Paul Giamatti is one of those actors who always kills it on the big screen. Whether appearing in prestigious award-winning films, raunchy comedies, or even legendary kids movies, the award-winning actor is always firing on all cylinders, and more times than not is the most interesting person in any given scene.
Over the years, I’ve been obsessed with the incredible character actor, and after spending the better part of the past few decades watching him go from having small yet scene-stealing roles in movies like Saving Private Ryan to winning a Golden Globe for his work in The Holdovers, and everything in between, I’ve put together a list of the best Paul Giamatti movies and how to watch them…
The Holdovers (2023)
A cranky and unlikable teacher, a rebellious student with nowhere to go, and a school cook grieving her recently deceased son are forced to spend the holiday break together at a New England boarding school, learning a great deal about each other, and themselves, in the process.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers could very well become a staple of Christmas movie marathons, it’s that good. All of the characters, especially Giamatti’s chronically hungover Paul Hunham, shine and grow throughout this two-hour dramedy, as does the audience.
When Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) takes his best friend, Jack Cole (Thomas Hayden Church), on a wine-tasting trip before tying the knot, he has no idea that the getaway will end in total disaster for everyone involved.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: How Giamatti didn’t win an Oscar for his portrayal of a prickly struggling writer and wine enthusiast in Alexander Payne’s Sideways is still a mystery nearly 20 years later. The way he brings the depressed and on-the-edge character to life with so much life and nuance is a masterclass in acting.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
A group of Los Angeles rappers change not only the face of hip hop but also pop culture as a whole when they team up and take the world by storm as N.W.A.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: When I heard Giamatti was cast to portray Jerry Heller in F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, I knew he was going to kill it as N.W.A.’s shady manager and one of the most notorious figures in the music industry. He perfectly captures the “shake your hand while stabbing you in the back” essence of the businessman who helped build and tear apart the group.
Cinderella Man (2005)
A washed-up ex-boxer is given a shot at redemption and the chance for a better life upon stepping back into the ring. But success in sport can’t always fix everything, as he soon finds out.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: Giamatti is tour de force in his portrayal of Joe Gould, the manager and friend of Russell Crowe’s James J. Braddock in Cinderella Man. Giamatti pretty much steals every scene in this great boxing movie.
The Ides Of March (2011)
In the heat of a bitterly contested presidential primary, a young and idealistic campaign manager learns the hard way that all is fair in love and war.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: George Clooney’s The Ides of March is full of heavy hitters like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Ryan Gosling as Stephen Meyers. However, it’s Paul Giamatti as rival Tom Duffy who steals the show in this intense and untrusting political thriller.
American Splendor (2003)
Despite not having great artistic ability, Havey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) uses his unique voice and friendship with legendary artists to kickstart a career in the comic industry, which he then helps revolutionize.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: American Splendor is a biopic like no other, as it is one part feature film and one part documentary featuring the real Harvey Pekar. This doesn’t take away from Giamatti’s portrayal of the underground artist. In fact, this fresh take makes it arguably the best comic book movie of all time.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
In the middle of the Allied assault on Nazi-controlled France, a small group of soldiers is tasked with finding and bringing home a young G.I. so that his mother doesn’t lose all four of her sons in the war.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is one of the best war movies ever made, as well as one of Paul Giamatti’s greatest performances. Giamatti’s war-weary sergeant is only in one scene, but those couple minutes of screen time are pure brilliance.
The Illusionist (2006)
When a popular magician starts a new show where he purportedly summons the spirit of his murdered lover, a tenacious police inspector attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: Neil Burger’s The Illusionist is a fun and twisty mystery that you don’t fully grasp until the very end, right around the same time Giamatti’s tireless detective figures it out. This, combined with Edward Norton and Jessica Biel’s performances, make it one to check out.
12 Years A Slave (2013)
After being tricked, kidnapped, and sold into slavery, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) endures 12 years of pain, suffering, and torture as he tries to survive and make it back home to his family.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: Though Paul Giamatti’s Theophilus Freeman is far from being a likable person in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, his brief time in the movie adds so much to Solomon’s struggle.
Man On The Moon (1999)
The life, times, and legend of the late Andy Kaufman are explored in great detail in the Jim Carrey-led 1999 biopic, Man on the Moon.
Why it is one of Paul Giamiatti’s best movies: Jim Carrey lost himself while playing Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, but Giamatti is grounded throughout with his great portrayal of the late comedian’s longtime friend, Bob Zmuda. Less colorful than his co-star, Giamatti gives one of the great straight-man performances of his career.