Cuarón. Again this list has a 10-year moratorium so I’m not factoring in Gravity or Roma and Cuaron still lands at slot #60 here. I’ll get to it below but his work in the 1990’s is incredibly underrated (he has a total of 7 films that are in their respective decades top 100) and needs to be studied and propped up where it belongs. Y Tu Mama is in my top 200f films of all-time and it’s so formally accomplished. Children of Men rates as the single best film of the 00’s—so yeah—Cuaron is an unbelievable auteur who will have no trouble flying into the top 50 when the moratorium for Gravity and Roma lift.

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immaculate arrangement of characters, designed windows– wall art quality photography in Roma

Best film:  Children of Men

  • It has 3 or 4 of the best scenes and sequences in the last 15-20 years of film.
  • the narrative is an outstanding biblical parable, there’s strong social undercurrents on pollution and immigration, but mainly- it’s a masterpiece because of the absolutely stylistic tour-de-force from Cuaron—it has become one of the textbook examples of film art in the 21st century– camera movement, long takes
  • it’s not just camera movement—it’s as gorgeous a mise-en-scene as Cuaron has produced (which puts it up there with the masters)- detail in bodies, graffiti, rabble, architecture as character from Welles, Ozu or Rossellini
  • greens, greys and light blues—a defined color palette- Cuaron is back on his color (like he was with his greens in the 90’s) after a bit of break with Y Tu Mama Tambien – the color is mood and it fits- it’s Antonioni Red Desert, Kieslowski color trilogy,
  • “Ruby Tuesday” is used twice for 5 seconds for great affect- once to show emote on Owen’s beaten face remembering his son, and the other with Michael Caine’s goodbye to his wife
  • Dystopian influences—1984, Brazil, Metropolis, Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys28 Days Later, Blade Runner– but this is its own thing- strong color
  • Cluttered architecture
  • Danny Huston’ breathtaking- “Ark of the Arts”- theological of course but stunning mise-en-scene
  • There are noir elements- this is a reluctant hero
  • The death of Julianne Moore (bit of a L’Avventura/Psycho killing off of the star early element) is an absolute stunner of a oner—Cuaron is showing off with the ping pong ball trick, the entire thing is about 4 minutes, complicated action, cracking glass, flames, stunt-work—it absolutely adds to the intensity of the scene
  • Of course much of it is set in very green forest and woods
  • Operatic music at the barn during the pregnancy reveal—beautiful- and Owen says “Jesus Chris” which will be done again three times
  • The action sequences held without a break are the poster child to defy those who say it’s just style
  • Caine dazzles in his scenes- humor, life, vitality in a bleak world
  • The single greatest wall-art shot (and there are dozens) may but the shot of the swing set through the broken glass—we go back to again with Peter Mullan confronts Clive
  • The scene where she gives birth in a long take would be the best scene in 99.9% of films and it’s probably 6th here- it’s a long take, intense, brilliant
  • the finale is perfection
  • The baby crying causing the cease fire and the long take (the longest of the film) of the POV battle tracking shot on Owen’s shoulder is transcendent- some of the best work of the decade and perhaps the decades best film
  • Masterpiece
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one of cinema’s great final shots and endings– Children of Men
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it’ s not just camera movement– the mise-en-scene work- in Roma and here in Children of Men

total archiveable films: 8

top 100 films: 1 (Children of Men)

the climatic scene/shot in Children of Men

top 500 films: 2 (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien)

top 100 films of the decade: 7 (Solo con Tu Pareja , A Little Princess, Great Expectations, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men, Gravity, Roma)

in the 2010’s decade Cuaron largely abandoned the fabulous greens he used so frequently in his 1990’s work– but breaks it out here during a formally crucial rebirth scene in Gravity

most overrated: Not a thing

most underrated:  Cuaron’s 1990’s work. The sort of the “green trilogy” (7.      Solo con Tu Pareja, A Little Princess, Great Expectations) before excelling with Y Tu Mama Tambien in 2001—they’re all top-10 of their year-worthy- visually sumptuous and ambitious.

