In the Latino film world, 2014 started off with a bang, a really big one. In January, Alfonso Cuarón took home a Best Director trophy at the Golden Globes for his space odyssey/special effects marvel Gravity. In his acceptance speech (the funniest of the night) the first words he uttered into the microphone were, “Ay guey.” Mexicans across the globe chuckled at that one. Cuarón went on to tell a hilarious story about Sandra Bullock misunderstanding his accent while shooting Gravity in which she thought he said, “I’m going to give you herpes.” What Cuarón actually said was, “I’m going to give you an earpiece.”

A few weeks later, the Chilean film Matar a un hombre (To Kill a Man) was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Alejandro Fernández Almendras is only the third Chilean director to win the award. Unfortunately, there were no prizes for U.S. Latino films, as only one was in competition, Richard Ray Perez’s Cesar’s Last Fast.

At the Berlinale in February, the road movie/coming-of-age story, Güeros, won the Best First Film prize for its Mexican direcotor Alonso Ruizpalacios. In the black and white stunner, Tomás moves in with his older (and less guero) brother, a student at Mexico City’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. His older brother and his brother’s roommate are part of a student strike but their slacker, lethargic state-of-mind takes a back seat when the three go on a journey in search of a once famous singer who has dropped out of the limelight.

In March, at the Oscars, Gravity completely swept the awards ceremony. The film won a total of seven Academy Awards including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón, making him the very first Latino to take home a directing prize. His fellow classmate at Mexico’s CUEC film school, Emmanuel Lubezki, (actually it was revealed that they were both “asked to leave” before graduating), a multi-nominated cinematographer received his first Oscar win for Gravity. Cuarón also nabbed a bronze statuette for Best Editing.

At SXSW, Diego Luna premiered Cesar Chavez, his first time directing an English-language film. Although it received lukewarm reviews at its premiere earlier in the year at the Berlin Film Festival, he worked hard to promote it at the famed Austin-based fest. Starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez, the iconic labor leader, the film chronicles the birth of a movement to fight for a living wage for America’s farm workers. Together with Dolores Huerta (played by Rosario Dawson) Chavez founded the United Farm Workers, a labor union that organized boycotts and hunger strikes. The movie also features America Ferrera and John Malkovich.

A few days later, Diego screened the biopic at the White House. When President Obama introduced the screening of Cesar Chavez, he admitted that he loves Y tu mamá también, the Mexican film that turned Diego into an international star, but that it’s NSFW (Not Safe For White House).

In the summer, at the Cannes Film Festival, there were a handful of high profile premieres: Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja, starring Viggo Mortensen, was by far the best reviewed of the bunch, followed by the only Latin American feature to compete in the official selection Damián Szifron’s Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales.) The film, made up of several vignettes, landed a distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics and became Argentina’s submission for the 2015 Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Out of competition, Gael García Bernal starred in El Ardor as a man who rescues the kidnapped daughter (Alice Braga) of a poor farmer. The Mexican actor/hearththrob also served as part of the jury determining awards. In an unexpected twist, the biggest Latin American film at Cannes turned out to be one of the smallest. The Colombian cortometraje Leidi (directed by Simón Mesa Soto) was awarded the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film.

With the festival season winding down and awards season ramping up, it’s likely next year will start off like a repeat of 2014. The Golden Globe nominations were announced just a few days ago and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu‘s Birdman is leading the pack with nods for directing and screenwriting among other categories. Using the Globes as a reliable predictor for the Academy Awards it will be no surprise if the star-studded picture gets numerous Oscar nominations including another one for Emmanuel Lubezki’s mind-boggling cinematography.

Overall, it was a busy year for Latin American cinema with films premiering and winning prizes at prestigious Class A festivals. U.S. Latino movies, in a repeat of almost every festival cycle, fared much worse. Only one made it to Sundance, and very few American Latino productions scored distribution deals or spots at top-tier festivals. Even still, let’s celebrate the victories.

Just in case you were living under a rock this year and missed it all, we’ve got you covered. Thankfully, there are professionals who get paid to keep track of what Latino movies are receiving accolades, have the most buzz, and got picked up for distribution. We went straight to the experts, film programmers, to ask, “What are your top 5 Latino films of 2014?”

Nahun Calleros, Filmoteca de la UNAM

Heli

Head of Stock Footage Collection at the Film Archive of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Our cinema is a window to the violence and the hopelessness that we live daily in Latin America.

  1. Relatos salvajes / Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, Argentina)
  2. Heli (Amat Escalante, México)
  3. Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho / The Way He Looks (Daniel Ribeiro, Brazil)
  4. Narco Cultura (Shaul Schwarz, México)
  5. Cristo Rey (Leticia Tonos, Dominican Republic)

 

Marcela Goglio, Film Society of Lincoln Center

Los Hongos

Programmer of Latinbeat at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and O Brazil at the Museum of the Moving Image

These are five of my favorite films from 2014, not necessarily more at the “top” than others not on the list, but each powerful in its own way.

