The 5 Best Characters Played by Paul Giamatti

One of the best actors in Hollywood today is the always enjoyable Paul Giamatti. I always trust that whenever I see a film starring him, I’m in for a good time (with a few notable exceptions). Though I’ve yet to see Barney’s Version, I thought that now would be a good time to list my five favourite characters he has played.

1: Miles, Sideways (2004)

I thought I’d get the obvious one out of the way first. But it’s true, Giamatti is fantastic in his career-best role as Miles in Alexander Payne’s drink-yourself-silly road movie. And paired with the incomparable… well, slightly comparable Thomas Haden Church, it’s a refreshing dip into vino paradise.

2: Toby Oxman, Storytelling (2001)

Oxman is a loser, and in finding the perfect actor, Todd Solondz picked a man who was a clear winner but could easily be mistaken for a loser. Cue Giamatti who takes the role of this selfish, lonely man and runs with it, giving amazing depth and a sense of antagonism toward a struggling documentary filmmaker who embodies the loser characterisation of Solondz’ films.

3: Sgt. Hill, Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Giamatti, looking strangely like a bald Hitler in the above picture, is one of the many characters of Steven Spielberg’s war epic. Whether you love or hate the film, you cannot deny that Spielberg knows what he’s doing when he writes characters, and Hill was a character that Giamatti grabbed and embodied, in one of his first successful roles.

4: Control Room Director, The Truman Show (1998)

In a supporting role alongside Ed Harris, Giamatti isn’t exactly in a leading role here. When I first saw the movie when I was twelve, I wouldn’t have noticed him at all. But a few years back when I rewatched it, I thought, “holy shit, that’s Paul Giamatti,” in a tiny role as a Control Room Director. Nothing special about him here, you might say, but it’s one of those early roles that you don’t really notice but are integral.

5: Nick ‘Santa Claus’, Fred Claus (2007)


I certainly don’t think this is a good film, but this is not Giamatti’s best films, it is his best roles, and after I see Barney’s Version and Win Win there’s a chance the list will change, but seeing Giamatti as Santa is an offer so incredibly ludicrous and strangely suitable that its impossible to pass up, and despite the unattractive quality of this confirmed “kids-only” movie, Giamatti’s presence stands out even in a support role.

That’s my list. Anything you’d like to add? Was Giamatti any good in Barney’s Version or Win Win, or any other films? Leave a comment below.

Posted on August 8, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Love Giamatti, And love Sideways. Such a great romantic comedy…in a kind of off the wall sense of it..

    No Mention of Win/Win? Lady in the Water? (ok maybe not that one hehe)

    Great list my friend

  2. Tyler, I can’t say I agree with this list at all! I completely agree with you on Sideways, but you left out the best work of his entire career: John Adams! I’m not a history buff, I wasn’t interested in seeing it, but I dove in and Giamatti was transcendant. He has seriously never been this good. It’s his crowning achievement.

    He was also terrific in Cinderella Man, definitely a top 5 performance. His back-and-forth with Russell Crowe made for some terrific drama.

    Finally, I think he had fun with Shoot ’em Up, where he played a villain to Clive Owen’s action hero. It’s a silly movie, not at all very good, but he appears to be having a blast here, and his giddiness is infectious.

    I haven’t seen Win Win and Barney’s Version yet either, though I’m looking forward to them. From what I heard, they are among his best work in recent years.

    • I’ll admit it, I haven’t seen anywhere near enough of Giamatti, okay? I have not seen John Adams or Cinderella Man, however I will admit to completely forgetting about Shoot Em Up. I do remember that he was great in that movie, so if I ever revise this list, I’ll be sure to add it in. Thanks for the suggestions, Dave.

  3. i saw barneys version at the cinema and he was excellent as always in it. i would definitely put cold souls on any list. and my favourite paul giamatti experience seeing him for the first time as pig vomit in private parts. he was so much fun in that movie that i thought of him as pig vomit for years afterwards.

  4. Yes! You must see him in Private Parts. That was the first time that I ever saw him and he was absolutely HILARIOUS!

  5. Nice selection I will add:

    – Harvey Pekar / American Splendor (2003)

    – Gordo / Confidence (2003)

    – Inspector Uhl / The Ilusionist (2006)

    • The Illusionist just missed this list, but it was considered.

      I have yet to see the other two but American Splendor is on my watchlist.

  6. Good choices. I’d add Harvey Pekar from American Splendor, Joe Gould from Cinderella Man, and John Adams, though I know that’s from a miniseries.

  7. Nice list. I’m a big fan of Giamatti, so this was a good read. If I were to make such a list myself, I would probably have found room for his roles in Shoot’Em Up and American Splendor somewhere. Possibly Man on the Moon as well. Maybe Private Parts, or The Negotiator… Damn, he’s had plenty of good ones.

    His part in Fred Claus would definitely not have made my list, however. That just seemed like such a strange miscast to me. Why put an actor known for playing depressed grumps in the shoes of Santa Claus without doing anything fun with the contrast? I dunno. It’s the one movie where Giamatti really didn’t work for me.

    • I think it was just the pure suckiness of the movie that ruined Giamatti’s performance in Fred Claus.

      American Splendor and Private Parts are high up on my viewing list now. I completely forgot about Shoot Em Up, a film which I dismissed at the time but I will admit Giamatti is likeable in it. This list could definitely be expanded to ten in the future.

  8. Great actor. Always look out for his work. My favourite film of the 2000s was Sideways so I’m glad you put that number 1.

  9. Yea I would include his role in American Splendor, one of his best to date. Love the actor although he tends to play variations of the same character.

    • Yeah, would like to see a bit more variety from him. American Splendor is on my watchlist, along with Private Parts and a few other Giamatti movies.

  10. I don’t think you’ve seen The Hawk is Dying. I pretty confident you would enjoy it, if not for the film the for Paul Giamatti alone. It is a film I think you would appreciate.

    Also I would assume you have yet to watch Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon where Giamatti is certainly not overshadowed by Jim Carrey. Put it higher up on your watch list since you’re a Giamiatti fan.

    American Splendor is great. He’s great.

    • You must be the fourth or fifth person to recommend American Splendor. It’s way up there on my list now. I haven’t seen the other two you mentioned.

  11. I won’t lie, I’m jealous of that fact. I felt lazy stealing your creativity but it just hit me as such an obvious response.

    • Don’t worry, you didn’t steal anything. I have no problem with people making their own versions of my lists, and you gave credit so of course there’s no problem.

  12. Oh wow, I didn’t even remember him in Truman Show, I love that movie. Did you know he was in Sabrina, too? The remake version w/ Harrison Ford, he was one of the kitchen staff. Glad to see him in lead roles nowadays, he’s a good actor.

  13. uhhh, American Splendor?

  14. Here is my Top 5:
    1. Sideways
    2. Barney’s Version
    3. Win Win
    4. American Splendor
    5. John Adams

  15. American Splendor American Splendor American Splendor!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    and thank you for mentioning Private Ryan – first time I ever noticed him, and it was one of those moments when I knew I was watching greatness

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