Alfonso Cuarón or Alfie as he is lovingly called is one of the few Mexican filmmakers who is a power-player amongst the currently active Hollywood counterparts. Cuarón’s films are immensely immersive, emerging either from his personal life or creative instincts. He holds the position of becoming the first Mexican director to ever win the Oscars for the best director category – winning it for Gravity in 2013.
He along with his fellow Mexican directors Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro Gómez has created a ‘Cha Cha Cha’ production company that raises essential questions about immigration and citizenship in a very humanly manner. He has collaborated with other filmmakers on various projects that include creating the sci-fi TV series ‘Believe’ and producing “The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004).” His progress as a filmmaker can be comprehended by his own quote, “The only reason you make a movie is not to make or set out to do a good or a bad movie, it’s just to see what you learn for the next one.”
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The use of symbols seems to be his trademark and one can see its presence from his debut movie ‘Solo Con Tu Pareja (1991)’ until his recent ‘Roma’ (2018). Watching his movies two major epiphanies can be witnessed: One being his portrayal of immorality – the way immigrants are treated around the globe which is a major highlight of his critically acclaimed movie ‘Children of Men’.
Secondly, the philosophy of Buddhism as explained by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness, “People normally cut reality into compartments, and so are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena. To see one in all and all in one is to break through the great barrier which narrows one’s perception of reality.” Something Cuaron tries to make the audience see through his long continuous shot and also his way of treating the camera as the audience. This is heightened in Children of Men wherein in spite of the film being told in the protagonist’s voice, Cuaron takes the camera away from his limited vision on occasions and lets us see the broader, clearer picture. Also, In Gravity through his long continuous shot and use of montages he tries to convey the meaning and evolution of life.
Here, I have ranked all feature-length movies directed by Alfonso Cuaron from worst to best:
8. Solo con tu pareja (1991)
Cuaron’s debut film is nothing short of a mass entertainer with wonderful performances and an incredibly well-written screenplay. What adds a layer of sophistication to this otherwise average rom-com is the use of symbolism and dialogues.
It’s a story about Tomas Tomas who is a womanizer afraid to commit. But a piece of false news, a prank of sorts played by the nurse whom he cheated on changes his life. The nurse changes his medical reports and makes him HIV positive, which results in a sequence of events that leads him to find the love of his life.
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7. Great Expectations (1998)
A modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’s timeless tale fails to make the mark it is expected to, even with the presence of Robert de Niro, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke. Both Hawke and Paltrow come off as cheeky in their performances and the direction lacks the maturity that we see in Cuaron’s later works.
It is a story of childhood love lost and found and the things in between, which also involves the protagonists becoming a successful painter and finding how a chance encounter with a stranger in his childhood was the reason for his success.
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6. A Little Princess (1995)
We see the glimpse of greatness Alfonso Curon is set to achieve in his direction with A Little Princess. Adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel of the same name, this is a wonderful children’s movie. The myth of Rama-Sita portrayed as father-daughter in the movie might come as offensive to many people, but after a deeper retrospection, one can understand that their love is the purest kind of love there is.
Liesel Matthews’ Sara Crewe is a protagonist that is a pleasure to watch. Also, Liam Cunningham’s Capt Crewe/ Prince Rama brings the much-needed veneer to the movie.
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5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
As far as Harry Potter movies are concerned, this is definitely one of the best. The movie begins with the spell Lumos Maxima, which casts the light in the darkness that pretty much sums the essence of the movie. Dementors were introduced in the movie and scenes of the shrinking bus is hard-to-forget. Even the initial scenes of Aunt Marge turning into a balloon is witty and remarkable.
This is an awe-inspiring film throughout. The visuals and plot structure are definitely the highlight of the series. The climax sequence with Hermione’s time-turner, Harry’s fight with dementors, and the revelation of his past were extremely adventurous and exciting to watch! As a potter-head, it was a tough decision to put this movie in the fifth position but the other four movies deserve the place they are placed at.
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4. Gravity (2013)
The movie is visually and technically so spectacular that it has been and can be reduced by some critics as being superfluous. But superfluous is something that the movie isn’t. “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of the child- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” writes Nhat Hanh. But to most people, it takes a life-altering journey similar to what Ryan (Sandra Bullock) takes in the movie to realize it.
One of the sequences wherein the protagonist (Ryan) is struggling to contact Earth for help and gets instead a Chinese station on the line, soon hearing the voice of a child is a sequence comparable to the famous montage of 2001: A Space odyssey. The Only difference is that the philosophy behind the odyssey is existentialist, while in Gravity, it is Buddhist. He has said, “The most important thing for us is that all of this stuff, and all of this technology, are only tools to achieve the cinematic experience and cinematic moment. For us, the conceptual aspect behind it and the theoretical aspect of what we were trying to convey were more important. All of the technology was in service of that.”
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3. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
This road trip movie is filled with major life lessons that are brought to the audience in small pockets with brilliant performances and witty dialogues. Gael García Bernal is one the most underrated actors of recent times and he gives a valuable performance along with his fellow actors, making this movie nothing short of a masterpiece.
The film lightly brushes on the issues of immigrants and the discretion that is attached to a person’s origin. While the climax of Y Tu Mamá También has the deepest impact, the entire film is a joyful ride that one shouldn’t miss. With quotable quotes like, “Truth is cool but unattainable… the truth is totally amazing, but you can’t ever reach it.” or “Life is like the foam of the sea. You must dive into it. ” the movie becomes a remarkable watch.
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2. Roma (2018)
Roma is a staggering achievement in narrating the most intimate and personal work of Alfonso Cuarón. The film feels like reading the most vivid and eloquently written chapters from a personal diary of an exuberant child. Brought up by a devoted woman (first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio) who is a nanny and housekeeper, it’s Cuaron’s love letter to all the nannies out there, who bring up the kids as their own. It’s tragic to find her lonely when the entire family is around her and depends on everything.
Roma is a heartfelt story of two women belonging to different social and financial strata struggling to keep together midst of personal tragedy, emotional turmoil, and political uprising. The most noticeable thing – which I am sure Cuaron did out of respect – was that the camera never intrudes in the personal lives of the characters. Shot in 65 mm and glorious black and white, Cuarón let the camera glide inside the house as if it’s a character, keenly observing the family dynamics and piecing together their quotidian lives. It’s lyrical and heartbreaking.
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1. Children of Men (2006)
Only rarely does a filmmaker try not to be simply inspired by a book and bring it on screen, but rather translate the book onto the screen. This is one of the rare and fair moments. Children of Men not only manages to bring the symbolism to its significant best form but also makes the camera compassionate in such a way that the audience can empathetically relate to the protagonists.
Alfonso Cuarón uses both the foreground and the background of the shots in sequence significantly. He has used symbolism as wide-ranging as the song “Arbeit Macht Frei” by The Libertines. “Arbeit macht frei,” meaning “Work shall set you free,” representing General Francisco Franco’s bombing of Guernica, Spain. The lead and supporting cast is uncanny in their respective roles especially Michael Caine as Jasper and Clive Owen as the protagonist Theo. But it’s the portrayal of the mother-to-be and her symbolism with Mary – mother of god that’s numbing to the effect of tears. Needless to say, it’s a must-watch.