obviously, a big part of that is Pacino, who totally dove in and gave it his all.

5. The Godfather – Speaking of controversy, let me risk being blasted by saying that I’m not wild about The Godfather. Everything about it is well done, but I’ve never felt that it’s one of the greatest films of all time. That being said, the performances are excellent, with Pacino being just as good as Marlon Brando. He’d make this part even better shortly, but this is easily one of his best. You really can’t keep it out of his top five.

4. Serpico – One of Pacino’s most intense roles sees him as an undercover cop, something he’s done many a time, but this is the one people truly remember. An honest member of a corrupt department, he plays the title character as someone drowning in a sea of filth. It’s captivating to watch. Pacino in his younger days made everything interesting, but this was an undisputed highlight, even for him.

3. The Godfather: Part II – Similarly to The Godfather, I find this film overrated. Pacino is on point though, that much I can’t argue. In fact, he’s better here in the sequel than in the first one. Basically, I think everything in part two is somewhat better, but still not able to engage me like most others. Pacino is the closest thing to an exception, as he’s fantastic. I won’t deny that in any way, shape, or form.

2. The Panic in Needle Park – Easily his most underrated performance and probably under seen flick, Pacino basically burst on to the seen with this role. His portrait of a heroin addict is one of the best looks at drug addiction that the time period gave us. If anything comes of this list, let it be that you look this one up and give it a shot.

1. Dog Day Afternoon – Pacino’s best work to date in my eyes is in this bank robbery gone wrong story. It’s about so much more, but he is almost unbelievably good. I might even call it one of the 25 best performances of all time. High praise, I know, but it’s well deserved. More than just the film that gave us his “ATTICA!” quote, it’s the top of the mountain for Pacino as well.

Be sure not to miss Pacino in Manglehorn this weekend!


About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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