Rating top 8 movies directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Alfonso Cuarón is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, cinematographer and editor.

Hailed in Hollywood as one of “The Three Amigos” alongside fellow Mexican directors Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro G Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón is a crucial player in the New Wave of Mexican Cinema. His movies are frequently critically acclaimed and often boundary-pushing, especially in terms of visual effects, long takes, and verisimilitude.

Cuarón has been making feature films for over 30 years and has directed eight theatrical releases; few artists have such a consistent body of work. He has cemented himself as one of modern cinema’s most cherished voices, though some of his projects are worth your time more than others.

8) ‘Great Expectations’ (1998)

There are occasional glimpses of style and cinematic flair in 1998s Great Expectations. Still, for the most part, Alfonso Cuaróns’ third feature feels like any number of disposable contemporary filmmakers could have directed it. It’s by far and away Cuarón’s weakest movie. Great Expectations is a modern reworking of the classic Charles Dickens novel, starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. Regrettably, it’s reminiscent of shallow teenage melodramas like Cruel Intentions, and She’s All That. Dickens’ story doesn’t adapt well to the 1990s, the same way Dangerous Liaisons failed to work in modern times.

In this 1998 interpretation, the protagonist (renamed ‘Finn’ here) is obsessed with Paltrow’s Estella. Finn comes across as a total dope in a way Pip doesn’t in the book. He’s an unlikeable lead, and you soon realize that you don’t care about him, his romantic fancies, or his success. The highlight is Anne Bancroft in the Miss Haversham role, here named Ms. Dinsmoor. Her performance has scenery-chewing echos of Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, but she’s barely in the flick enough to make it worthwhile. Chris Cooper is also fantastic but similarly under-utilized. A weak tone, awful lead characters, and some dated directing choices make Great Expectations an ultimately skippable affair.

7) ‘Gravity’ (2013)

It may seem sacrilegious to put Gravity so low on this list given the number of accolades it has received, but while Gravity has a lot of breakthrough special effects and spectacle, unfortunately, that’s pretty much all it has. It’s not a bad film by any measure, but where Gravity falls short is the one-dimensional characters and mediocre script. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronauts who are thrust into a perilous situation when space debris smashes their space station, and they must survive the cold vacuum of space and somehow find a way home.

Gravity is the movie equivalent of a carnival ride; it’s a blockbuster designed to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the boom-iest sound system. In that respect, it’s a tremendous success. But if you’re looking for a deep movie with re-watch value, Gravity is not it. It’s a shame that such hard work by the VFX crew is ultimately in service to a bland, repetitive narrative. The presence of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney weighs Gravity down. It’s impossible to see them as their characters and not just A-listers being spun around at high velocity on a Hollywood sound stage. Gravity is fun, but it’s all potato and no meat.

6) ‘A Little Princess’ (1995)

A Little Princess is a fantastical tale with magical realism sprinkled throughout. Set during WW1, a little girl named Sara (Liesel Matthews) is sent to a boarding school in New York City by her father while he is at war. When news arrives that he’s been KIA, she is relegated to a servant by the mean headmaster Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron). A remake of the 1939 movie with Shirley Temple, A Little Princess, benefits from amazing costume and set design. The wide, sweeping cinematography allows the characters and visual room to breathe, even if the brief flashes of CGI are atrocious and look like something out of Paul WS Anderson’s Mortal Kombat.

The child acting ranges from serviceable to poor. Most of the children, including Sara, have blank faces and emotionless eyes. Luckily, A Little Princess’s style makes up for it. It’s a fairytale, and as such, there are many scenes so sickly sweet that it’ll make your teeth rot. But if you don’t mind a healthy dose of corniness, A Little Princess is a more than adequate family film to watch with the kids. It may not be as visually impressive as Gravity, but A Little Princess has much more heart.

5) Sólo con tu pareja (1991)

Cuarón’s theatrical debut, Sólo con tu pareja (AKA “Only With Your Partner” or “Love in the Age of Hysteria”), is a madcap sex comedy about a highly promiscuous man (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who treats the women in his life with no respect. One of his many scorned lovers gets revenge on him by convincing him that he has AIDS, leading him to re-evaluate his priorities and how he treats others. Coming from a background of directing short films and TV, Cuarón had already cemented a distinguishable style for himself. Sólo con tu pareja looks great, and it contains organic character dynamics that the director would go on to perfect in Y tu Mama Tambien.

