Total Recall: Antonio Banderas' Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Puss in Boots star.
To a lot of American filmgoers, Antonio Banderas is the suave Latin heartthrob who came out of nowhere in the 1990s to star in some hits (Desperado, Evita, The Mask of Zorro) and some big misses (Assassins, Never Talk to Strangers, Play It to the Bone). But as film buffs know, Banderas is more than just the guy who co-starred in the worst-reviewed movie of the aughts. He's built up an admirably diverse filmography over the last 30 years, and with two movies -- his reunion with Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In, and this weekend's Shrek spinoff, Puss in Boots -- now playing in theaters, we decided this would be the perfect time to revisit some of the many critical highlights from his career. ¡Es tiempo para la Retirada Total!
Frida is absolutely Salma Hayek's showcase, but for her Oscar-nominated turn in the central role of the Frida Kahlo biopic, director Julie Taymor surrounded Hayek with an impressive array of talented supporting players, including Alfred Molina, Edward Norton, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, and -- as Kahlo's fellow artist David Alfaro Siqueiros -- Antonio Banderas. It all adds up to a film that is, in the words of Susan Stark of the Detroit News, "Passionate, provocative, hilarious, tragic and just dizzyingly beautiful to behold."
A year after making his English-language debut in The Mambo Kings, Banderas took a supporting role in a much more high-profile film: Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia, which used its gaudy pedigree and a marquee cast led by Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington to break box-office taboos surrounding homosexuality, HIV, and AIDS. Hanks earned an Academy Award for his performance, one of two Oscars won by the film, and audiences turned out to the tune of more than $205 million in worldwide grosses. "It's less like a film by Demme than the best of Frank Capra," observed Rita Kempley for the Washington Post. "It is not just canny, corny and blatantly patriotic, but compassionate, compelling and emotionally devastating."
Warner Bros. wanted Ray Liotta for the role -- and even after director Arne Glimcher successfully fought to cast Banderas in his English-language debut, he had to learn his lines phonetically. But 1992's The Mambo Kings ultimately proved to be the international breakthrough Banderas had been working toward for a decade, and for good reason -- his character's tragic tale underscores the film's story of musical passion and brotherly love, and his performance more than held its own with co-star Armand Assante's. "In some ways this story is as old as the movies," admitted Roger Ebert, "but The Mambo Kings is so filled with energy, passion and heedless vitality that it seems new, anyway."
By the 1990s, the masked bandit Zorro had appeared in countless books, serials, TV shows, and more than a dozen feature-length films -- but it wasn't until Antonio Banderas signed on for The Mask of Zorro that the character was actually portrayed by a Spanish actor. (And yes, even then, he took over for the original Zorro -- played in the film by Anthony Hopkins.) Rebooting such a venerable (some would say "tired") character might have seemed like a recipe for disaster, but Mask swashbuckled its way to a $250 million worldwide gross and reaped praise from critics like the BBC's Almar Haflidason, who enthused, "There are no clever ground-breaking effects, just lashings of good clean fun with desperately devilish baddies, and good guys so fantastic, so clever and witty, that they make you want to weep with pleasure."
Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar reunited for their fourth film in 1988, and the result proved an international breakthrough for both men. While it didn't inspire quite as much critical adoration as their earlier outings, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown still offered plenty of vintage Almodóvar, starting with a plot that revolves around tainted gazpacho, Shiite terrorists, and the all-consuming love between an actress (Carmen Maura) and her on-again, off-again boyfriend (Fernando Guillén). "Women on the Verge is even wackier than [Almodovar's] other films," observed Chris Hicks of the Deseret News. "It also just happens to be more universal."