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The 15 Best Latin American Films of The 21st Century

26 August 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Sven Methling

The secret in their eyes

20th century Latin American Cinema established a movie language of its own with important classic movies like The Forgotten Ones (Los Olvidados, 1950), Memories from Underdevelopment (Memorias del Subdesarrollo, 1968), The Snail Strategy (La estrategia del Caracol, 1985), The Official Story (La Historia Oficial, 1985) and Oriana (1985).

They all come together as different landmarks for the new wave of soon to appear Latin directors. In 1998, at the end of the century, a beautiful drama called Central Station (Estación Central, 1998) appears to somewhat resume all of the work that had been done. Rich characters, complex political contexts, urban and natural landscapes as overwhelming scenarios and social imparity are the true main ingredients of Latin Cinema.

Since the year 2000 we’ve been blown away by a new wave of directors, some of them are now Hollywood’s prime figures like Gonzalez Iñarritu and Cuarón. After 15 years Latin American Cinema deserves a revision of the most achieved films of the region. The list is presented chronologically to understand the evolution of the filmography rather than trying to define the best places.


1. Love’s a Bitch (Amores Perros) (2000, Alejandro González Iñarritu)

Amores Perros

This is the directorial debut of the mastermind behind 2014’s award-winner Birdman. The film sets the birth of Gonzalez Iñarritu’s storytelling style, groundbreaking at the time it premiered. Different stories with different characters where intertwined plots come together almost chaotically by the most hazardous relations. This brand mark will be used again in movies like 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006).

In this film, a car accident is the turning point for this portrait of Mexico D.F.’s urban settling character collage. From the richest to the poorest they are all arranged and set side to side to deal with tragedy and critical situations of life. The movie deals with themes common to the lowest and most decadent reality of Latin culture: poverty, illegality and secrecy are the common denominators in this saga about human misery.


2. Nine Queens (Nueves Reinas) (2000, Fabian Bielinsky)

Nine Queens

Two burglars stumbled upon one another in the middle of each other’s scam. From then on a relationship starts to blossom by sharing secrets and confidences. With a ticking clock upon their shoulders, an opportunity to finally hit a big blow comes along their way.

The grasping chemistry between the two characters played by Ricardo Darín and Gaston Pauls are the main ingredient of the movie, the constant struggle for the best crook is a beautifully plot device in the movie, engaging the audience with a mixture between action and comedy.

The film also explores the true identity and values behind both of the hustlers, the role-playing required for this way of living and the ethic codes assumed as the stakes get higher for each protagonist.


3. And Your Mother Too (Y tu mama también) (2001, Alfonso Cuaron)

Y tu Mama Tambien

This breakthrough performance for Mexico’s most important pair of actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal is a Latin American cinema classic. It is a beautifully developed comedy about Julio and Tenoch, two boys fighting amicably for the attention of Luisa, an exuberant and mature woman summarizes in a revision of coming of age film.

Settled as a character driven road movie along some of Mexico’s most beautiful and desolated landscapes, comedy turns into drama, and finally stays that way. The eternal joy of youth, which seems endless at the moment ends up in breaking point, brotherhood is set aside for the personal ambition for love and attention, unmasking the true nature and intentions of the protagonists. The biggest accomplishment of the movie is that it portrays the complexity of friendship as an universal theme.


4. City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002, Fernando Meirelles)

City of God

This transcendental Oscar-nominated movie is a crude depiction of the evolution of a favela (Brazilian slums) and their inhabitants from its birth in the 1960’s to its consolidation in the late 1980’s.

Two opposite characters lead the action orientated plot into a fight between doing things the right way and taking the criminal path. Buscapé (Rocket) is a naïve and frightened young man trying to make a good and honest living on his own. He always stumbles upon his old time acquaintance Dadinho who has become one of the most dangerous drug-dealing gangsters of Rio de Janeiro.

This cinematic masterpiece penetrates on how social conditions shape the destiny of the urban dwellers along their everyday lives.


5. Whisky (2004, Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll)


An old family feud between brothers arguing about their life achievements makes Jacobo (one of the brothers) do everything he can to prove to his sibling a fake picture of his life. As Americans say “cheese” prior to a family portrait, in Latin America the secret word is “whisky”. This is the narrative code of the movie, the comedy and the drama behind the false appearances of frozen in time characters.

Themes as solitude and the ambiguous expectations of life are common in the movie. The cold and rigid characters are emphasized by the simplicity of the screenplay and cinematography. Shame, embarrassment and ignominy play as consequences of self-distrusted protagonists overwhelmed by the coming of age.


6. Machuca (2004, Andres Wood)


The story behind new friendship between two kids from extreme opposite social classes, Gonzalo and Pedro, is the central plot of this true-event-based film about a socio-educational experiment from Salvador Allende’s presidential period in the 1970’s Chilean government. Private school director Father McEnroe is the paternal figure and serves as a guide for the unusual and controversial program that integrates students from lower economical classes with the everyday students, from wealthy families.

The movie presents a paradigmatic contradiction between the natural friendship born from the child’s natural encounter and common particularities with the critical and unstable political context, filled with big social clashes and confrontation between common citizens. This plot serves as a critical stand in terms of the role of political positions and how they divide societies, whilst the human condition of new-born friendship represents the true nature of individuals.


7.  The House of Sand (Casa de areia) (2005, Andrucha Waddington)

HOUSE OF SAND, (aka CASA DE AREIA), Fernanda Montenegro, Luiz Melodia, 2005, (c) Sony Pictures Classics

The House of Sand is a precious metaphoric resource used by the director to explain the levity of the passing of time. Installed in a secluded area on northern part of Brazil, three generations of women (mother, daughter and niece) fail to depart from their isolation while facing the difficulty of their maddening destiny. Despite their frustration, life goes on; family members grow and others leave for better life. Symbolically it is an analogy about the power of time against the impotence of human faith.

One of the movie’s accomplishments resides on the beautiful photography that stands out with the quietness and peacefulness of the landscape while at the same time depicting the desolation and inclemency of the people living in these areas. Almost like a visual poem, sand and water play a fundamental role in the story and serve as plain canvas for the characters’ reflections on life itself.



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