2014: Latin American Cinema in Review

¡Ay Güey!

Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón made history on March 2, 2014 becoming the first Latino ever to win the Oscar for Best Director for his acclaimed film Gravity. Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the 3-D space adventure film tells the story of two astronauts who get stranded in space and try to return to Earth. Cuarón started new year with the right foot winning the Golden Globe for Best Director. In his acceptance speech, he slipped the very-Mexican expression of “¡Ay güey! (that can be translated as something like “Oh man!”).

By the time he won the Directors Guild Award it was almost a sure bet that he would take home the Academy Award, which he did -even though the film lost the Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year to 12 Years a Slave by Steve McQueen. Later in the year, Cuarón was feted by The Museum of Modern Art in New York City in its annual film benefit.

G. Iñárritu

Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (the artist formerly known as González), also had a solid year in 2014, with his most recent film Birdman. The ambitious black comedy, which stars Michael Keaton as a faded Hollywood actor famous for his superhero role struggling to mount a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, was hailed as one of the best films of 2014.

"A funny, frenetic, buoyant and rambunctiously showboating entertainment in which Mr. Iñárritu himself rises high and then higher still wrote the New York Times’ film critic Manohla Dargis about Birdman. The film received seven Golden Globes nominations including the second nomination for Iñárritu for Best Director (after Babel in 2007, for which he won). Will Iñárritu repeat Cuarón’s achievement at the Oscars and become the second Latino director to get the Academy Award for Best Director?


Yet the talent behind the two of the “Three Amigos” undoubtedly was Emmanuel “El Chivo" Lubezki, the Mexican cinematographer that made possible the technical feats of Gravity and Birdman. If Cuarón and Iñárritu were able to make their groundbreaking films was largely due to the extraordinary work of their D.P., one of greatest cinematographers alive.

In Gravity, Lubezki masterfully and very realistically recreated the experience of outer space, and in Birdman he ingeniously created the illusion that the film was shot on a single take.  After six Oscar nominations, Lubezki finally won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 2014 for his work in Gravity, and the buzz is that he will get his seventh Oscar nomination -and probably his second win, in 2015 for Birdman. Fingers crossed.

Wild for Szifron

Argentinean director Damián Szifron made big waves this past year with his bold feature film Relatos salvajes / Wild Tales. The film had its world premiere as the only Latin American film in competition at Cannes’ official slate and went to become a huge box office success in Argentina, becoming one of the most popular films in the history of the South American country with an estimated audience of 3.4 million spectators.

Szifron was included in Variety’s list of ten filmmakers to watch in 2015 and he signed with the Hollywood agency powerhouse William Morris Endeavor. Wild Tales has been shortlisted for the Academy Awards in the Foreign Language competition, with the possibility of giving Argentina it’s seventh Oscar nomination (and its third win). The film, starring some of Argentina’s most acclaimed actors such Ricardo Darín, Darío Grandinetti and Leonardo Sbaraglia, will be released in the United States this February by the hand of Sony Pictures Classic.

The Year of Argentinean cinema

Szifron was not the only Argentinean director getting international attention this past year. The South American country had a successful and plentiful representation at the international film festival circuit. Director Lisandro Alonso score a hit with his most recent film Jauja (pictured left). The atypical film, which was produced and starred Viggo Mortensen, received great film reviews following its world premiere at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section.

2014 saw the fiction feature comeback of the great Martín Rejtman with his quirky comedy film Dos disparos / Two Shots Fired, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival. Also having its world premiere at the Swiss festival was Matías Piñeiro’s 's third entry in his series of Shakespeare-inspired films, La princesa de Francia / The Princess of France (pictured below right).

Other Argentinean films that premiered at international film festivals include Natalia Smirnoff’s El cerrajero / The Lock Charmer, and Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s Living Stars at Sundance; Rodrigo Moreno’s Reimon at Rotterdam; Celina Murga’s La tercera orilla / The Third Side of the River, Benjamín Naishtat’s Historia del miedo / History of Fear, and Matías Lucchesi’s Ciencias naturales / Natural Sciences at Berlin; Diego Lerman’s Refugiado at Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes; and Anahí Berneri’s Open Air / Aire libre at San Sebastian.

Argentina had a record-breaking participation at Cannes, and for the first time ever, the Berlinale had two Argentinean films in its main competition (The Third Side of the River and History of Fear) and the New York Film Festival featured three films from Argentina in its main slate (Jauja, Two Shots Fired and The Princess of France). If 2012 was the year of Chilean cinema, 2013 of Mexico cinema, 2014 was the year of Argentinean cinema for sure. Oh, and did we mention that Argentina won the second place at the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil?

The Best of the Rest

Chilean director Alejandro Fernández Almendras won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at Sundance for his feature film Matar a un hombre  / To Kill a Man. He become the third Chilean director to win this award after Sebastián Silva's La Nana / The Maid in 2009, and Andrés Wood's Violeta se fue a los cielos / Went to Heaven in 2012. Güeros (pictured left), the debut feature film by Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios won several prizes at numerous international film festivals including Best First Film at the Berlinale and Morelia, Best Latin American Film and Young Jury Award at San Sebastian, and Best Film at Los Cabos.

2014 was the year of Costa Rican director Miguel Gómez, his films Italia 90 and Maikol Yordan broke box office records in the Central American country, the latter becoming the top grossing Costa Rican film in history only one week into its theatrical run. Leidi by Colombian director Simón Mesa Soto (pictured right) was the winner of the Palme d'Or for Best Short film at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, setting a benchmark for Colombia cinema.

President Dilma Rousself of Brazil announced an unprecedented financial support to the local audiovisual industry totaling the equivalent of $450 million USD. The Venezuelan film Azul y no tan rosa / Blue and Not So Pink by Miguel Ferrari became the first Venezuelan to win the Goya Award for Best Latin American Film given by the Spanish Film Academy.

2014 saw the emergence of two new awards to celebrate Ibero-American cinema: the Platino Awards held in Panama and the Fenix Awards hosted by Mexico. Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria and Diego Quemada Diez's La jaula de oro / The Golden Dream were the winners for Best Film respectively. Mexican film Navajazo by Ricardo Silva won the Golden Leopard for Best Film in the Filmmakers of the Present competition at Locarno. The Cuban film Conducta / Behavior (pictured left) by Ernesto Daranas pushed the envelope in the island by addressing in a direct way some of the issues of the contemporary Cuba society. The film won the top prize at the Havana Film Festival.

In 2014 the Latin American film community lost Brazilian documentary master Eduardo Coutinho, Argentinean director Jorge Polaco, Brazilian actor José Wilker, Colombian Nobel Prize winner screenwriter Gabriel García Márquez, Argentinean actor Alfredo Alcón, Mexican actress Columba Domínguez, Uruguayan actress China Zorrilla, Mexican screenwriters José Emilio Pacheco and Vicente Leñero, and Mexican comedian Roberto Gómez Bolaños “Chespirito."