5. Dominick and Eugene (1988)
Dominick and Eugene are twin brothers who live together. Dominick has an intellectual disability due to an accident in his youth. He works as a garbage man, but he gets to deal with constant bullying and other challenges of his situation. Eugene or shortly “Gino” takes care of him but his interest in a young woman (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and an opportunity to study abroad will complicate the matters. The movie was overshadowed by “Rain Man” of the same year, a film with a similar theme. These days, it’s even hard to find this movie or see this getting mentioned. However, it’s worth watching and some may even find it as strong as “Rain Man”.
Sure, there are several sentimental moments but the film avoids them to become manipulative. It’s effective because the actors are great. Tom Hulce never overplays it. In his hands, Dominick is a sweet, lovable man. Liotta is even better. While not as showy, you can say his character is even more complicated. He goes through so much in life. He has emotional moments, he has angry outbursts, and he has some romantic sequences. Liotta sells them all effortlessly. There’s no moment where you don’t feel the honesty he brings to the part. Hulce has got a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for his part but unfortunately, Liotta was snubbed once again.
4. Narc (2002)
Joe Carnahan’s “Narc” is one of his best films. Very atmospheric, constantly involving. It has the elements of William Friedkin’s masterpiece “The French Connection” but still feels like a very original piece of work. Tor his first film, he delivers enough energy. He’s careful at bringing a tense and complex portrait of the cops to the screen while showing their humanity in the struggle against the brutality and the injustice inherent in the profession.
Jason Patric is an interesting actor, he disappears for so long and he’s rarely a high-profile or much-recognized name but he often gets a lead in such strong projects. He’s very good but Liotta overshadows him easily with a much stronger character. He plays Henry Oak, an experienced Detroit narcotics cop whose partner has been murdered. Liotta’s style of acting is very brutal and real here, sitting with the tone film goes for. Liotta put on 25 pounds and wore padding to make him look about 60 pounds heavier. He also shaved his hair back, grew a goatee to fill out his face, and wore special eye makeup to make more wrinkles under his eyes. Even though the film had complicated camera setups or attractive lighting, none of this bothered Liotta. He was a consummate pro, overall. Liotta got a well-deserved Independent Spirit award nomination for his performance.
3. Unlawful Entry (1992)
Again, some films on the list like “Corrina, Corrina”, “Dominick and Eugene” and “Field of Dreams” could go in the wrong direction if they’d hired the wrong actor, someone who won’t understand these characters. That’s why Liotta was amazing, he was grabbing your attention and you couldn’t look away. The script of “Unlawful Entry” has strong elements of other stalker thrillers of the early 90s but the major difference here our stalker is the cop. It makes the premise somewhat scary because the man who has to protect our couple is the one who turns against them.
However, in such thrillers, there’s a certain formula and expected beats here and there. They’re crucial but under the strong direction of Jonathan Kaplan and terrific performances by the trio of Kurt Russell, Ray Liotta and Madeleine Stowe (whose presence has long been missed in movies) are what makes the movie. Liotta plays a disturbed cop who grows a strong obsession with a married woman (Stowe) after visiting their home for a burglary report. Soon, he befriends them but they realize he goes too far. In some of his other roles on the list, like “Cop Land” and “Killing Them Softly”, one could choose a scene as his best moment but it becomes impossible in “Unlawful Entry”. In every sequence of the film, Liotta’s dark magnetism is full-on display. He’s terrifying, scary, and always interesting.
2. Something Wild (1986)
Speaking of deceased great artists gone soon, it’s impossible to not remember Jonathan Demme. Brilliant director, an excellent craftsman who made awesome films in various genres. “Something Wild” is action-screwball comedy-romance-road film if that’s the best way to describe it. It’s a wild ride and full of original ideas about a free-spirited woman “kidnapping” a yuppie for a weekend of adventure. The comedy takes a frightening dark turn when they encounter her psychotic ex-husband, Ray, who has just gotten out of jail. It’s a brave turn for a film like this to take but Demme was the expert at handling the tone and in Liotta, he had the right actor. Just when he comes on the screen, the energy goes to a different level and his presence helps to change the tone of the narrative. Melaine Griffith and Jeff Daniels deserve all the praise in their leading roles but it’s Ray Liotta who steals the show.
The performance combined many things that made him so unique: charming, funny, charismatic, dangerous, unstable, and menacing. Showy but also had hidden depth and nuances. Critics took a notice of him immediately. Roger Ebert called him “mesmerizing” and he sure was. The film introduced him to the world and helped him to get many more great roles in the future. It remained his only Golden Globe nomination. He won the Best Supporting Actor award from the Boston Society of Film Critics and got a mention as a nominee from the National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics, two of the biggest critics organizations. The film lovers should be forever grateful to Melanie Griffith for recommending Liotta directly to Demme.
1. Goodfellas (1990)
It was not just the critics and film buffs, the industry took notice of Liotta as soon as he showed up in “Something Wild”. It was impossible to not see the talent. Robert De Niro was also impressed and recommended him to Martin Scorsese. When Scorsese loved his performance, Liotta ended up getting the role of his lifetime. Maybe the character he’ll always be remembered for: Henry Hill. He might not have read the book “Field of Dreams” but he did read “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi and when he learned about the film project, he aggressively campaigned for it Luckily, he got the part. That’s how he ended up being part of one of the greatest mob movies ever made and perhaps one of the greatest films ever made.
The film focuses on Henry Hill, from childhood to his fully formed part of Mob life and that’s how Liotta gets a great chance to portray a character with a fascinating arc. Liotta sparkles through this wide array of emotions, and his scenes with Lorraine Bracco are particularly full of passion. His boyish face, blue eyes, and easy charm perfectly mask the character’s dark behavior. At the hands of Scorsese and Liotta, Henry never entirely loses the “good” in the goodfella handle which is what makes him so fascinating throughout the entire film. It’s hard to say anything about “Goodfellas” that hasn’t been said before. Liotta’s performance is just like the rest of the film: Perfect, flawless, and unforgettable. Then again, that’s how often Liotta was in his roles.
Honorable Mentions: “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Rat Pack” were close to making the list. Liotta was a prolific actor and had been in so many overlooked films: “Article 99”, “Unforgettable”, ‘Turbulence”, “No Escape”, “Control” and “Phoenix” to name a few. His comedic chops also showed themselves wonderfully in “Heartbreakers” and in supporting turns like “Smokin Aces”, “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “The Iceman”, he was once again close to stealing the show. His presence will be forever missed. Gone too soon. RIP Ray Liotta.