Iñárritu.  Again for the purposes of this list (written in 2019) I’m honoring the 10-year moratorium so I’m not really factoring in films that came out from 2009-present. Iñárritu has had an incredible 2010’s decade adding Birdman and The Revenant so he’ll jump up this list when I update my top directors list at some point. Even without that 1-2 (his best two films) he’s a style-plus director with a clear style and story structure that he started in Amores Perros, used again in 21 Grams and carried through to Babel. The visual style is there and the interconnected narrative structure (he wasn’t called the Mexican Tarantino for no reason) as well. Iñárritu has 5 films in the archives and 5 films that are currently in the top 100 of their respective decade. That’s tough to beat for someone who had their first archiveable film in the 21st century (2000- Amores Perros) .

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It make take a second– is this image from Tarkovsky? Malick? Bela Tarr maybe? Nope- it is one of 100 shots like this in Iñárritu’s The Revenant

Best film: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Coming into 2014 Birdman wasn’t really on my radar. Maybe because I was a little pumped to see Edward Norton again. But Michael Keaton hadn’t had his renaissance yet and Inarritu was coming off his worst film- Biutiful. You could also argue that Iñárritu’s films were getting progressively weaker with each new foray since his stunning debut in with Amores Perros in 2000. I think that attributed to the overall feeling that he wasn’t an elite filmmaker anymore. I was blown away by Birdman.  The screenplay is great, the acting is great, the music is great, but the cinematography and direction is the thing most singularly in need of praise here. It’s uninhibited and dazzling. It’s almost like there is a wild, bold, long-take opening shot that continues for 117 minutes that you keep hoping doesn’t end (and it doesn’t).  I kept thinking “I hope they don’t blow this” for like the entire film. The film needs to revisited and analyzed but certainly an early comparison is the early breakthrough film Rope by Hitchcock with his series of 10-minute takes that he blended in and needed (because of the film limitations) to cut/edit. Another comparison is Aleksandr Sokurov’s 2002 groundbreaking film Russian Ark which actually was done with one take. I think I’m slightly more impressed with Iñárritu’s achievement because of the content  behind it and how well the form is married to it and the style (with Russian ark I’m just sitting there impressed by the feat (which is worthy of high praise) and not the film –far too often). The WSJ calls it “Emmanuel Lubezki’s friction-free cinematography” and the Boston Globe says it’s “Iñárritu in the mood to play” which he certainly is (with the screenplay, the direction, etc).  Although credit goes to Iñárritu- I think we have to stop and acknowledge that Lubezki, as the dp, might be on a roll like one we’ve never seen before from a dp in the history of film. In a stretch going back to 2006 he’s done children of mentree of life, gravity and birdman. If you want to leave out children of men because it was so long ago I’m racking my brain to find a better stretch than what he’s done since tree of life. Baffling stuff.

Iñárritu has never had a problem getting great performances in his films. The entire cast is fantastic here. My praise is mainly for three actors though: Keaton, Norton, and Stone—and in that order.  Stone does the best work of her career to date here (she’s since passed it in The Favourite and La Lan Land)  and Norton since 2002 in 25th hour.  Keaton is an absolute revelation and worthy of all the praise he’s getting (and will get). He’s hilarious and does a great job carrying the depth and conflict in his character- which is a damn great character.

Like the direction, camera-movement, and acting the screenplay is completely go-for-broke excellence. Amazing. Who knew that after an almost insufferable amount of depression in his films that Iñárritu could be so funny?  There is just awesome inside Hollywood and theatre stuff on killing (and complimenting at the same time) RDJ, X-men, Fassbender (a “prequel to a prequel”- haha), Renner, etc. – there’s some truth here of course about selling out but not all of it- even Keaton’s own batman films with burton were pretty darn artistic in my mind (I have the original batman in the top 10 of 1989). Overall the biggest compliment I can give is I just think this is a great screenplay and the film is probably a top 10 film of the year even without the dazzling work of the director—so I mean if this were directed by a normal guy or gal and we had this level of screenplay and acting I think its possibly that good to be more than just a recommend. I could go on and on (other topics could include “non-diegetic music vs diegetic”, “comparisons to black swan”). The form is brilliant and the style is completely in-step with the content. I think you could also argue that the film is as artistically ambitious as any film from 2014 (from wes, linklater, Nolan) in its own way. It’s certainly no “backstage black comedy” and that alone to anyone who speaks the language of film.

for a film that is essentially one long take– there is a remarkable amount of detail in the production design and mise-en-scene in Birdman
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Iñárritu’s camera frames a face that doesn’t look like anything else- the closest thing may be Mikhail Kalatozov (I Am Cuba auteur among other films)– eliciting a well-earned Oscar nom almost every time an actor has more than a few minutes on screen
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the controlled set in Birdman let Iñárritu detail every square even- even if the constantly-moving camera never fully let him set the frame, sit, and take it in

total archiveable films: 5

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (Amores Perros)

top 100 films of the decade:  5 (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), The Revenant

most overrated:  Nothing. It’s fair to say I’m more perceptive to Inarritu’s brilliance than almost anyone else (you like how I did that?). I think he’s clearly one of the best filmmakers working and of the 21st century in general.

most underrated:  Again I could put every single one of his films here. So all 5 of the films below are on the TSPDT top 1000 of the 21st century but they’re all, again, really poorly underrated by the critical consensus.  The worst atrocity is 2015’s The Revenant. Right now The Revenant is ranked #36 of 2015 on TSPDT. That’s infuriating. I dare anyone to name 5 more beautiful films from the 2010’s decade.

from The Revenant – staggeringly beautiful photography
I dare anyone to name 5 more beautiful films from the 2010’s decade.
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It’s almost like if Malick shot The Thin Red Line in a serious of beautiful tracking shots

gem I want to spotlight:    Amores Perros was an incredible debut in 2000 that sometimes gets lost in the stuff of an all-time impressive year (and string of years with 1999-2001). Again, what a rare collection of great films all coming out at once. This film is so raw and ambitious. As we’ll see in the rest of his soon to be future oeuvre Iñárritu shows his passion for digging at the pain of humanity. As Ebert says on the film “unquestionably the work of a born filmmaker”. This film, again, like the rest of his work, is a staggering piece of work and impressive punch to the gut.

from Amores Perros – a fraction of the budget of his later works but Iñárritu designs the hell out of the frame here. Each dog, each blanket, graffiti and detail in the squalor is intended and detailed
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stylistic innovations/traits:    Iñárritu is known for visually impressive films dwelling on god, religion, pain, and the ugliness of humanity. I’d argue that although Birdman is a comedy, features dazzling work from Emmanuel Lubezki, and does center on its title character, it too, is somewhat a multiple narrative film (which is probably why Norton and Emma Stone were correctly nominated for Oscars) that dwells on pain and is ridiculously artistically ambitious. I think ambition (again in content and in style) may be the key word when describing Iñárritu as a film artist which is probably the main reason detractors say he has a god-complex or main flaw as a director is arrogance. I think we’ve seen, from Griffith to von Stroheim to Herzog and Coppola, that history is kind to directors with this “flaw” of being “overly ambitious”  (I think Nolan also gets this criticism now and will benefit from time and looking back on his body of work).

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intimate and interconnected dramas — here in 21 Grams
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with something greater to say on an epic scale- on the human condition (21 Grams)
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–or religion (here in Babel)

top 10

  1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  2. The Revenant
  3. Amores Perros
  4. 21 Grams
  5. Babel

By year and grades

2000- Amores Perros MS
2003- 21 Grams MS
2006- Babel HR
2014- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance MP
2015- The Revenant 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 archives