best film: Benicio Del Toro has a half dozen films spread about the last four decades that warrant deliberation here. His star was still on the rise in 1995 when he played Fenster in The Usual Suspects. Dr. Gonzo was a chance for both he and Johnny Depp to show off – these are big performances in Terry Gilliam’s bizarre drug fueled circus of a film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Steven Soderbergh’s two toned formal masterstroke Traffic (2000) is both his peak and Del Toro’s. Del Toro kept the momentum going in the early 2000s with 21 Grams (2003). A dozen years went by – Sicario in 2015 – before another director (this time Denis Villeneuve) knew how to best use Del Toro’s talents. And Del Toro finally showed he is still as sharp as ever in the 2020s with his work with Wes Anderson in The French Dispatch (2021).
best performance: Benicio Del Toro’s resume is about the strength of those top five (5) performances – not one big performance. The edge goes to his work in Traffic playing Mexican cop Javier Rodriguez. It is Del Toro that walks away from Soderbergh’s ensemble film with the best performance in a talented cast that includes Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Don Cheadle. There is a nuance to Del Toro’s performance here that he had not known previously in his career.
stylistic innovations/traits: Benicio Del Toro was born in Puerto Rico in 1967 and starred as a Bond villain in his early twenties (License to Kill in 1989). The consistency over many films (those top five performances best anyone not mentioned on the list yet) and decades (those top five come from at least one each the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s) is what is most admirable about Del Toro’s career. Del Toro has proven himself in both comedies (Wes Anderson and Terry Gilliam) and films that are as serious as a heart attack (21 Grams, Sicario). The small roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Last Jedi do not add much to the resume and the one collaboration with the great Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice) so far did not do too much to move the needle – but still, Del Toro’s track record and obvious abundance of ability would indicate that he should continue to add to his number of archiveable films (16 so far to date) in the future.
directors worked with: Sean Penn (2), Steven Soderbergh (2), Peter Weir (1), Abel Ferrara (1), Terry Gilliam (1), Paul Thomas Anderson (1), Denis Villeneuve (1), Rian Johnson (1), Wes Anderson (1)
top five performances:
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
- 21 Grams
- The French Dispatch
|1991- The Indian Runner|
|1995- The Usual Suspects|
|1996- The Funeral|
|1998- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas|
|2001- The Pledge|
|2003- 21 Grams|
|2005- Sin City|
|2014- Guardians of the Galaxy|
|2014- Inherent Vice|
|2017- Star Wars: The Last Jedi|
|2021- No Sudden Move|
|2021- The French Dispatch|