Desperado - Robert Rodriguez was given an opportunity to re-envision his first film El Mariachi, but with a big Hollywood budget. He was offer ten million to make it. It accepted half that budget and made a slick, highly stylized Mex-ghetti Western. Rodriguez wanted to prove that his first film was no accident, that you could make a major Hollywood movie with a slim budget but make it look as if it was made for triple what it actually cost. Boy did he succeed. While this film doesn't have the tightness of the original film, it more than makes up for it in action and star power. This film turned relative unknowns Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek into A-listers. Also in the film with memorable performances are Steve Buscemi. Quentin Tarantino and Danny Trejo. If the film has one big flaw is that it feels less like a cohesive film and a slew of short segments featuring the Mariachi as he wreaks vengeance on those responsible for killing his paramour. In short, it acts as both sequel and remake for El Mariachi. That said, the film is just plain cool and fun so it skates by on the talent of its filmmaker and leads.
Four Rooms - A neat experimental film that was born from the awards circuit that united four unique filmmakers who told the story of a Bell Boy in a prestigious hotel over the course of a formative evening. Each filmmaker would place their stamp and write/direct a segment of the film, breaking the film into four loosely interconnected short films. We are shown a coven of witches who try to seduce the Bell Boy (played wonderfully by Tim Roth) in order to bring back their passed coven leader. Up next the Bell Boy gets caught up in a young couple's sadistic sexual games. Then, the Bell Boy has to pay visits to a scary Latin man's hooligan children. Finally, he is expected to cater to a hot new Hollywood Star who plays out a harrowing bet. The film is over the top and leaves you scratching your head, but you do find yourself enthralled with it. Antonio Banderas shines as the scary father of the troublesome children in the strongest vignette of the film, also directed by Robert Rodriguez. It was this that gave Rodriguez the idea for two of his upcoming films; Spy Kids and Sin City. Also noteworthy are Jennifer Beals' terrific performance and Quentin Tarantino's segment who opens with a great one shot.
Mortal Kombat - Easily stands as the greatest video game adaptation of all time, this guilty pleasure terrifically reinvents the formula for Enter the Dragon in bringing to life this fantastical martial arts film. The film offers a strong sense of scope and delivers well constructed visuals in its cinematography and art direction. The characters jump from the screen and have some solid performance work from Christopher Lambert (of all people) as Goddly Raiden, Talisa Soto as Kitana (a rather purposeless character she brings a strong dignity to generating relevance), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as villainous Shang Tsung (a performance he is so iconic in delivering which he has reprised even as recent as 2017 for the VOD release of the serialized show). It is the character of Johnny Cage that steals the film. He is so on point as a Hollywood movie star where ego takes forefront. His lines are excellently written and are delivered perfectly by Linden Ashby. The film was directed by Paul W. S. Anderson in his only title worth viewing. I know this is a schlocky kung fu movie, but hot damn if it is not an enjoyable one and easily the best martial arts films since the era of the Shaw Brothers.
The Quick and the Dead - Sam Raimi directed what I would argue is the coolest western that sizzles with it's all star cast. Slung on the framework of A Fistful of Dollars but with a female in the role of the Man with No Name, The Quick and the Dead is brimming with wonderful imagery that one would come to expect from Sam Raimi. Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Lance Henriksen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gary Sinise and Russell Crowe all shine and bring depth to their roles. The revenge drama aspect of the film would feel played out in less qualified hands, but Raimi really knows how to ramp up tension and Hackman plays into the villainy nicely.
Seven - After nearly bombing out of his directorial debut (Alien 3), everyone was shocked at how expertly David Fincher directed his sophomore feature. This film is a masterclass in police procedural filmmaking. It is gritty, engaging, incredibly suspenseful, wicked smart, beautifully photographed and has richly drawn character work and some of the finest performances of the careers of Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow. It is a film that plays with your morals, especially during its haunting climax. The premise has a duo of detectives on the hunt for a serial killer who is patterning his crimes according to the seven deadly sins; gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust and envy. Each crime scene yields an ever escalating environment of depravity that toys with the detectives. What is neat is that the film almost harnesses the framework of films like Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs or The Fugitive as a weapon against expectation, drawing a conclusion to the case long before the film's twisted climax. This would mark the start of a rich library of exceptional films from Fincher.
Best Picture : Braveheart - Mel Gibson directed and starred in this powerful reworking of the life of William Wallace. It is a fantastic film and one of Hollywood's last true epics.
Biggest Box Office : Toy Story - In what I consider to be the year's best film, John Lasseter directs the first all CG film. Toys are brought to life, but never would you expect to find such grandeur and reverence for childhood. This film is emotionally gripping, really funny and one of the finest animated films of all time. Written by some of the strongest storytellers in Hollywood today including Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Lasseter himself. This film paved the way for modern animation is is still the strongest pillar in the house of Pixar.