Total Recall

Luis Guzman's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Journey 2: The Mysterious Island star.

by | January 10, 2012 | Comments

Luis Guzmán

Ready or not, it’s time for another 3D Journey. Only this time instead of Brendan Fraser making his way to the center of the earth, we’ve got Dwayne Johnson muscling to the shores of The Mysterious Island in the company of Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, and the inimitable Luis Guzmán — who’s been stealing scenes throughout his career, and now gets his first chance to upstage some giant bees. In honor of Luis’ latest role, we dedicate this week’s list to the best films in a résumé filled with memorable moments. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. The Count of Monte Cristo

For its tenth adaptation, Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel received a bit of a facelift — and, as is their wont, a number of critics were fairly cheesed about the storyline alterations and beefed-up action that director Kevin Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert brought to the tale. For most, however, the most crucial elements of the story remained intact — namely, the injustice endured by a French sailor (James Cavizel) who is betrayed and sent to prison by his supposed friend (Pearce), only to escape and pursue vengeance with the aid of his trusty sidekick (Guzmán). As Peter Bradshaw put it in his review for the Guardian, “Dumas’s classic tale is such a rattling good yarn, there’s nothing you can do to derail it as it hurtles down the track.”


9. The Hard Way

Its plot reads like a high-concept parody (spoiled, wisecracking actor gloms onto hard-boiled cop while researching a role…and gets more than he bargained for!), but John Badham’s The Hard Way is better than you might think — if only because it plays so squarely to its stars’ strengths. As the pampered Nick Lang, Michael J. Fox gets to use his squirrelly energy and sharp comic timing; as John Moss, the perpetually exasperated NYPD detective saddled with Lang, James Woods is a tightly wound bundle of volcanic, barely suppressed rage. (Guzmán appears as a fellow detective who works as a sort of Jiminy Cricket, trying to keep Woods from going too far off the reservation.) While acknowledging that it was “just another version of the reliable old cop partner movie,” Roger Ebert praised the end result as “funny, fun, exciting, and, when you look beneath the glossy surface, an example of professionals who know their crafts and enjoy doing them well.”


8. Carlito’s Way

If you’re looking to make a visually stylish gangster epic, you could certainly do worse than hiring Brian De Palma to direct — and when casting the aging ex-con who wants to leave his criminal lifestyle behind, you could hardly do better than Al Pacino. Case in point: Carlito’s Way, which adapts a pair of Judge Edwin Torres novels about the title character’s doomed dreams of a new life. Ultimately earning a pair of Golden Globes nominations for Sean Penn and Penelope Ann Miller, Carlito’s offered Guzmán another memorable supporting role and surrounded him with another stellar cast and crew. “De Palma and Pacino tread some very familiar ground,” admitted eFilmCritic’s Brian McKay. “But while it all feels a bit recycled at times, it still works.”


7. Punch-Drunk Love

After picking up roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Guzmán returned for Anderson’s third outing — but unlike the first two, Punch-Drunk Love is more of a quiet character study than a sprawling ensemble piece. Here, Guzmán stars as the supportive friend and employee of novelty warehouse owner Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), whose painfully earnest quest for love takes some memorably surreal turns (including a bizarre, unforgettable showdown with some tire iron-wielding lunatics and their boss, a psychotic mattress vendor played by Anderson mainstay Philip Seymour Hoffman). It remains what Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman ruefully prophesied would be “the most sincere and artful movie in which Adam Sandler will probably ever appear.”


6. Q & A

The film that Guzmán credits with putting him on the map as a character actor, Sidney Lumet’s Q&A offered him a pivotal supporting role in an impeccably acted drama about the unbearably tense conflict between a corrupt cop (Nick Nolte), the officer investigating him (Timothy Hutton), and the crime boss with ties to them both (Armand Assante). While admitting that its themes had been visited many times by other filmmakers — and repeatedly by Lumet — ReelViews’ James Berardinelli noted, “Q & A is testimony to the validity of the old adage: a good story, when well told, can never be told too many times.”



5. Magnolia

Emboldened by the success of Boogie Nights, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson increased his scope for the follow-up, 1999’s wildly ambitious Magnolia. Indulgent in pretty much every respect (not least its three-hour running time), Anderson’s magnum opus was grounded by its crowded cast, which included Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore… really, the list goes on and on. It goes on so long, in fact, that Guzmán had only a small role — but as always, it was a memorable one: an obnoxious version of himself. Argued Michael Wilmington for the Chicago Tribune, “The more you think about Magnolia — the dry wit, the bravura staging, the intricate design, the wondrous performances — the better and more unusual the film seems.”


4. Boogie Nights

Guzmán started acting in the late 1970s, and accumulated an impressive stack of “that guy” roles as a busy character actor throughout the 1980s — but his film career really started to take off in the 1990s, when he became a favorite actor for directors Steven Soderbergh and Paul Thomas Anderson. Guzmán’s first Anderson production, Boogie Nights, helped free him from a lifetime of playing cops and gangsters by casting him as the flamboyant manager of a nightclub where struggling high school dropout Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) begins his transformation into legendary porn star Dirk Diggler. One of the best-reviewed films of the year, Nights earned praise from critics like Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who wrote, “Everything about Boogie Nights is interestingly unexpected, even the few seconds of darkness before the film’s neon title blasts onto the screen.”


3. The Limey

After stealing his few onscreen moments in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, Guzmán scored a bigger role in the director’s next project. Starring Terence Stamp as a British ex-con who goes on the warpath after learning of his daughter’s death, The Limey makes up for its short running time and slender script with hard-hitting violence and some thoroughly compelling performances (including Guzmán as a friend of Stamp’s daughter and Peter Fonda as her boyfriend); while it didn’t make much of an impact at the box office, it impressed critics like Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle, who called it “A first-rate crime thriller and further proof that director Stephen Soderbergh is one of our great contemporary film stylists.”


2. Traffic

Guzmán has been part of some mighty fine ensemble casts in his day, and arguably none of them have been finer than the impressive array of talent Steven Soderbergh lined up for 2000’s Traffic. Nestled between Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Dennis Quaid, and others, Guzmán helped anchor Soderbergh’s sprawling look at the American drug trade with a fine performance in a film full of them. “In compelling terms, it puts bitter economic, social and racial truth before our eyes,” wrote Susan Stark of the Detroit News. “Continue to blink or see. Your choice.”


1. Out of Sight

The first of Guzmán’s three films with Steven Soderbergh, Out of Sight found the director pulling what would become a familiar trick: using a spectacular cast (including George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Albert Brooks, and Don Cheadle) to tell what could have, in the wrong hands, been a relatively unremarkable story. Adapting Elmore Leonard’s hit novel, Sight follows the adventures of a U.S. Marshal (Lopez) drawn into the orbit of a charismatic crook (Clooney) on his quest for one last score after he takes advantage of a fellow inmate’s (Guzmán, in a small but memorable role) plan to escape from prison. Observed Kenneth Turan for the Los Angeles Times, “As always with the best of Leonard, it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts, and director Soderbergh has let it unfold with dry wit and great skill.”

In case you were wondering, here are Guzmán’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Magnolia — 88%

2. Carlito’s Way — 88%

3. The Count of Monte Cristo — 85%

4. Boogie Nights — 84%

5. Traffic — 81%

6. The Limey — 75%

7. Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story — 74%

8. Punch-Drunk Love — 72%

9. Confidence — 69%

10. The Bone Collector — 68%

Take a look through Guzmán’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.


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