10. Glengarry Glen Ross
The best assemble cast of the 1990s revolves around Pacino’s performance as Ricky Roma, the superstar salesman that hawks worthless land to befuddled buyers. Playing the token winner among so many losers, Pacino has a chance to undermine his actorly style by showing the gears working inside Ricky’s Pacino-esque act as he delivers David Mamet speeches, basking in the admiration of his outclassed co-workers but aware but aware that the whole enterprise is rotten to the core.
Most memorable moment: Showcasing his talents by suckering Jonathan Pryce in double-quick time.
9. Scarecrow (1973)
The ‘unknown treasure’ in Pacino’s career, this is a very 1970s buddy-road movie, teaming him with the equally impressive Gene Hackman as a pair of oddball drifters who hook up for a trip to nowhere. Pacino plays Francis, a.k.a ‘The Lion’, a sailor away from the sea who plays the clown because he believes scarecrows fend off birds by amusing rather than scaring them – he convinces his gloomy ex-con friend to lighten up, but his own opinions is worn down by experience.
Most memorable moment: Pacino’s Karloff moves while fending off the gay rapist in prison
8. Scarface (1983)
Like many stars, Pacino got his Oscar for a caricature of his usual traits (Scent of A Woman), but his biggest role, in every sense, is Cuban emigre hood Tony Montana, who rises from the street-thug to druglord over three hours of extreme ’80s excess. Director Brian De Palma and writer Oliver Stone give Pacino a part it would be impossible to overplay: the accent alone (‘Hsai chello to mai leetle Fren’!’) is a masterpiece of a broad-stokes playing, and Pacino aptly abandons his usual subtlety for one of the great bad guy roles.
Most memorable moment: A death scene Godzilla would find excessive.
7. The Insider (1999)
Russel Crowe got plaudits for his whistle-blowing Jeffery Wigland, but Pacino has an equally difficult role as Lowell Bergman, the TV producer running with the hot potato of a tobacco industry expose, only to realise just how powerful the cigarette companies are in corporate America. Bergman could be middle-aged, shaved Serpico – unable to resist an impossible fight.
Most memorable moment: On his cell phone, in an empty luxury beach house, Bergman realises that the network won’t back him up, and that Wigland is doomed to be out in the cold.
6. Donnie Brasco (1977)
As organised crime fetcher-and-carrier ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero, Pacino is the heart of the movie. Lefty is a time-serving criminal who knows he’ll never be high in the game but tries to show his protege the ropes, delivering a convincing demonstration that for some crime not only doesn’t pay, but has an appealing personal cost. Again, Pacino plays paranoid whose worst fears are on the money, and complicates a crime drama by making the apparent hero as much a betrayer as an avenger.
Most memorable moment: The ‘and it’s your best friend they send to do it’ speech.
5. Serpico (1973)
Frank Serpico was a hero born for the 1970s – a rogue cop in Dirty Harry mode who adopted a hippie look for his undercover work, and became famous not for busting French connections or Mafia bosses, but crusading against the corruption from callow youth to experienced survivor, losing all his emotional ties – and struck down with a crippling paranoia as he realises he’s as likely to get a bullet in the back as the chest.
Most memorable moment: Just sitting there at the end with his dog for company
4. Carlito’s Way (1993)
Reteaming with Brian De Palma and adopting another Hispanic accent after Scarface, Pacino goes against expectations in the role of Carlito Brigante by underplaying, a man who has been in prison so long he is wary of showing any emotion that could construed as a weakness. As an ex-crook determined to go straight, Pacino invests the cliche with depth, showing how toughness that made Carlito a great hood can also make him a great honest man.
Most memorable moment: Playing pool and sensing lurking assassins he sees off.
3. The Godfather (1972)
It’s a testament to Pacino’s strength in the role of Micheal Corleone that it’s almost impossible to believe the youth in the crisp uniform at the wedding scene is the same person as the hollowed-eyed monster who shuts his wife out of his counsels (and life) in the finale. Holding his own against Brando, Duvall, Keaton and Caan (no easy feat), Pacino is the spine of Coppla’s epic – and he spends much of the picture talking funny after a smash in the mouth.
Most memorable Moment: Coming out of the toilet with more than just his dick in his hand.
2. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Having essayed the definitive ruthlessly efficient crook in The Godfather, Pacino played the great bungling loser heist-man, Sonny Wortzik, in this based-on-fact crime movie, a true-life comedy that Sonny may fail as a criminal, but becomes a short-lived hit as media personality, enjoying his single afternoon of fame even as his peers realise how dangerous it is.
Most memorable moment: The phone call with the boyfriend (Chris Sarandon) whose sex-change operation Sonny is trying to finance.
1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Why do connoisseurs rate the mature Don Michael Corleone as Pacino’s best single role, and an even more impressive acting job that his outstanding work in the other parts of the series? The challenge is that Michael’s character arc conducted in part one, leaving him dead inside at the height of his power. The achievement of the sequel is that Pacino manages to find interesting things to say about a sad-eyed zombie, haunted by what he has lost as much as by the increasing terrible things he feels he has to do.
Most Memorable moment: Having Fredo killed.