What most other countries in recent years have not managed when it comes to international film is the nurturing of multiple young directors who have broken into the American market with anything more than festival films. Germany has Tom Tykwer and that's about it. Most of the other well-known European directors have been around for quite a while. Japan and Korea both produce movies that do well in Rental in the U.S. but they otherwise break into the American system only by be being remade and shuttled into the J-Horror ghetto, for example. And then there is Mexico.
The other day the NY Times posted an article (The World Is Watching. Not Americans.) covering the National Society of Film Critics 2006 selection (“winners”): “The society's vote stands out a bit amid all this welter because its top three choices for best picture of the year were all movies in languages other than English. The third-place finisher was Clint Eastwood's ‘Letters From Iwo Jima,’ which is in Japanese; the runner-up was ‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,’ a Romanian film directed by Cristi Puiu; and the winner, by a narrow margin, was ‘Pan's Labyrinth,’ Guillermo del Toro's tale of magic and malevolence in 1940s Spain.” These are all movies I plan to see at some point; 2006 was a good year for a type of mid-major movie ... the hollywood blockbusters (regardless of box office numbers) were disappointing (M:I3, X-Men 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 ...?), and I didn't watch a bunch of tiny or completely unknown movies, but we had things like Borat, imports like The Queen, a couple Clint Eastwood productions, Martin Scorsese, and more.
And the three Mexicans. I want to say Three Amigos but I'll hold off ... another curiously entertaining movie, though.
I probably came to Guillermo del Toro first via Blade II and then Cronos, but Cronos (1993), a touching vampire film with an endearing grandfather-granddaughter relationship story, caught my eye several years ago at Four-Star and it is the one by which I judge other del Toro films. While I've heard good things about it I haven't yet gotten around to The Devil's Backbone (2001), though I did, somehow, end up watching Mimic (1997), and what I saw there was talent mutilated by studio executive butchery-by-committee. That brings me to Hellboy (2004), one of the few comic book adaptations that, while not a mirror image of its source, deserves to be taken seriously as a work in its own right.
Mike Mignola's Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics, all available from Dark Horse, are worth owning, especially if you want a Nazis meet Lovecraft vibe.
Years ago an acquaintance, Shawn, recommended Alejandro González Iñárritu's excellent yet brutal Amores perros (2000), and his later films have shared similar narrative conceits, the types of things that make both Short Cuts (Altman) and Magnolia (Anderson) what they are. Interlocking coincidence, either systematic or singular, has been a dominant trope in serious/artsy commercial films for a decade now, going back to Short Cuts (1993) as an early example, but evident also in Guy Ritchie's comedies (Snatch  as well as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels ), and last year's Oscar winner, Crash, one of the more melodramatic examples of the type. In some regards Iñárritu's film 21 Grams is a superior Crash; Babel takes the theme international, but I'm not sure the formula has been improved upon since Amores perros—that having been said, like its predecessors it was thought provoking without being preachy and was at the same time sublimely artistic.
Iñárritu is the formal experimenter of the three, del Toro the Peter Jackson, and Cuarón the old fashioned storyteller.
I came to Alfonso Cuarón after del Toro and Iñárritu, only after hearing about Y tu mamá también (2001) and renting it from Four-Star. I haven't seen his older literary adaptations (A Little Princess, Great Expectations), but from the tightest and perhaps best Harry Potter he made the best Harry Potter movie to date (though the 4th one has moments as good as anything in the series). In Children of Men (2006), which I've been meaning to see but missed in the theaters, Cuarón goes to another adaptation, this time of a novel by P.D. James, known to me originally as the author of Cover Her Face, her first book and the one to introduce Adam Dalgliesh—I watched the made-for-TV adaptations shown on Mystery on PBS years and years ago (it took me a while to accept Emma Peel ... er, Diana Rigg ... as a replacement for Vincent Price, and as for many, that show was my introduction to Edward Gorey).
In addition to the Big Three, all of whom had major motion pictures released in 2006, several of which are up for Oscar and other award nominations—consider Tom Charity's article, “Analysis: And Oscar nominations will go ...” for example, in which all three (Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men, and Babel) appear either as sure nominations, likely nominations, or “Deserves it but doesn't stand a chance” (especially Children of Men) in all relevant categories—I am reminded of Batalla en el cielo (Battle in Heaven ) by Carlos Reygadas, which was shown for a month or more at the Hackesche Höfe cinema under the English title. I never did get around to watching it, but Four-Star has a foreign sale ($0.99) starting Thursday.
It's not just Oscar season; it's also festival season, with Berlin coming up soon, and Sundance going on now:
No moral to this tale, only a list of interesting movies.
—January 22 2007