The name of Alejandro González Iñárritu has gained a lot of impetus in recent years. Born on August 15, 1963 in Mexico City, he is one of today’s most reputable directors in both the commercial and the art house scenes since the beginning of his career.
He debuted as a feature film director in 2000 with “Amores Perros”, a challenging and gritty film where various tragic lives are intertwined by the mysterious forces of fortuitous encounters. This film was followed by 2003’s “21 Grams” and 2006’s “Babel”, which constitute a trilogy of films written by Guillermo Arriaga and photographed by Rodrigo Prieto known as the ‘Death Trilogy’, which examines human relationships, pain, and chance.
In 2010, he directed “Biutiful”, starring by Javier Bardem and with Prieto once more as DP, which received a lukewarm response from both critics and spectators. His greatest commercial and artistic achievements would come in the following years with his next two films: 2014’s “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” and 2015’s “The Revenant”, two films that also represent the some of the most important international achievements for Mexican filmmakers. These two films won him the coveted Oscar trophies and put him up there with the legends!
Here is a look at the ranking of these films, from worst to best (in my opinion)
6. Biutiful (2010)
Javier Bardem stars in “Biutiful”, a film set in Barcelona that follows Uxbal, a man who uses his ability to talk with the spirits of the dead in order to help them transcend (although this character trait is only mildly explored). He lives in the underbelly of the city and is involved with workers from Asia and Africa, trying to help them to get along in the dangerous and unstable environment in which they are forced to live due to their status as illegal immigrants.
The movie is an emotional experience, and focuses more on the excellent talent of Javier Bardem as the priest. Many thought the film was slow, which more of characterisation and less focus on the story. I couldn’t agree more. Dull, but well acted.
5. Babel (2006)
With “Babel”, Iñárritu gave a glorious closure to his Death Trilogy. This time, Arriaga’s script puts us in an international setting, with stories developing in countries on three different continents –Japan, Morocco and México – with four different plot lines intertwining in unexpected ways.
The main protagonists of the film are as follows: in Morocco, the two sons of a sheep herder and an American couple on vacation; in Mexico, the children of the American couple and their Mexican caretaker; and in Japan, a deaf schoolgirl grieving the suicide of her mother.
The movies focusses on the want of communication, but in the end dealing with the lack of it. The story of the Japanese schoolgirl was indulgent and overtly sexual. Some long and boring scenes made this strictly a one-time watch.
4. 21 Grams (2003)
The second installment of the trilogy is about the lives of three families whose fates are linked by a thread of tragedy and death.
Sean Penn plays a man dying from a heart disease, who hopelessly waits for a donor, accompanied by his wife, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg; Benicio Del Toro plays a born-again ex-con that has been in and out of jail since he was 17, who is struggling to be a good father and a good husband; and Naomi Watts plays a middle-class housewife living a comfortable life with her husband and her two little girls.
Heavily like the predecessor Amores Perros, where 3 stories were intermingled into one, the movie effectively jumps from one story to another and captures the sadness with finesse. The actors give a towering performance, especially Benicio Del Toro who is flawless!
3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Amongst a series of nodes and homages to several artists and creators, we are told the story of Riggan, a former film actor made famous for his role as a superhero named Birdman. Years after his young successes, he sets out to redeem himself through a theatre adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love?”.
“Birdman” is one of the most ambitious films by Iñárritu, and he managed to excel in every aspect. The cast is filled with names like Edward Norton, Michael Keaton and Naomi Watts, and they all perform flawlessly; the cinematography is a masterclass in lighting, framing, and composing that is so good and flawless that director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki was awarded with an Oscar.
The score composed by Antonio Sánchez is drum-based jazz that underlines the events of the film in a masterful way. And the script, co-written by Iñárritu, is deep, compelling, and entertaining, offering a lot of material to dissect and ponder in later viewings. The film is intellectually ambitious and visually stunning as well, embodying the debate of art versus entertainment in Riggan’s tortuous path.
2. The Revenant (2015)
The commercial success and critical acclaim received with “Birdman” was followed the next year with the even more successful film, “The Revenant”. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, it tells the revenge story of Hugh Glass, an 1820’s expeditioner who is left for dead by his hunting team after he is attacked by a bear.
DiCaprio’s performance is memorable – so much in fact that he received the only Oscar in his career so far because of it – depicting a man who is faced with his past while he struggles to stay alive and to find ways to survive in the middle of the indifferent nature. The entire cast of the film, especially Tom Hardy, performs admirably, showing what can be achieved under good direction. Long but never boring, “The Revenant” surely is a memorable and brutal revenge drama.
1. Amores Perros (2000)
My personal favourite, “Amores Perros” is the first feature-length film directed by Iñárritu, and it is considered today as one of the most important films in Latin America’s cinematographic history, and also a keystone that defined the wave of Mexican films to come after it. It was written by Guillermo Arriaga, photographed by Rodrigo Prieto, and it features the first leading role for Gael García Bernal, who later gained international fame after starring in Cuarón’s “Y Tu Mamá También” in the following year.
The film is set in Mexico City and it follows three different stories tied together by a violent car crash. Octavio is a poor young man trying to make easy money through underground dog fights so he and his sister-in-law can go away to start a new life; Valeria is a supermodel who is enjoying a newfound bliss until she is badly injured in the car crash; and El Chivo is mysterious vagrant and hitman who takes care of homeless dogs.
Amores Perros is painful, realistic and what sets it apart is the focus on all the strata of society; the rich, the middle class and the poor. The darkness sucks you in, and the human emotions on display are something which has not been portrayed in a better way than this. A masterpiece which deserves multiple watches by all the cinema lovers!