As Seen In: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

When Maurice Sendak's 1963 classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are was adapted into a feature film, fans who had grown up with the vibrant story were concerned-would the movie capture the intricate emotions of the text? These fears proved to be groundless, as Gandolfini was cast to play the primary Wild Thing, Carol, who serves as a foil for the riotous Max. Gandolfini's depiction of Carol reflected Max's childish tantrums and wide-eyed existential fears with an honesty and believability that landed the CGI-heavy film on many year-end lists. In fact, it's by observing Carol's destructive behavior that Max grows up enough to leave the fantasy world and return humbled and apologetic to his mother. What Gandolfini was able to capture-with just his voice, mind you-was the confusing heaviness of growing up, how naive, innocent people come to terms with the endless expanses of life on earth, and its eventual termination.

Most telling, is the scene where he and Max discuss the cycles of life through the physical metaphors of desert formation and the impending death of the sun. Gandolfini strikes the perfect notes of disbelief, fear and sadness, both when he admits that he doesn't know "what comes after dust" and through his refusal to accept that the sun could die when they're both so much bigger and more powerful than the sun. His portrayal of unbridled, guileless disbelief in this scene is just one of the many poignant moments in the movie, and this role in particular, reveals the multi-faceted sentiments Gandolfini consistently delivered. He was able to communicate human emotions through the guise of a fantastical, furry monster-the gravitas he added to this role heightened the quality of the entire film. —CW