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many auteurs have striking spiral staircase work- but this debut Solo con Tu Pareja- uses Cuaron’s color palette choice– the entire film is controlled so well visually- it’s a shame the narrative can’t match
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this attractive shot is from A Little Princess – the strongest of Cuaron’s three 1990’s films– all three land in my top 100 of the decade, all three are swimming in sumptuous greens, wall-art mise-en-scene, and bold camera movements

gem I want to spotlight:  Y Tu Mama Tambien

  • Cuaron’s greatest film to date in 2001 and a masterpiece
  • It marks a visual departure of sorts for Cuaron- it’s more naturalistic in the set design and lighting (frankly the entire mise-en-scene)—it’s not loaded in a sea of green
  • It had broad comedy elements like his debut Sólo con Tu Pareja – and the lead there does the voice over here (though this one is much funnier – featuring far superior writing) but there’s a real social texture here- comments on politics and class
  • Certainly it has connective tissue with Truffaut’s Jules and Jim with the two guys going for one girl dynamic— many similar scenes
  • Formally it’s meticulously set forth- we have long takes (largely handheld) most feature tracking shots…. Then the audio drops off and the film goes mute—then we get a voice-over comment on the background of the situation, character motivations, side stories- really well done and a determined aesthetic choice carried on throughout
  • It’s Cuaron’s 4th film, and del Toro had Cronos in 1993—but with this in 2001, Devil’s Backbone (which I don’t quite put in the class of Cuaron’s or Inarritu’s film), and Amorres Perros (2000) we have the Mexican New Wave here and it’s lasted until least 2018 with 4 of the last 5 (and could be another one with Cuaron in 2018) deserved best director Oscar wins and these three doing tremendous work
  • Opening shot- Harold and Maude poster with nudity and long handheld camera take, goes mute and then voice over—sets the tone- and clearly we have a “Maude” here who is going to teach the two protagonists about life- absolutely love it.
  • Great long tracking shot along the car as they talk about their manifesto
  • We touch on the social texture- demonstrations, Maids (which could be connected again to Roma) and how Diego Luna’s character called her mom), cooks—the details of the lives around these central three
  • There’s pain here- tragedy- in Maribel Verdu’s character exorcised through sex- not unlike Brando in Last Tango
  • Three incredibly rich characters- envy
  • The puka shells are very 2001- make me nostalgic
  • One of the social texture sequences that is touching is Chuy- the 4th generation fisherman who had to be relocated and the end of the line of fisherman because of a resort relocation
  • The high-point shot- the hilarious drinking long take which follows her to the jukebox, then her dancing with the camera and looking at the camera- masterful
  • The epilogue meeting in the coffee shop—sobering—different hair—awkward- such a nice touch and the devastating “they will never meet again”
  • Masterpiece
Y Tu Mama Tambien is top 200 film because of the dedication to it’s form (carrying the voice-over on to talk about the background characters/setting after he mutes the main narrative) but this wall-art image is a strong one

stylistic innovations/traits:   First and foremost I’d still say it’s about the camera movement (and that audacious work with director of photography Lubezski (unlike Malick and Innaritu – Cuaron has worked with Lubezski since the beginning). There’s more though– parables (Christianity), the color green (meticulously detailed mise-en-scene which historically is rarely paired with someone who moves the camera like Cuaron). Coming off of Roma Cuaron is certainly one of the best auteurs on the planet currently if not the single greatest. His content (turning skeptics into believers on their way to transcendence in the last two films) and form (formally y tu mama tambien is virtually perfect here) are potent and married with his david bordwell-style definition of cinematography. Cuaron is known for long-takes (the two in Children of Men are all-timers, the shot of Hawke hunting down Paltrow in Great Expectations, the 12 ½-minute opening of Gravity, the beach/drowning tracking shot in Roma. Roma changes a great deal for Cuaron. It proves he’s also a master of mise-en-scene (not just a master but an all-timer, really) on top the camera-movement aesthetic. It proves that he can do it without Lubezki. I think it also enrichens both Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien.  This is the intimate and the epic- the personal and the political or contextual at work here that is brilliantly set up here by Cuaron in the opening credits with Cleo cleaning the garage and the reflection of the world, eventually, stunningly, a plane— in this way it is married to Y Tu Mama Tambien– we have the story of Cleo and the family, but the world goes on around them (much like the formally brilliant voice-over in Y Tu Mama Tambien after they mute the action of Diego Luna and Bernal’s small life).

Cuaron’s greatest moment as an auteur? I’ve seen it twice but want to give it time– here– cinematic perfection in Roma

top 10

  1. Children of Men
  2. Roma
  3. Y Tu Mama Tambien
  4. Gravity
  5. A Little Princess
  6. Great Expectations
  7. Solo con Tu Pareja
  8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
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formally daunting rolling tableaus in Roma– large canvas b/w photographic beauty and a small story (Cleo) against a larger political backdrop

By year and grades

1991- Sólo con Tu Pareja HR
1995- A Little Princess HR
1998- Great Expectations HR
2001- Y Tu Mama Tambien MP
2004- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban R
2006- Children of Men MP
2013- Gravity MP/MS
2018- Roma MP

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archive