The morality of the ending is a little alarming, but it’s such an entertaining and silly flick that you don’t care. The tonal shifts don’t mesh seamlessly, however (the more wacky scenes undermine the stakes), but the frantic pace keeps you engaged at all times. Sólo con tu pareja is a solid first feature and an excellent precursor for what was to come from the Mexican filmmaker.

4) ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ (2004)

It’s hard to enter a franchise halfway through and place your authorial stamp on the series, but that’s precisely what happened when Cuarón directed the third Harry Potter flick. After 11 movies in the Wizarding World franchise, The Prisoner of Azkaban still stands above the rest and is often cited as the best movie based on the Harry Potter IP.

In an appropriate reflection of the Hogwarts students growing into teenagers and dealing with more serious threats, Cuarón, his cinematographer, and production designers opted for a grungier look that preferred slanted angles and imperfections over the vibrancy of its predecessors. Not only did his style add much-needed depth to a genre that often lacked serious consequences, but his darker visual flair drastically reshaped the way future sequels were handled. Prisoner of Azkaban was a crucial step for Cuarón, as the clout he gained from this movie’s success allowed him to fund some of his biggest and best projects.

3) Y tu mamá también (2001)

Y tu mamá también doesn’t have the budget that many of Cuarón’s later movies enjoy. Still, what it lacks in technological wizardry, it makes up for in character complexity and chemistry. Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal play best friends who go on a road trip with a woman they barely know (Maribel Verdú) for a journey of sex and drunken debauchery, but it doesn’t exactly go to plan. Tying the plot together is an omniscient narrator (Sólo con tu pareja’s Daniel Giménez Cacho). The Narrator’s purpose is to constantly remind us of how our lives are merely one of countless. Side characters, the dead, and even animals are given a memorable voice-over, reinforcing that everyone we pass during our commute or in the mall has just as complicated a history as you do.

One can draw parallels to Larry Clark’s Kids and Cuarón’s own Sólo con tu pareja, as this 2001 coming-of-age drama also dissects topics ranging from sexual insecurity, masculinity crises, and gay panic. The protagonists are a little pathetic and often unlikeable, but that’s the point. They’re obnoxious and bigoted, but it’s concealing deep-seated ignorance and frustration. Few movies have character interactions as authentic as Y tu mamá también, the acting and dialogue are so realistic and often uncomfortable that you can forget that you’re watching a fictional film, not a documentary.

2) ‘Roma’ (2018)

This semi-autobiographical masterpiece blew everyone away when it was released in 2018. Winning Cuarón his second Best Director Oscar, Roma was inspired by Cuarón’s childhood. The protagonist Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), is based on Cuarón’s childhood nanny and her trials and tribulations living in a corrupt and dangerous Mexico in the early 1970s. Cuarón calls Roma “…an exploration of Mexico’s social hierarchy, where class and ethnicity have been perversely interwoven”. Besides its complex and often disturbing themes, Roma also boasts some of the most flawlessly integrated special effects ever. These details are not there to be noticed but to immerse the viewers in the narrative. Only when you see the behind-the-scenes features do you come to appreciate the extent and intricacy of the computer effects in Roma.

The coordination required for some shots is staggering, especially in its recreation of The Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971. Very rarely does a 21st-century movie have to wrangle so many people on such an epic scale. What Cuarón gets right in Roma as opposed to Gravity is that Roma’s special effects and massive scope serve primarily as the backdrop for a relatable story, not as a substitute for one. It’s a gorgeous movie in every way, truly deserving of everyone’s attention.

1) ‘Children of Men’ (2006)

Upon release, Children of Men was instantly hailed as one of the year’s best movies. Since then, its fan base has only grown, with many citing it as not only one of the greatest films of the 21st century but one of the best movies ever made. There are so many reasons why Children of Men will stand the rest of time, but the most obvious example is the mind-boggling long takes, which are so perfectly choreographed that you’ll never be taken out of the moment. The precision of the work by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and his crew is nothing short of masterful. Anyone with knowledge of filmmaking will also appreciate how flawlessly the many assistant directors and unit managers did their jobs.

Like Roma, Children of Men has extraordinary writing, acting, and characters that perfectly complement the elaborate visuals. There are few movies where every aspect of production has this level of synergy. It’s heartbreaking, riveting, funny, depressing, yet hopeful all at the same time. Every re-watch has something new to gain or a new perspective to consider. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience by a true giant of cinema.


Author Profile

Scott Baber
Scott Baber
Senior Managing editor

Manages incoming enquiries and advertising. Based in London and very sporty. Worked news and sports desks in local paper after graduating.

Email Scott@MarkMeets.com

Leave a Reply