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) .
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 men, tree 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.
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.
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.
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).
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
- The Revenant
- Amores Perros
- 21 Grams
By year and grades
|2000- Amores Perros||MS|
|2003- 21 Grams||MS|
|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
What grades would you give his films (HR, MS, etc)? Do you think he has a masterpiece yet?
@Thomas Locke- yes! thank you for catching this- a copy and paste error from last October. haha. Sorry. updated now
Do you prioritize the rating you give films off of the visuals mostly or do you factor in other things as well? My reason for asking is mostly because of your rating for Babel and the absence of Biutiful on this list. Personally, I think Babel is a masterpiece and would say Biutiful is worthy of being archived. However, I put the screenplay as the highest aspect of filmmaking when I rate them, so Iñárritu is much higher on my ranking.
@Jaxon- thanks for sharing. It would be a long-winded answer to do it full justice but yes I believe the visual style carries more weight when we’re talking about cinema as an artform. The term “cinematic” gets thrown around but yes- I would prioritize the visuals over screenplay.
Definite. Film is literally a visual medium. By definition visuals should be placed above writing and acting in rating films. Direction is what makes films great, not writing.
If all a movie has is a good screenplay, then that’s all the film really is – a good screenplay. You could read it and it would have the same impact. But take a visual feast like Mad Max: Fury Road which has a very minimalist screenplay and was instead was constructed entirely through storyboards, and you have an excellent piece of cinema. The storytelling is 95% visual.
In other words, screenplays can be important and can lift good films into the realm of greatness, but they’re not necessary. If a film isn’t visually meaningful or interesting though, you might as well just listen to it as an audio drama. And like Drake said, that’s just not cinematic.
this sure is good news https://www.indiewire.com/2021/03/alejandro-gonzalez-inarritu-filming-revenant-followup-1234621525/
I’ve been working through Iñárritu’s filmography chronologically this week, he’s climbing up my favourite’s fast. I just caught Biutiful and am surprised it’s not at least in the archives (I’d give it an R grade).
– High dedication to the blue-grey pallete that also works well for Eastwood and McQueen films, Iñárritu is very consistent with the lighting and mise-en scene to achieve this look in almost every shot, this impressed me a lot.
– A fine tracking shot of Bardem’s character moving across a bridge that pans up towards the dusk sky line and lingers on a flock of birds (just like in 21 Grams) then returns to the ground with Bardem.
– Screenplay and performances are great, I don’t need to detail them enough. Just wish Iñárritu went with a more ambitious story.
So far I’ve got this:
1. Amores Perros – MP
2. 21 Grams – MP
3. Babel – HR
4. Buitiful – R
Birdman and Revenant tomorrow!
@Harry- great work here, you’re in for a big day! I’ve seen all of his work, but never clustered together in a study like you are here– you’ll have to let us know if you see a big difference when he works with Emmanuel Lubezki here.
The Revenant – MP (best)
Birdman – MS (4th best)
I just can’t believe how I brushed off Revenant when I saw it a few years ago, you’re absolutely in the right calling it one of the most beautiful films of the 2010s. Blew me right away.
I do see a difference in the work with Lubezki like you mention, I feel it’s a nice progression where Iñárritu keeps his trademarks but updates the style. The 2000-2010 run is gritty and driven by colour palette, and dedication to mise-en scene where I’d say Birdman and Revenant are focused on their own beauty, I didn’t catch much comparable to say the lighting in the liquor store scene in Birdman or the stage lighting at some points, or The Revenant’s Malick-like work (I thought the nightclub scene in Buitiful is comparable to some of Birdman though). You’re still watching Iñárritu work though, the long takes and dark worlds…
Really happy with this study. For my money, I think he’s the best director I’ve seen to debut in this century so far.
@Harry- Great work here. I hope we get another film from him in 2022. It is strange, back to back years in 2014 and 2015 and then a very long absence.
Follow up-to Biutiful, interestingly Michael Mann put it in his top 10 in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll
Apocalypse Now (1979) directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Avatar (2009) directed by James Cameron
Battleship Potemkin (1925) directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Biutiful (2010) directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Citizen Kane (1941) directed by Orson Welles
Dr. Strangelove (1964) directed by Stanley Kubrick
My Darling Clementine (1946) directed by John Ford
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Raging Bull (1980) directed by Martin Scorsese
The Wild Bunch (1969) directed by Sam Peckinpah”
@Harry- Interesting for sure- and quite possibly evidence of Michael Mann’s decline in decision making in the 2010s.
The “pretentious” and ““self-indulgent” critiques are already happening again-haha. Yesterday from Dave Kehr: “Alejandro G. Inarritu has reached the
inevitable 8 1/2 stage of his career
with BARDO, 172 minutes of unbridled
ego I wouldn’t wish on my worst
enemy. Let’s see if Netflix survives
Also you got to love the shade thrown to 8 1/2, as if that’s not one of the greatest films ever made. It’s statements like these that makes me understand the hatred that critics gets sometimes, what a ridiculous statement.
Bardo remains my most anticipated movie of the year. And I also have a question for the readers of the blog: what’s been the best performance given to date in an Iñárritu film? Leo in The Revenant or Keaton in Birdman?
@Matthew- others will probably say Leo, but for me Keaton is the winner.
“It’s a quite staggeringly self-indulgent and self-congratulatory film – somewhere on a continuum between Fellini and Malick ” – Peter Bradshaw; sign me up if this is the case.
I’d put Leo down as #1 but am also a big admirer of Sean Penn’s work in 21 Grams.
“sign me up if this is the case.“
Also I haven’t caught 21 Grams. I’ll be sure to get to that. I think very highly of Penn.
@Harry- Indeed- sign me up as well. Many critics have struggled to properly appreciate/grasp Iñárritu in the past as well
@Matthew- @Anirudh is at the festival and saw the film and I shared some thoughts on this topic on the 2021 page http://thecinemaarchives.com/2022/04/01/2021/
You and I are on the same page here
Anyone seen Bardo yet?
@Matthew – I have it as a MS film and the strongest of 2022 so far. Felt like combined the strengths of Birdman and The Revenant and while being heavily influenced from Fellini and Malick, took the influences in a new direction.
@Matthew- I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not yet, but if you haven’t, do not be dissuaded by the mixed reviews on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes. You have to see this one.
Potentially the first MP of the decade good? (I haven’t seen it yet unfortunately)
Haven’t seen Bardo yet, but if you have interest in 2 really intelligent film guys (and Amanda Dobbins) impressively whiffing on basically the entirety of Inarritu’s career, feel free to check out the latest episode of The Big Picture podcast.
@Matt Harris- Haha I’ll pass- but thanks for the warning. Bardo did make Paul Schrader’s top 10 of 2022 (https://www.worldofreel.com/blog/2022/12/ogowr2sll22qtl5jdhxudko6oml9r1) – not surprising giving his recent comments about S & S’s list.
Not surprised to hear that. I remember him crapping on The Revenant too (not sure about Birdman). And I usually like Sean too…
Looks like Bardo is another film of his destined to be underrated. Not even in the tspdt top 50 of 2022. Crazy when you think Jackass Forever (which I do love, but still) is.
@Bob- Some strange stuff going on with the critics this year
No Northman either I believe