Overall, it was a busy year for Latin American cinema with films premiering and winning prizes at prestigious festivals around the world. U.S. Latino directors, in a repeat of almost every festival cycle, fared much worse. Only a handful made it to Tribeca, no features made it to Sundance and very few American Latino productions scored distribution deals or spots at other top-tier festivals. Even still, let’s celebrate the victories.

It’s hard to keep track of all the indie films circling the globe, especially if they don’t make it to your city. Thankfully, there are professionals who get paid to keep track of what Latino and Latin American movies are receiving accolades, have the most buzz, and got picked up for distribution. We went straight to the experts — film programmers and critics — to ask, “What are your top 5 Latino movies of 2016?”

Diana Sanchez, Toronto International Film Festival

International Programmer at TIFF and Artistic Director at the International Film Festival of Panama

I work mostly with films directly from the region so I’ll speak to those. One of the interesting things about this year was the quality of the debuts, too many to include in such a short list but important to underline. The films I’ve chosen, while very diverse in approach, all deal with a reality intrinsic to Latin America and are deeply embedded in the region’s unique history.

  1. La region salvaje / The Untamed (Amat Escalante, Mexico)
  2. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil)
  3. Neruda (Pablo Larrain, Chile/Argentina/Spain/France)
  4. Bellas de Noche (Maria Jose Cueva, Mexico)
  5. Jeffrey (Yanillys Perez, Dominican Republic)

Claudia Puig, Mendocino Film Festival

President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Program Director at Mendocino Film Festival

  1. El abrazo de la serpiente (Ciro Guerra, Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina)
  2. Ixcanul (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala)
  3. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil)
  4. Argentina (Carlos Saura, Argentina/Spain/France)
  5. Neruda (Pablo Larrain, Chile/Argentina/Spain/France)

Alonso Duralde, Outfest

Senior Programmer at Outfest and Film Reviews Editor at TheWrap

LGBT stories from around the globe carry their own specific cultural contexts, and some of the most extraordinary queer work on the world stage has been coming out of Central and South America for the last decade or so. This year was no exception, with a bumper crop of powerful titles.

  1. Esteros (Papu Curotto, Argentina)
  2. A Seita / The Cult (André Antônio, Brazil)
  3. Rara (Pepa San Martín, Chile/Argentina)
  4. He Hated Pigeons (Ingrid Veninger, Canada)
  5. The Nest (Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon, Brazil)

Diana Vargas, Havana Film Festival in New York

Artistic Director at the Havana Film Festival in New York

These films reflect on issues that Latin America is still navigating as a region. For example: Desierto and Paciente are raw depictions of political issues recast as very human ones. On the other hand, Aquarius, Mi Amiga del Parque and Oscuro Animal are stories about women in different circumstances and economic backgrounds confronting universal stereotypes and the violence that often accompanies them. Finally, El Ciudadano Ilustre is a black comedy that unpacks the complicated nature of the history of exile, self-imposed and otherwise, in Latin America.

  1. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil)
  2. Desierto (Jonas Cuaron, Mexico)
  3. Mi amiga del parque (Ana Katz, Argentina)
  4. El ciudadano ilustre (Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, Argentina/Spain)
  5. Oscuro animal (Felipe Guerrero, Colombia)

Moisés Esparza, San Diego Latino Film Festival

Programming Manager for the San Diego Latino Film Festival and the Digital Gym Cinema

I’ve screened a vast amount of Latino films over the last year. Many of them were excellent, few were able to make the immeasurable impression of the films listed below. From the tender, dynamic, and affecting drama Rara; and the timely triptych about different immigrant experiences X500 where each story reaches an unforgettable crescendo; to the entertaining and charming El Ciudadano Ilustre; and the heartbreaking dreamlike tragedy of The Vessel; and finally the subversive portrayal of gender and sexuality in the unique Boi Neon — here’s my list.

