Alfonso Cuarón is a pure filmmaking genius. He’s directed a total of 8 very impressive feature films. I’ve seen every single one, and everyone is impressive in their own right. What makes Cuarón such a filmmaking wizard, is his technical mastery of long takes that consist of astonishing staging and often with the use of the vibrant color of green. In many aspects he can be compared to Stanley Kubrick, and he’s able to pull off such majestic craftsmanship because he takes a long period of time in between projects, and like Kubrick he switches up different film genres and he never repeats himself while still delivering a distinctive visual style that is always immersive and stylish.
Cuarón, like many great filmmakers before him attended film school. He attended the University of Mexico where he was able to produce and direct his own short films. It was there where he met cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who would become a frequent collaborator with Cuarón. Upon film school, Cuarón went onto to work in the TV industry in Mexico years before directing his debut feature film, the 1991 romantic comedy “Solo Con tu Pareja” which went onto become a huge hit in Mexico, in which it caught the attention of the late Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa), from there he was hired to direct the 1995 Warner Bros. family film “A Little Princess”, which became an international, commercial, and critical success.
Since then Cuarón has been blessed with making many more commercial and critical successes, including even directing what is considered the best Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, to some fully realized big budgeted films like “Gravity” and the dystopian film “Children of Men”, yet weather the budget is big or small, Cuarón can still pull off a film with tremendous vision, awe-inspiring visual artistry, and of course a personal stamp that is missing in many movies today. Even his smaller and more intimate films like “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and now “Roma” are formally daring masterpieces that showcase the potential of what great cinema can pull off. Cuarón’s protagonists are often living in times where everything is stacked against them, and they must defy all odds to push against the negative forces that are set out to confine and harm them. Whether it’s Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) in “Gravity”, a novice astronaut trying to survive after she is stranded in space, or the entire planet on the brink of extinction in “Children of Men”, each of Cuaron’s films are a triumph of hope and survival. His films often hold themes about human fragility and the finality of death. His films also study the contrasts between the classes, both the wealthy class, along with the working and poor. His films are never judgmental, they just observe the contrast of these lifestyles, and how they collide and co-exist with one another.
Alfonso Cuarón has come a long way in 18 years, he’s now up for four personal Oscars at the Academy Awards for his high personal “Roma”, which began as a labor of love personal project, and is now considered by many in being the triumphant masterpiece of career. Cuarón also helmed the cinematography for the project after longtime collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki couldn’t commit, in which Lubezki is a 3 time Oscar winner for Cinematography, he has won the gold three years in a row (2014, 2015, 2016) for Cuarón’s own “Gravity”, along with with Alejandro G. Innaritu’s “Birdman”, and “The Revenent”.
Overall “Roma” has had strong legs, and it has been the critical and awards’ season darling all year long. Now Roma could bring Cuarón Oscars for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. The film is also up for Best Foreign Language Film in which it could easily take home. Cuarón also won the Best Director award in 2013 for “Gravity”, which was praised for it’s sheer technical genius, but criticized by the public for being too “boring”. There is a great chance that on Sunday night at the Oscar’s, we could be seeing Cuarón going up on the stage accepting numerous awards. For this weeks Road to the Oscar series, I decided to celebrate the great success of Alfonso Cuarón, I have ranked and rated all eight of his films, his filmmaking and films will forever live on for their great visual artistry, along with thier deeply humane themes that reach into far depths of just how personal one can get with their vision.
1. Roma (2018)
“Roma” is a towering cinematic achievement that is celebrated for being Cuarón’s most personal. The film in many ways echoes Terrence Malick’s 2011 masterpiece, “The Tree of Life”, in which the memories also feel very detailed and vivid, yet also unfold like a dreamlike memory. Cuarón was brought up by a nanny and housekeeper who he holds dearly to his heart, and “Roma” is a celebration to the women in our lives that have helped mold and shape who we are. By casting first-time actress, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, who delivers the most humane and naturalistic performance of 2018, her performance and characterization, along with the filmmaking techniques are nothing short of a miracle. Shot in 65mm film and in ravishing black and white, Cuarón allows the camera to observe the daily routines that begin as habit, and how they can instantly transition into tragedy the next. All around this is one elegant and eloquent work of art that was my favorite film of 2018.
2. Children of Men (2006)
A staggering cinematic achievement, based on a novel by P.D. James, this work of art truly holds echoes of Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Andre Tarkovsky, and Alfred Hitchcock in just how formally daring it is. Like those icons, this film truly pushes the realms and depths of what cinema can do. An instant sci-fi classic that is still celebrated today, “Children of Men” is one of the most impressive films ever made about the future. It ranks up there with Fritz Lane’s “Metropolis”, Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”, and John Carpenter’s “Escape of New York”, in just how richly detailed the futuristic world is. In the film we see migrants rounded up and detained in cages. Homeless people live in huts and hovels. The United Kingdom is in mostly in complete lock down and in an entire police state of checkpoints and surveillance. Anarchists and guerrilla fighters occupy outside the cities, and woman can no longer be fertile. The film doesn’t depend on CGI, space, or other innovative technology. Instead the film is a cautionary tale where our planet can be headed if we don’t put the principles of peace, liberty, and prosperity in order. The only thing we have to fear in the future, is the choices that are made today. The film is truly a beacon of what defines hope and humanity, how we treat ourselves, others, and the world that we inhabit. This film made my top ten list in 2006.
3. Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
Just as Cuarón returned to Mexico with “Roma” after two bigger Hollywood productions (Children of Men, Gravity), he did this as well with the 2002 released film “Y Tu Mama Tambien” that came right after “Great Expectations” (1998) and “A Little Princess” (1995). Clearly Cuarón has personal things to say about his roots. The film was released Unrated, and it’s Cuarón’s most sensual and erotic film of his career. While explicit with full frontal nudity, the film is far from being pornographic or exploitative. The film is very thoughtful and honesty, thanks to the casting of Gabriel Garcia Bernal and Deigo Luna, who both generated their careers here with some fearless and honest performances, but it was Maribel Verdu as Luisa that truly drives the theme and material into a level of maturity, thoughtfulness, and grace. She truly elevates every scene as she teases, drills, observes, and gives the young men lectures about love, dating, intimacy, and romance that they are still novice to. She follows the tropes of the “wiser and sexier older woman”, that Hollywood has drained from us, but here Cuarón elevated that archetype into a character that is sophisticated, complex, gorgeous, and conflicted. Overall the film is a richly made and engaging road movie that offers great laughs, warmth, and melancholy. This film made my top ten list in 2002.
4. Gravity (2013)
The general public hated on this film upon release, however if you understand the visual language of cinema, and can appreciate the visual artistry of film directing and cinematography, the film is a triumph in film technique and visual boldness. Far from being your typical space movie, Cuarón takes the escapist popcorn film to a while new level of visual mastery. It has stunning visual effects, sound design, camera shots, and music, but it’s not just an exercise in eye candy, it focuses on character and the human spirit that was also found in “Children of Men”. Even revisiting the film now, it plays out better than “Avatar”, and even “The Lord of the Rings” because the effects do not feel dated. In fact the visual grandeur is so breathtaking, it’s hard not to appreciate the craft that is on display in this film. Seeing this film on the big screen and on the I-Max was seriously one of the most immersive cinematic experiences of my life. This film made my top ten list in 2013.
5. A Little Princess (1995)
One could see the genius of Cuarón forming here if you were to watch it now. With meticulous detail in art direction, visuals, and beautiful direction that is adapted from the Frances Hodgson novel of the same name, this is surely one of the greater children films ever created, and I am not overstating that. This film generated the very first Oscar nomination for cinematographer Lubezki and this film planted Cuarón into great success. It also showcased Cuarón’s love for rich colors, especially green which we see reappear in many of his films. Liesel Matthews is a charm, and Eleanor Bron truly gets under your skin in an effectively sinister performance as the films villain, Miss Minchin. The film is very empowering to young girls, and I even appreciated this film at age 13 when I first saw it. Overall the film is very elegant, more so than most family movies.
Rating 1/2 out of
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azaban (2004)
My personal favorite film in the Harry Potter franchise, then again could I be bias? The fourth installment of HP “The Goblet of Fire” held the most spectacle, and “Deeply Hallows” was the most macabre, one thing that can be said is Cuarón’s vision and craftsmanship elevated each of the HP films with higher standards of filmmaking technique, execution, and technique. It was the film that balanced the fantasy with the macabre quite well, we were introduced to eerie demeantors, and the scene of the shrinking bus is one of the finest set-pieces in the entire series. Visually Cuarón got to play around with time travel, and the awful Aunt Marge was turned into a balloon, and we got a great introduction to the half bird, half horse hippogriff. Being a big champion of this film it was tough ranking this film so low, but it’s just a testament to just how strong Cuarón’s body of work really is.
1/2 out of
7. Solo con Tu Pareja/Love in the Time of Hysteria (1991)
Cuarón’s debut feature film is also his funniest and lightest film to date. With a sharp script and hilarious performances, the film has the trappings of a being a typical Rom-com, yet Alfonso and his brother Carlos Cuarón brought great energy and sophistication in the writing that truly elevates the material from formulaic terrain. The film is about a womanizer, Tomas Tomas (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) who is a bachelor that enjoys going from woman to woman, however we learn this has more to deal with his fears of being committed to a relationship. A bad prank from a nurse that he double crosses on a date ends up changing the course of his life after she changes his medical report and marks him HIV positive. Tomas ends up wanting to change his ways once he is drawn into a friend of his neighbor that also allows him to stay on focus of what he wants in life. “Solo con Tu Pareja” is certainly a quality debut feature that will easily amuse and flatter you.
8. Great Expectations (1998)
Cuarón’s third feature film was released my freshman year in high school, and it was certainly a date movie for many of fellow classmates. Marketed as a teen movie that was released just after the success of James Cameron’s “Titanic” (1997), the film would have been a bigger hit if it wasn’t for the long success of the “Titanic”. It was a modern Charles Dickens adaptation, and while its known for being the least celebrated Cuarón film to date, it’s still highly engaging. It’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye, with a color palette of green throughout, even though it is my least favorite film of Cuarón’s oeuvre, one can’t deny how passionate, sexy, and stylish the film is. Ethan Hawke is deeply compelling as Finn, Gwyneth Paltrow delivers an impressive performance that holds a lot of conflicting tones, and seasoned actors Robert De Niro, Chris Cooper, and Anne Bancroft are absolutely superb here. While being Cuarón least mature and complex film to date, yet its still a joy to watch.