In case you don't read Entertainment Weekly and didn't see this week's double issue on "The New Classics," or you didn't see my post last week about their list of the best movies from the last 25 years, here's a sad fact: only six foreign-language films made the list. They are: Wings of Desire (#28); Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (#49); The Lives of Others (#56); All About My Mother (#69); Y Tu Mamá También (#86); and In the Mood for Love (#95). OK, so 6% is not terrible for a mainstream entertainment magazine, but EW had to add insult to injury with an accompanying map labeled "Movies: Breaking Down the List," which points to a number of locations around the globe in which some of these new classics are set. The only continent on the map without any love is South America (Antarctica was not included in the visual aid).
Now, before I get into my love letter to new Latin American cinema, I have to note that no film produced in Africa made the list either. However, on the map the continent was at least given some minuscule bit of love via the filming locations for Casino Royale and Gladiator. Yet despite the fact that South America was definitely used as a location in a few of the 100 films, it's shown no respect. And on top of that, Central America isn't even included on the map. For some strange reason there's just a gap between Mexico and South America. Meanwhile, Latin America's sole representative on EW's list, Mexico's Y Tu Mamá También, is left off the map so that no location from this area of the world, from the Mexican-U.S. border to Cape Horn, receives any recognition. Now, I'm far from an expert on the cinemas of Latin America, but I at least consider myself a fan. Some of my favorite films from the past ten years come from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Ecuador. And I've been expanding my scope lately to check out what I can of the cinemas of other nations that aren't as readily available in the States. Regardless of my own fandom, though, I consider it shocking that at least Fernando Meirelles' City of God did not make EW's cut. I don't know many people who haven't seen the film (and everyone who has seen it loves it), and I know a lot of people who don't typically watch foreign films.
There are plenty of Latin American filmmakers who are familiar enough to a mainstream American audience that the region should have been given more props. Sure, Alfonso Cuarón got double love via Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men, but here's some others who have broken out into the U.S. market, parenthetically accompanied by the films I think deserve "new classic" status: Mexico's Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) and Alfonso Arau (Like Water for Chocolate); Argentina's Fabián Bielinsky (Nine Queens), Daniel Burman (Lost Embrace), Héctor Olivera (Funny Little Dirty War), Lucretia Martel (The Holy Girl), Carlos Sorin (Bombón: El Perro), Luis Puenzo (The Official Story) and his daughter, Lucía Puenzo (XXY); Brazil's Walter Salles (Central Station) and José Padilha (Bus 174); and Ecuador's Sebastián Cordero (Crónicas).
Of course, there are many more great filmmakers, including some whose recent celebrated work I haven't yet seen (Cao Hamburger's The Year My Parents Went on Vactation, which hits DVD next month, and Carlos Reygadas' distributor-less (in the U.S.) Silent Light are two significant examples). I rarely meet a Latin American film I dislike (Reygadas' Battle in Heaven was probably the only one I hated) and I never meet one I don't think about for a long time afterwards. Much of Latin American cinema is nationally relevant and therefore I rarely come away from one without either learning something new or inspired to read more about what's going on in the region.
So, if you went down EW's list, checking off all the films you've seen, and you were able to proudly include Y Tu Mamá También but you aren't familiar with any of the other titles I've mentioned here, consider yourself in need of a personal Latin American film festival. I think all of the ones I referenced are available on DVD.