By Finley Crebolder.
The runup to the Oscars is well underway, with many awards shows already taking place, and the Academy announcing their nominees. It’s fair to say that among these winners and nominees, there has been a huge variety and no clear stand out dominant film like “La La Land” last year. However, if there is one film that can be considered a favourite to be the big winner of the Awards Season, it is Guillermo Del Toro’s Romantic Fantasy, “The Shape of Water. Already winning “Best Picture” at the Critics’ Choice Awards and Del Toro taking home “Best Director” at both that and the Golden Globes, the film now has 13 Oscar nominations. If Del Toro is to take home the Academy Award for “Best Director”, which at this point is looking likely, he will be the third Mexican in the last four years, and of all do time, to do so, joining his compatriots and friends, Alejandro Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuaron. The three men are hugely different in terms of their styles and films, but have one shared journey to the top of Hollywood.
This journey began all the way back in 1989, where Cuaron and Del Toro met for the very first time. They were both working on the Mexican TV Show “La Hora Marcada, Cuaron as an Assistant Director and Del Toro as a makeup and special effects artist. The former had just directed his first episode and was feeling pleased with his work when the latter simply walked into the room and asked him why it was so s***. Instead of being angered or offended, Cuaron was intrigued by the man he had just met, even more so after the two engaged in conversation. Rather bizarrely, one insult from Del Toro would spark a close friendship between the two.
The Three Amigos would truly be formed almost a decade later, when Iñárritu came into play. Himself and Cuaron met through their mutual friend Emmanuel Lubezki, a huge Mexican name in cinema himself, and Iñárritu showed Cuaron an early cut of his film “Amores Perros”. Cuaron thought the film was excellent, but that it needed some changes. After helping make some of these said changes, he decided that Del Toro was needed in order to break through Iñárritu’s sheer stubbornness. Del Toro obliged, and like with Cuaron years earlier, made a quite the impression with his straight-talking demeanour, as Iñárritu recalled to the LA Times in 2015: “Guillermo is the master of cursing. But with just one bad word, he can convey more to me than most people can in an entire conversation.” From this day forth, the three realised that collectively they could help each other, both personally and professionally, and together they began to take the film industry by storm.
By the time “Amores Perros” was released in 2000, the three of them were all at different stages in their careers; The film would be Iñárritu’s major project outside of short films, whilst Del Toro and Cuaron had both been given opportunities with larger budget American films following huge success in Mexican cinema. Del Toro received critical acclaim for his first feature film, “Cronos”, but had a less positive experience directing “Mimic”; Cuaron on the other hand enjoyed more success in America with “A Little Princess”. However, the turn of the century would prove to be a huge point in each of their careers. Iñárritu would win a BAFTA for “Best Foreign Film” for “Amores Perros” and gain an Oscar nomination in the same category, Cuaron managed to get a Screenplay Oscar nomination for “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, his critically acclaimed Mexican Drama, and Del Toro released his best work yet, the gothic horror “The Devil’s Backbone”. With all three receiving such critical acclaim and universal praise for their work in Mexican cinema, it was surely only a matter of time before they broke into “mainstream” Hollywood.
In the next five years, Del Toro would direct two big budget superhero films, with both “Blade II” and “Hellboy” being a critical and financial success; Cuaron directed what is generally considered the best of the Harry Potter franchise, “The Prisoner of Azkaban”, breaking numerous box office records in the process, and Iñárritu had again gained multiple Academy Award nominations for “21 Grams”, the second part of his “Death Trilogy”.
If 2001 is seen as the year they established themselves as up and coming talents, 2006 is the year that they truly proved themselves to be three of the greatest directors in the film industry. Iñárritu completed the aforementioned “Death Trilogy” with what many believe is the best film of the three, “Babel”, whilst Cuaron directed and co-wrote the adaptation of the P.D. James novel, “Children of Men”. Both films were innovative and were widely considered to be two of the best films of the year, but the greatest achievement among the “Three Amigos” that year was undoubtedly Del Toro’s masterpiece, “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Not only did Del Toro write and direct a film that is often included in lists of the best films of the 21st Century, but it was a product of the combined brain power of all three men, with Cuaron being a producer on the project and both him and Iñárritu assisting Del Toro at many point during the process. An example of this is when, the night before the final cut of the film had to be sent to Cannes Film Festival, the three of them ordered pizza and stayed up until 6am editing it. The film would go on to premiere and do hugely well at Cannes, with Del Toro citing that night as “crucial”. Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter that year, Cuaron said “I’m so proud of our trilogy. These three films are by close friends of the same generation. They show who we are.”
In the next decade, Cuaron and Iñárritu would continue to go from strength to strength, with both winning the Oscar for Best Director; the latter winning it twice in two years, for “Birdman” and “The Revenant”. The true landmark however was a year earlier, when Cuaron became the first Latin American to win the award. Rather than be envious that their good friend had got their first, Iñárritu and Del Toro were simply overjoyed for Cuaron, with Del Toro saying this to the LA Times in 2015: “When Alfonso won, we wanted so much for the Oscar to reach a Mexican filmmaker. It was extremely important, especially since we are living in a time when Mexico is in dire need of good news.” Whilst the other two had enjoyed unbridled success, Del Toro himself never managed to reach the heights he reached with “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Until now.
In just a few weeks, he could continue to make history for Mexican Cinema. However, whilst yet another major Oscar triumph for the three of them would be incredible, a loss would take nothing away from their monumental achievements to date. As the old saying goes, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”, and what a journey it has been. At a time when America’s President inexplicably wants to build a divide and decrease the Mexican influence in his nation, the “Three Amigos”, with their passion, vison and sheer brilliance, have built a legacy that will last longer and have a far greater impact on the world than any wall ever could.
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