The three amigos: Una introducción
The three amigos are collectively redefining what prestige cinema looks and sounds like. Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón have not only been crafting exceptional films, but they’ve also been recognized with Oscars, winning Best Director 5 out of the last 6 years. In 2019, the significance of having 3 Mexican born artists’ perspectives be officially acknowledged in the US for their profound excellence cannot be overstated. This article is an introduction to their most important works.
Guillermo del Toro
Cronos / The Devil’s Backbone
Cronos is del Toro’s first film, which led to his first Hollywood gig - Mimic, which itself was something of a disaster. After the disappointment, del Toro went home and made The Devil’s Backbone. Both of these earlier movies are raw versions of the films he would later garner acclaim for; adult fairy tales about fictional monsters navigating through real-world horrors.
Blade II / Hellboy
Back in Hollywood, del Toro this time got tapped to direct Blade II and shortly thereafter was able to launch his own superhero franchise with Hellboy. Before Marvel’s billion-dollar mega-franchises, there were del Toro’s hero movies about monsters saving the world, and they were pretty damn good. Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge that a. Blade was the first superhero movie featuring a black actor as a lead and b. Blade II did it better.
Pan’s Labyrinth / The Shape of Water 🏆
Pan’s Labyrinth (original Spanish title: El laberinto del fauno) and The Shape of Water are each a return to del Toro’s dark fairytales and his most significant works. Each film is set in a time of repression (1940’s Spain and 1960’s America, if you were anything but a hetero white dude) that uses fantasy as a way to discuss current events (first in 2006, then in 2017). These are del Toro’s most political and effective films and if you only have time for a couple of his movies, start here.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Amores Perros / Babel
Iñárritu quickly became known for his tragic interconnected tales of loss and love, think Pulp Fiction times-a-million depressing. From the get-go, Iñárritu has been a critical darling - Amores Perros was nominated for best foreign film and since then every one of his movies has been recognized in some way shape or form by the Academy. Babel employs the same type of narrative, with interwoven storylines that all somehow connect. With more actors and international locations, it sometimes borders on contrived.
21 Grams / Biutiful
21 Grams and Biutiful are Iñárritu’s hidden gems. They are never the films people talk about when they talk about him, but they were lauded when released. I suppose that if you identify as a hipster, this is probably where you want to start.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) 🏆 / The Revenant 🏆
Only 3 directors have ever won back-to-back Oscars for their craftsmanship: John Ford (1941-1942), Joseph Mankiewicz (1950-1951), and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2015-2016). It is of little coincidence that these awards should coincide with Iñárritu’s pairing with another brilliant Mexican craftsman - cinematographer Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki. We’ll see more of Chivo later, but start thinking of him as the silent fourth amigo, sorta like how the 3 Musketeers were actually 4 homies.
Solo con Tu Pareja / Y Tu Mama Tambien
Alfonso Cuarón bookended his first foray into Hollywood (A Little Princess and Great Expectations) with two intimate Spanish films. Solo con Tu Pareja being his first feature-length film, and Y Tu Mama Tambien which he made upon his return from el norte. Like del Toro, the step back paid off as Tu Mama is the movie that effectively got him the directing gig that would launch his career into the stratosphere.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban / Gravity 🏆
Getting hired to direct a Harry Potter movie must have been something akin to winning the lottery. Proceeding to direct the shit out of it, and years later still having it be regarded as the best in the franchise, well that’s the kind of stuff whole careers are built on. Cuarón got HP3 because of the friendship depicted in Tu Mama (a stretch from Harry and Ron if I may say so). The fact that he was then able to so seamlessly transition into a mega-budget franchise explains how he managed to make Gravity - a space survival thriller that’s also an art-house movie about rebirth.
Children of Men / Roma 🏆
Shifting gears, we go from Cuarón’s two biggest hits to his two most technically impressive and emotionally devastating films. Here again, we see the Chivo-effect - Lubezki shot both Children of Men and Gravity (above), and although the CGI in the latter is a little overpowering, his touch is unmistakable in Children which contains several of the most impressive and effective long shots in cinema. Cuarón himself seems to have taken note of their time together as Roma, which he shot himself, is a technical visual masterpiece filled with long takes that tell its story using both the foreground and background. Children of Men and Roma are not just Cuarón’s best work but also my favorite movies of the three mexican authors’ combine filmography.
The Oscars are essentially a popularity contest *coughGreenBookcough*, but they also serve as historical time capsules of western culture. The movies and artists that win enter the record books and tend to be revisited with frequency. The three amigos’ films, rich in perspective and inclusivity, inspiring the next wave of filmmakers is genuinely a good thing. So although Roma didn’t take the big prize at the ‘19 Oscars, namely because the academy has a bone to pick with Netflix, when Cuarón was awarded 3 times (Best Foreign, Best Cinematography, and Best Director - also marking the first time one artist wins both for cinematography and direction) I couldn’t help it feel like the industry took another step towards a more inclusive future.
🏆 = Best Director Oscars
Jorge Chaparro is a Montreal based writer