Fresh from two Best Picture nominated films, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “The Irishman” (which earned him a nomination as well); an acclaimed TV film “Paterno”; and the entertaining TV series “Hunters,” Al Pacino remains a strong force in all mediums – cinema, television, and stage after all those years. Sure, there have been some disappointing movies in between, but if you have a legendary career with “Dog Day Afternoon,” the “Godfather” movies, “Serpico,” “Scarface,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and all other classics on your resume, you will certainly be forgiven for a few misfits.
However, like many prolific actors who knew how to pick a project, it’s no surprise that he also has some underseen and underappreciated gems in his filmography. Obviously, not all of these have deserved to be noted as a classic, but when you give them a chance, you probably won’t be disappointed.
10. The Humbling (2014)
This legend of cinema pairs with the queen of indies Greta Gerwig in this quirky independent film. This certainly wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but those who appreciate such dark, offbeat stories with the intimacy of a theatre piece will appreciate this movie.
The film follows an aging actor who suffers from bouts of dementia, which already gives you an idea that Pacino will have some moments to showcase his talent. Then suddenly he meets with ex-girlfriend’s bisexual daughter, portrayed amazingly by Gerwig, and then the story goes on. But it’s a film that is more about the moments, thoughts, and the feelings of our characters rather than the general plot, which is why maybe it didn’t get much attention.
The movie also sets between reality and fantasy; sometimes the audience has a hard time realizing what is real and what is not. Maybe it suffered from coming around at the same time as the far superior movie “Birdman” that shared similar themes. But “The Humbling” is a good movie on its own with many distinctive sides, especially the humour. The film is also interesting for having some parallels to the real-life Pacino, which was expected since he plays an actor. Not a masterpiece, not a “Birdman,” but still a funny film with some really terrific performances. The movie has inconsistent moments, but it also shows Pacino at his most vulnerable.
9. Two Bits (1995)
Who knows what happened to James Foley’s career, considering he directed great films like “At Close Range” and “After Dark, My Sweet” but is now stuck directing “Fifty Shades” sequels. This is his second collaboration with Pacino, following “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Of course it’s not on the level of that film, and there are better films that deal with the subject like Soderbergh’s “King of the Hills,” but “Two Bits” is a sweet film that deserves little more attention.
The premise is pretty simple: a boy wants to accumulate 25 cents (two bits) to go to the movies. However, Foley knows how to make the story go on in an engaging way. Pacino is a supporting player but he steals the show, as one can expect; he plays the main character’s ailing grandpa who refuses to die until he is forgiven for something he did years ago. So he gets his grandson to ask the person for forgiveness and in return, he’ll earn his 25 cents.
This is kind of a unique and different role for Pacino, especially for that time period, but it’s also a testament to his talent in a way that it shows how much he can do with limited screen time. Nearly all of his scenes are the most memorable parts of the movie. That said, the movie itself is charming. Surely sentimental, but if you’re a sucker for coming-of-age movies, Depression-era films, and of course if you like Pacino, then it’s a good watch. Certainly a better film to check out than some of the VOD stuff he had to do in this decade.
8. Frankie and Johnny (1991)
Terrence McNally passed away this year due to complications from COVID-19. This film was adapted by him based on his own off-Broadway play and it’s a successful adaptation, even funnier than the play itself. When you describe the story, it may come off like your average romantic dramedy; however, the script is also so sharp, touches some interesting subjects through the storyline, and feels honest and true, which is very important when you make a film like this. It isn’t afraid to go to somewhat darker places for the genre.
Pacino didn’t exactly become a romantic leading man at any point of his career, and was sometimes criticized for his chemistry with female actresses. That is not and should not be the case with “Frankie and Johnny,” a sentimental but lovely tale that gives Pacino a very against-type role. It shows that his presence can be warm and charming. He’s pretty great in the leading role, even though at times it feels like mostly a Michelle Pfeiffer show, but they don’t try to outshine each other, and they make a lovely couple together.
It’s especially impressive compared to their previous collaboration “Scarface” where both played totally opposite characters of what they play here. The supporting turns by Nathan Lane and Kate Nelligan are worth noting. Overall, “Frankie and Johnny” is a sweet film and also probably Garry Marshall’s best.
7. Sea of Love (1989)
Two murders committed in the same manner are puzzling the New York City police. In both cases, the male victim lies naked on a bed, face down and with a bullet in his head; and at both crime scenes, the song “Sea of Love” rotates continuously on a turntable. Pacino took a four-year hiatus after the commercial and critical failure of “Revolution,” but it was a comeback worth waiting for.
“Sea of Love” received positive reviews and did pretty well at the box office, but strangely it’s not often discussed or remembered when Pacino’s legacy comes up. However, it’s a great film and performance and it’s also very engaging. Right from the start, director Harold Becker creates a very specific atmosphere, one that is very moody that takes you in it; and then we are introduced to our main character. Pacino plays an alcoholic, quirky detective who tries to find a serial killer.
What makes Pacino a special actor is that even without saying anything, by his gestures and looks, he can already give you an impression of what kind of a character he portrays, but of course, he gives you only as much as you need to know. While this is not exactly a romantic film, the chemistry between him and Ellen Barkin’s character had to work well and it does. Other than that, the film itself is pretty unpredictable and entertaining for most part, and the soundtrack deserves a mention as well.
6. Chinese Coffee (2000)
Harry Levine, a writer, has a nighttime conversation with his friend and mentor Jake Manheim, a photographer. The conversation between these two more or less failed artists oscillates between their financial difficulties, women, life in New York City, and the manuscript of the last book Harry wrote. Pacino doesn’t just act here – he also directs. “The Local Stigmata” was fine, but “Chinese Coffee” is even better. It shows his natural ability to tell a good story and he’s also good at setting a tone.
Based on a one-act play by Ira Lewis that Pacino performed on Broadway in 1992 and then decided to make into a movie starring himself. The whole film is basically about two bohemian guys approaching their 50s, but who are stuck in the past. So it’s a dialogue-driven film and the dialogues are pretty great. It’s worth noting that they’re delivered by two great actors who elevate the material as well. The pacing is really good and Pacino also effectively uses the flashbacks for character development. In the end, “Chinese Coffee”” is a lost classic that needs to be seen by more people, a film full of great quotes and references to classic literature.