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The words "blockbuster," "Oscar," and "sold out" don't always enter into the genre of foreign film. But they did in Latin American movie-making in the last decade. Two films starring Mexican heart throb Gael García Bernal—the 2000 thriller Amores Perros and the 2001 romp about a romantic road trip, Y Tu Mamá También—raked in millions in their first weeks on the screen. City of God, the 2002 Brazilian film from directorial duo Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, received four Academy Award nominations and had a later life as a TV show. Guillermo del Toro's El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth), which looks at Spanish fascism through a magic realism lense, got three Oscars for his film in 2007.
The New York-based Cinema Tropical has taken note of this golden era of film. It is screening, with the help of the IFC Center in the West Village, the ten best Latin American films of the '00s. The director and co-founder of the arts media non-profit, Carlos Gutiérrez, says he hasn’t seen such a creative explosion in Latin American movies since the ‘60s or ‘70s.
“Suddenly, you have filmmakers in their 30s that have made two, three, four, even five films,” Gutiérrez says. “We hadn't seen that in a while in Latin America.”
He adds that his group got the idea for this week’s film fest from filmmaker and blogger Mario Diaz. Cinema Tropical then asked some 40 film critics to give up their ten favorite Latin American films of the last decade. Next, Gutiérrez's group whittled a list of 124 nominated films down to ten:
1. La Ciénaga - Argentina, 2001 from director Lucrecia Martel
2. Amores Perros - Mexico, 2000 from director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
3. Luz Silenciosa (Silent Light) - Mexico, 2007 from director Carlos Reygadas
4. Cidade de Deus (City of God) - Brazil, 2002 from director Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund
5. Ônibus 174 (Bus 174) - Brazil, 2002 from director Jose Padilha and Felipe Lacerda
6. Y Tu Mamá También - Mexico, 2001 from director Alfonso Cuarón
7. Whisky - Uruguay, 2004 from directors Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll
8. La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman) - Argentina, 2008 from director Lucrecia Martel
9. La niña santa (The Holy Girl) - Argentina, 2004 from director Lucrecia Martel
10. El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) - Mexico, 2006 from director: Guillermo Del Toro
Gutiérrez says the list reflects diversity in narrative, as well as in modes of production. “I think one of the key aspects of Latin American cinema has been its diversity…from more mainstream films like Amores Perros or City of God,” he says, “to more intimate art house films such as Silent Light or Whiskey or the work of Lucretia Martel.”
Martel, a 43-year-old director from Salta, Argentina, had three movies on Cinema Tropical’s short list. Her debut film, La Ciénaga, which looks at a bourgeois family summering near the city La Ciénaga, made the top of Cinema Tropical's list. When it was released in 2001, it got mostly positive reviews. New York Times film critic Stephen Holden wrote: "The steamy ambiance in which the characters fester is a metaphor for creeping social decay. La ciénaga perspires from the screen, it creates a vision of social malaise that feels paradoxically familiar and new."
Several of this week's winning filmmakers, including Martel; Mexican director Carlos Reygadas who directed Luz Silenciosa (Silent Light); Felipe Lacerda, who is one of the directors of the only documentary on the "Top 10" list, Ônibus 174 (Bus 174); and the producer of Pan’s Labyrinth, will all be in New York City on Friday to accept awards from Cinema Tropical.
Gutiérrez adds that the '00s made for a good climate for filmmaking because many of Latin America's countries went through an identity crisis of sorts in the past decade; they were--and still are--trying to figure out who they are. He says filmmakers also thought outside of the box in terms of fund-raising.
"I think the filmmakers have been really savvy in finding hybrid models of production which involve support of local governments, European funds, corporate money, grants...a little of everything,” he says. “And that has allowed them to have a really artistic independence.”
Cinema Tropical is screening its top ten movies of the past decade at the IFC Center at 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street from Monday, Oct. 18 to Monday, Oct. 25. Gutiérrez hopes to organize another "Best of" festival in 2020.