  1. Rara (Pepa San Martín, Chile/Argentina)
  2. X500 (Juan Andrés Arango, Colombia/Canada/Mexico)
  3. El Ciudadano Ilustre (Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, Argentina/Spain)
  4. The Vessel (Julio Quintana, Puerto Rico)
  5. Boi Neon (Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil)

Nina Rodríguez, Guanajuato International Film Festival

Director of Programming at the Guanajuato International Film Festival

Thanks for the reminder how glorious this otherwise somber year was in Latin cinema, celebrating an outrage of real stunning brilliance in form, content and creativity on all levels from so many different fabulously genuine voices that a list of five has to feel incomplete, but here’s some of my coup de coeur debut features in alphabetic order. Viva el futuro!!

  1. El auge del humano / The human surge (Eduardo Williams, Argentina)
  2. El futuro perfecto / The future perfect (Nele Wohlatz, Argentina)
  3. La selva negra / The Modern Jungle (Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak, México)
  4. Maquinaria Panamericana / Panamerican Machinery (Joaquin del Paso, México)
  5. Tenemos la carne / We still have the flesh (Emiliano Rocha Minter, México)

Carlos A. Gutiérrez, Cinema Tropical

Co-Founder and Executive Director of Cinema Tropical

Five of my favorite Latin American films of 2016 (same as always, there are some films that premiered at festivals this year — such as Eduardo William’s The Human Surge and Gastón Solnicki’s Kékszakállú — but are headed to theaters in the U.S. next year, so I’ll save them for next year’s list), in strict alphabetical order.

  1. El apóstata / The Apostate (Federico Veiroj, Uruguay/Spain)
  2. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil)
  3. El movimiento (Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina)
  4. Santa Teresa y otras historias (Nelson Carlo de los Santos, Dominican Republic/Mexico)
  5. Tempestad (Tatiana Huezo, Mexico)

And my three favorite U.S. Latino films of the year, also in alphabetical order.

  1. Lupe Under the Sun (Rodrigo Reyes, USA/Mexico)
  2. Memories of a Penitent Heart (Cecilia Aldarondo, USA/Puerto Rico)
  3. When Two Worlds Collide (Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel, USA/Peru)

Misha MacLaird, Guanajuato International Film Festival

Programming Consultant at the Guanajuato International Film Festival

Ending another great year for documentaries, Tempestad and The Modern Jungle are two that illustrate the necessity of cinema: with form and content so delicately intertwined, they could not exist with the same impact in any other medium. Last Conversations (Ultimas Conversas) is a charming portrait of youth in Brazil with an added layer of complexity and emotion as a posthumous tribute to master director Eduardo Coutinho, completed by João Moreira Salles. In fiction, Colombia’s Siembra and Chile’s Mala Junta are the two that stayed with me throughout the year, the former for its visual style and the latter for its outstanding script, both by emerging filmmakers.

  1. Tempestad (Tatiana Huezo, Mexico)
  2. The Modern Jungle (Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak, Mexico)
  3. Ultimas Conversas / Last Conversations (Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil)
  4. Siembra (Ángela Osorio and Santiago Lozano, Colombia)
  5. Mala Junta / Bad Influence (Claudia Huaiquimilla, Chile)

Juan Caceres, Urbanworld Film Festival

Film Programmer at Urbanworld Film Festival

These films are a testament to Latino filmmakers’ diversity in craft this year in terms of languages, styles, and nuances. I’m totally being biased with my choice in Larrain’s films as I’m from Chile but I did stop short with not including El Club, however he will be the first director to have three theatrical releases in the US in one calendar year for 2016. It’s also encouraging to see a few Latino and Latin American filmmakers not only making American Latino films but bringing their sensibilities to other films with a broader scope (like Jackie). This hopefully will get them the recognition they deserve.

