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Ray Liotta’s 10 Best Films: From Something Wild to Goodfellas

After the death of the screen legend at 67, Kevin E G Perry looks back at some of Liotta’s greatest performances

Friday 27 May 2022 09:20 BST
(Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Ray Liotta had presence. He was scary when he was tough, but he was truly terrifying when he was acting nice. In a screen career that began in 1983, he perfected the art of playing sharp, smart hard men - whether they be lawyers, cops or, most famously, gangsters.

To a generation of computer game fans he’ll always be remembered as the voice of Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a performance which itself was indebted and paid tribute to his stellar screen career, which sadly ended with his death at 67.

Here are ten of Liotta’s greatest film roles.

10. Something Wild (1986)

Liotta’s first major acting gig came in Jonathan Demme’s screwball action comedy, Something Wild. Jeff Daniels plays a yuppie investment banker whose road trip with the beguiling Melanie Griffith is interrupted by her violent, ex-con boyfriend – played with convincing menace by Liotta, who was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his powerful performance.

9. Cop Land (1997)

James Mangold’s acclaimed neo-noir about corrupt New York City cops living in New Jersey brought together acting heavyweights including Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone and Harvey Keitel. Liotta went toe-to-toe with all three in his turn as NYPD officer Gary Figgis.

Liotta with ‘Sopranos’ creator David Chase and ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ co-star Alessandro Nivola (Getty Images for Deadline)

8. The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

There was much anticipation for this The Sopranos prequel from creator David Chase, but few were prepared for Liotta’s turn as both “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and his twin brother Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti. Liotta had previously been approached by Chase to appear in the third season of The Sopranos, and the actor’s long-awaited arrival didn’t disappoint.

7. Identity (2003)

Liotta collaborated once again with Cop Land’sJames Mangold on this loose adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 whodunit And Then There Were None. Part of an ensemble cast that also featured John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina and Rebecca De Mornay, Liotta gives a multi-layered performance as a character who is not who he seems.

6. The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)

In this crime drama from director Derek Cianfrance, Liotta plays Peter Deluca, a corrupt detective who holds power over Bradley Cooper’s cop Avery Cross. The role was specifically written for Liotta because of his role in Goodfellas, which Cianfrance rates as one of his favorite films.

Liotta at the premiere of ‘Marriage Story’ (Getty Images)

5. Marriage Story (2019)

In Noah Baumbach’s break-up drama, Adam Driver first prepares to divorce his wife (Scarlett Johansson) by choosing an amenable lawyer played in avuncular fashion by Alan Alda. When he realises he’d prefer to be represented by a no-nonsense ball-breaker he switches to a shark – and who better to have in your corner than Ray Liotta?

4. Field of Dreams (1989)

Liotta had a crucial role in Phil Alden Robinson’s sports fantasy about a farmer who builds a baseball field that attracts the ghosts of legends from the game. Liotta played real-life outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, and was cast by Robinson because of the “sense of danger” and ambiguity he brought to the supernatural role.

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3. Narc (2002)

Liotta was at his electrifying best in this two-hander with Jason Patric. The pair play police detectives on the search for the murderer of an undercover office in Joe Carnahan’s underrated neo-noir, and Liotta turns in one of his all-time best performances.

2. Blow (2001)

Ted Demme (nephew of Something Wild director Jonathan) cast Liotta to play the father of real-life drug smuggler George Jung (Johnny Depp) is his wildly entertaining romp through the dizzy highs and devastating lows of the cocaine business.

Lorraine Bracco with Liotta in 'Goodfellas' (Warner Bros/Kobal/Rex)

1. Goodfellas (1990)

Liotta has Robert De Niro to thank for his signature role, as the actor recommended him to director Martin Scorsese after seeing his explosive energy light up the screen in Something Wild. Liotta didn’t let either man down, turning in a riveting, sincere and sometimes hilarious lead performance in a film widely considered one of the best ever made.

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