  1. El lugar del hijo / The Militant (Manuel Nieto Zas, Uruguay)
  2. Mauro (Hernan Rosselli, Argentina)
  3. El cuarto desnudo / The Naked Room (Nuria Ibañez, Mexico)
  4. Los hongos (Oscar Ruiz Navia, Colombia)
  5. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)

 

Diana Vargas, Havana Film Festival in New York

Pelo malo

Artistic Director of the Havana Film Festival in New York

  1. Relatos salvajes / Wild Tales (Damián Szfrón, Argentina)
  2. Conducta (Ernesto Daranas, Cuba)
  3. Matar a un hombre / To Kill a Man (Alejandro Fernandez, Chile)
  4. La muerte de Jaime Roldós / The Death of Jaime Roldós (Manolo Sarmiento and Lisandra Rivera, Ecuador)
  5. Pelo malo / Bad Hair (Mariana Rondón, Venezuela)

 

Carlos A. Gutierrez, Cinema Tropical

Purgatorio

Co-founder and Executive Director of Cinema Tropical

My favorite Latin American films of this year (there are some other films that premiered in festivals this year, but are headed to theaters in the U.S. next year, so I’ll save them for the 2015 list), in alphabetical order:

  1. Historia del miedo / History of Fear (Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina)
  2. El lugar del hijo / The Militant (Manuel Nieto Zas, Uruguay)
  3. Matar a un hombre / To Kill a Man (Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Chile)
  4. Las niñas Quispe / The Quispe Girls (Sebastián Sepúlveda, Chile)
  5. El cuarto desnudo / The Naked Room (Nuria Ibañez, Mexico)

And breaking the rules, I’ll also mention my three favorite U.S. Latino films of the year, also in alphabetical order:

  1. Maravilla (Juan Pablo Cadaveira, Argentina/USA)
  2. Las Marthas (Crisitina Ibarra, USA)
  3. Purgatorio (Rodrigo Reyes, Mexico/USA)

 

Juan Caceres, Urbanworld Film Festival

Cry Now

Programmer/Producer at Urbanworld Film Festival and writer for Latinobuzz on Indiewire

Four of these films had just hit the festival circuit and after watching them, I just knew I had to introduce New York to them. I feel each of these directors are at a beautiful cusp, on their way to illustrious careers in filmmaking and film lovers will be better for it.

  1. Cry Now (Alberto Barboza, USA)
  2. Lake Los Angeles (Mike Ott, USA)
  3. Los Ángeles (Damian John Harper, Mexico/Germany)
  4. The Book of Life (Jorge R. Gutierrez, USA)
  5. Avenues (Aaref Rodriguez, USA)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNGOYPwI4sQ

Glenn Heath Jr, San Diego Latino Film Festival

Somos Mari Pepa

Director of Programming at the San Diego Latino Film Festival

Some of these films I programmed at this year’s 2014 San Diego Latino Film Festival, some I caught at other film festivals. Each challenges our preconceived notions of genre to examine characters experiencing a crisis of identity and faith. All are singularly riveting and wholly rewarding.

  1. Club Sandwich (Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico)
  2. Somos mari pepa / We are Mari Pepa (Samuel Kishi Leopo, Mexico)
  3. Relatos salvajes / Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, Argentina)
  4. Los insólitos peces gato / The Amazing Catfish (Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico)
  5. Historia del miedo / History of Fear (Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina)

 

Marlene Dermer, Los Angeles Latino Film Festival

Conducta

Executive Director and Programmer of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival

As a film festival director and a Latin film programmer I have always had a special love for Opera Primas. Maybe it’s the discovering of talent or the complete unwavering spirit and determination of a first feature film director to make their vision come alive? Certainly, it’s an area where Latin America and Latino filmmakers around the world continue to surprise us. In addition, I think it’s important to note two studio pictures by Latino filmmakers which continue to proof there are no limitations to the capacity of the great talent in our community in the United States, as well as internationally. It is always very difficult to come up with only 5 titles and only wish I could include more titles that touched me or surprised me.

  1. Relatos salvajes / Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, Argentina)
  2. Conducta (Ernesto Daranas, Cuba)
  3. Ciencias Naturales / Natural Sciences (Matías Lucchesi, Argentina)
  4. The Book of Life (Jorge R. Gutierrez, USA)
  5. Gueros (Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico)

And if I had a sixth choice, it would go to…

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, USA)

 

Christine Davila, Ambulante USA

Cesar’s Last Fast

Director of Ambulante USA and Programming Associate at the Sundance Film Festival

To be honest, this exercise is a frustrating reminder of the sheer lack of U.S. Latino films that get out there even at the film festival level. It would not be right to call it a top 5 and to simply list the dozen or so films that were written/directed by Latinos that actually got out this year. That said, I’m super happy about Cesar’s Last Fast, that documentary has so much craft. And Recommended by Enrique has such a unique tone, style, and originality. By unjust comparison there were several movies from Mexico and South America that I personally found outstanding, doing something uniqe and I’m quite happy they got out: Gueros from Mexico, Los hongos from Colombia and Relatos salvajes from Argentina.

  1. Cesar’s Last Fast (Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee, USA)
  2. Recommended by Enrique (Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh, USA/Argentina/France)
  3. Gueros (Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico)
  4. Los hongos (Oscar Ruiz Navia, Colombia)
  5. Relatos salvajes / Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, Argentina)