  1. Neruda (Pablo Larrain, Chile/Argentina/Spain/France)
  2. Jackie (Pablo Larrain, Chile/France/USA)
  3. El abrazo de la serpiente (Ciro Guerra, Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina)
  4. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil)
  5. La Granja (Angel Manuel Soto, Puerto Rico)

Dilcia Barrera, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Associate Curator of Film at LACMA and Programmer of Short Films at Sundance Film Festival

In an attempt to avoid repetition and present a new class of storytellers, I would love to list my top 5 Latin American short films and my top 5 American Latino short films of the year. While I am a strong devotee of anything starring Gael Garcia Bernal and I adored both 2016 Pablo Larrain films, I think it’s crucial that we also support and highlight the next generation of filmmakers. Despite the length constraints and their experience level, these filmmakers embodied our stories and our culture with compelling portrayals and innovative forms of narrative, and even challenged the modes of distribution. I am excited to see what’s next for this group!

Latin American Shorts

  1. And The Whole Sky Fit In The Dead Cow’s Eye (Francisca Alegría, Chile)
  2. El Buzo (Esteban Arrangoiz, Mexico)
  3. The Girl Who Danced with The Devil (João Paulo Miranda Maria, Brazil)
  4. Dobro (Marta Hernaiz Pidal, Mexico)
  5. Beneath the Embers (Verónica Jessamyn López Sainz and Andrea Fuentes Charles, Mexico)

U.S. Latino Shorts

  1. Glove (Alexa Haas and Bernardo Britto, USA/Brazil)
  2. The Send Off (Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas, USA/Mexico)
  3. No Seasons (Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, USA/Cuba)
  4. Woman in Deep (Janicza Bravo, USA/Panama)
  5. Actress (Sebastian Pardo, USA/Guatemala)

Lucho Ramirez, San Francisco Latino Film Festival

Founder and Programmer at Cine Mas+SF and San Francisco Latino Film Festival

I love and hate lists. There’s always something that I’ll remember later that I wish I’d mentioned. That said, these films came to mind as films that should have wide appeal. I can see myself watching them again and again. Also, seeing Latinos on screen that look like our diverse racial and ethnic communities is something I appreciate and can’t overlook.

  1. Camino a La Paz (Francisco Varone, Argentina)
  2. Cafe Amargo (Rigoberto Jimenez, Cuba)
  3. Magallanes (Salvador del Solar, Peru, Argentina, Spain)
  4. La Gunguna (Ernesto Alemany, Dominican Republic)
  5. Ekaj (Cati Gonzalez, USA)

Marlene Dermer, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival

Co-Founder of LALIFF and Latino Public Broadcasting

Every year it’s a challenge to only give 5 titles of my top films as our filmmakers continue to prove that Latin Cinema is not just for Latinos but an exciting part of World Cinema garnishing awards internationally. This year proved to be no different. As our Latin filmmakers continue to bring us powerful stories in all genres demonstrating the great diversity today not only in features and documentaries but also in LGBT cinema. My list is a range of stories demonstrating that variety. Films that are thought provoking socially or politically and/or explore the human condition. As years past, there are always so many other titles I wish I could include that I must leave out. Hope you will take the time to see some our Latin Cinema.

  1. Neruda (Pablo Larrain, Chile/Argentina/Spain/France)
  2. La region salvaje / The Untamed (Amat Escalante, Mexico)
  3. El Ciudadano Ilustre (Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, Argentina/Spain)
  4. Alba (Ana Cristina Barragán, Ecuador)
  5. Willie Velasquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice (Hector Galan, USA)

Christine Davila, Sundance Film Festival

Programming Associate at the Sundance Film Festival

  1. Memories of a Penitent Heart (Cecilia Aldarondo, USA/Puerto Rico)
  2. 11:55 (Ari Issler and Ben Snyder, USA)
  3. Boniato (short by Eric Mainade, Diego Meza-Valdes and Andres Meza-Valdes, USA)
  4. Ovarian Psycos (Johanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle, USA)
  5. Lupe Under the Sun (Rodrigo Reyes, USA/Mexico)
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