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10 must-watch Latin American films

Sight & Sound Magazine recently released their 100 Greatest Films of All Time list. While there are definitely a ton of classics included, I couldn’t help but notice that only a single Latin American film made it onto the list—just one—despite so many formal innovations coming from Latino filmmakers. It’s always tricky when creating a kind of archive, because you not only decide who to include, but who to exclude; and for too long, Latino communities have been excluded from discussions of so-called ‘high art,’ despite our many contributions to it. Because of this, I’ve provided 10 must-watch Latin American movies below:

10. Tigers are Not Afraid (2019)

If you liked Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), you’re bound to love this stunning debut from Mexican filmmaker Issa López. Centered around a group of children trying to survive the violence of cartels, and the ghosts they create, it’s sure to pull at the heart strings while keeping you on the edge of your seat. From the visuals to the writing, it’s an all-around breathtaking film. Trailer

9. City of God (2002)

This gem of Brazilian cinema was nominated for four Academy Awards (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing), and was co-directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. Providing a harsh look at life in the favelas, the story’s centered on two friends who take drastically different paths, one hoping to become a photographer, the other a kingpin. Trailer

8. No (2012)

Pablo Larraín’s historical drama follows a movement against Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, after international pressure forced a referendum on his presidency, sparking a mass-movement that would risk it all to change the system. With great acting and solid cinematography, this smart, darkly funny film is a great exploration of democracy and human nature. Trailer

7. Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

Tracking two parallel journeys through the Amazon, this Colombian adventure-drama by Ciro Guerra is a heart-stopping commentary on colonialism, history and race. Dedicated to the lost Amazonian cultures, this movie’s as rich visually as it is thematically. Trailer

6. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)

I was initially hesitant on whether or not to include this film, but I think it dives into a part of Chicano history that’s so rarely, if ever, explored. Praised by its star, Edward James Olmos, as “the first American hero of Latino descent,” it tells the harrowing real-life journey of Gregorio Cortez, who shot a sheriff in self-defense, starting a nation-wide manhunt. Smart, emotional and beautifully shot, there’s no reason to not watch this movie! Trailer

5. Black God White Devil (1964)

One of the most important films in the Brazilian New Wave, I couldn’t be happier to have recently spoke with the producer of this film’s new 4K restoration! Following a farm worker who kills his boss then goes on the run, Glauber Rocha provides a compelling look into class, race and gender in Brazil.

4. La Llorona (2019)

Guatemalan auteur Jayro Bustamante engages with history, colonialism and myth as viewers follow an aging dictator haunted by his past war crimes. With fantastic shot composition, dazzling use of color and some great acting, it’s a really special achievement of cinema; no wonder this movie was recently added to the Criterion Collection! Trailer

3. Undertow (2009)

This heart-wrenching movie by Javier Fuentes-León is a beautifully heartbreaking look at gender, sexuality and society in Peru. As a man tries to give his lover the burial he preferred, while keeping their relationship a secret from his wife and town, viewers are taken on a stunning emotional journey culminating in an ending that’s sure to leave you breathless. Trailer

2. Redes (1936)

One of my favorite Mexican films, this wildly inventive look at class, revolution and healthcare follows a group of fishermen rising up against their exploitative boss. It’s got some sneakily-smart editing, fantastic acting and a plot that’s as emotional as it is compelling. Trailer

1. Memories of Underdevelopment (1968)

With this movie, director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea gave us one of the most inventive, thought-provoking portrayals of class and gender in post-revolution Cuba. Fusing history with social commentary, it’s focused on a predatory writer who’s part of the dwindling Cuban elite, trying to find a sense of direction in a country that doesn’t seem to have space for him anymore. Part commentary on social change, part character drama, this compelling movie is sure to stick with you! Trailer


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