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6 Days Til Oscar. Cuarón and His Gifts

Our countdown continues with new contributor Adam Armstrong on six-time nominee Alfonso Cuarón

Y tu mama tambíen

There comes a point in everybody’s lives when the awareness of their own mortality becomes apparent. For myself, it came when I was walking to class on a particularly snowy morning and saw a bus slam into a conveniently placed guardrail on a bridge. Snow related accidents are common enough but what happened next is not -- a man in an oversized Santa Claus costume exited the bus, choosing that moment in his life to dabble in the art of traffic enforcement, directing the chaotic traffic away from his fellow passengers as they escaped to a shabby Dunkin Donuts across the street.

Life is a fragile thing and few directors understand this as well as Alfonso Cuarón.

Tenoch, Julio and Luisa (who is very aware of her mortality) are driving to a beach they've hopefully named "Heaven's Mouth" in an effort to escape their unfulfilling lives in Y tu mamá también. Theo and Kee perilously make their way through the war torn United Kingdom to reach the sea where a boat will carry them to salvation in Children of Men. Dr Ryan Stone hangs on to what will to live she has left to descend back down to Earth in Gravity. In all three of these films, which garnered Cuarón his six Oscar nominations, the characters journey to their own deliverance from death, be it in the literal or figurative sense.

Cuaron’s nominations (the script from Y tu mamá también, the editing and script of Children of Men, and the editing, directing and producing of Gravity) each showcase specific storytelling gifts that augment the characters’ struggles and triumphs along the way.  Y tu mamá también’s screenplay layers character-specific dialogue, multiple agendas, and political allegory to deepen its road trip journey. The seamless editing in Children of Men sutures together unsettling drama and thrilling realistic action sequences that thrust the viewer into the scenes right alongside the characters as if we're in danger, too. Cuaron’s concise committed vision enable him to maintain control over Gravity's high concept premise, sustaining its plausibility and telling the story as he meant it to be told. (This is especially true in regards to the lead character when he was pressured consistently to cast a man in the leading role.)

A beach. A boat. The earth. All three destinations represent freedom to the travellers (however temporarily) from their fleeting mortality. Cuarón isn't literally escorting us to safety, but he crafts stories that help us fully value our lives, still in progress. That's quite a gift to bring us semi-annually.


previously in our number laden countdown
7 Oscar nominated films about AIDS * 8 time losing Peter O'Toole * 9 nominations for Twelve Years a Slave * Perfect 10 Paul Newman * 11 Days (Bette Midler) *  a 12-wide best picture field * 13 years ago in Best Actress (Matthew McConaughey?) * 14 times nominated giants (All About Eve & Titanic) *  15 Days (Supporting Charts) * 16 times nominated costume designer * 17 years ago + 1917 * Meryl's 18th * 19 Days (Julianne Moore) * 20 Year-Old surprise dramas * 21 Days (Billy Wilder) 

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Reader Comments (10)

Great piece, looking forward to your future contributions.

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Thanks, particularly, for reminding us of the wonders of "Children of Men". One of my favorites and one of the most affecting movies I've ever seen. Moments of it still pull at me.

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

Nice post. The last shot reminds me of a painting by Winslow Homer (The Fog Warning). Need to revisit both Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien.

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I know this site (nor the online film community in general) isn't the biggest fan, but I don't think his work on or overall importance to the Harry Potter franchise can be overstated. The Prisoner of Azkaban is an amazing film. A lot of the techniques that he's so praised for in Children of Men have have a bit of a starting lesson there (there are some wonderful long takes on display). That film showed the potential of the franchise beyond simply being big screen "Cliff Notes" of the books. As a huge fan of all of his work, I'm definitely rooting for him on Sunday. I just hope it doesn't take another seven years for a follow-up. Perhaps something smaller in scale like another intimate ride to the beach...

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVal

Thanks for enjoying guys! Happy to be contributing to such a wonderful site. Hope you enjoy my future posts! :)

Val - I have not seen Azkaban in years, not probably since it originally came out. But I even remember as a kid that it was far and away landmark in the series, especially with the first two being so faithful to the source material, and Cuaron's taking a ton of creative risks and them paying off gloriously.

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Lovely tribute to one of my favorite directors :)

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Cuaron wasn't nominated for directing Children of Men (his sixth nom was for its screenplay), but he should have been. That film has held up well in the intervening years and may be more prescient than it was in 2006. That final scene in the rowboat may be the most moving committed to film in the last decade.

While I don't think 2013 is Cuaron's year in the way 2006 should have been, I wouldn't mind so much if he got a make-up win. Despite its technical achievements, Gravity is not a masterpiece the way Children of Men is, but that's the way the game is played. (For the record, 2013 belongs to Steve McQueen.)

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

W.J. - My bad! I feel terrible haha Looks like I've successfully convinced myself that his directing snub for that film never happened ;)

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

What Val said! I think I respect Cuarón most for what he did for Harry Potter.

The Potter films aren't much beloved by Nathaniel [a rare lapse in judgment...;)] but I think they're amazing technical achievements: children's films that offer adult thrills like genuine suspense, awesome spectacle and emotion amidst all the special effects. But when I say that, I really mean, "the series after Cuarón reimagined it."

I recently re-watched the first three Potter films -- the first two, directed by Chris Columbus, are cloying, the tone is kept feather light and the acting is sometimes painful. With "The Prisoner of Azkaban," Cuarón made the palette darker, the magic became more unsettling, and the emotional stakes more deeply felt. Cuarón changed the template, and every director after him kept to it. This transformation strikes me as one of the more remarkable stories of mainstream film in the past ten years: a director's vision turning what would have been an entirely forgettable series into something great.

February 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Terrific article. I am rooting for McQueen Sunday but Cuarons expected victory will be sweet. He's one of our best today. What he pulled off in Gravity is a miracle.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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