by Simon Ong
Before you read Simon’s pick for #1, check out the rest of his list on The Short Loop:
#10. Can You Ever Forgive Me? and #9. Black Panther
#8. Suspiria and #7. Sorry to Bother You
#6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and 5. Mission: Impossible — Fallout
#4. Paddington 2 and 3. The Favourite
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón
Roma is the movie of the year.
From Alfonso Cuarón, Roma tells the story of a Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid who works for a family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. When the father of the family leaves for an indefinite amount of time, Cleo must step up her responsibilities in taking care of both the mother and the four children, all while dealing with her own issues.
Roma is absolutely gorgeous. It is gorgeous not despite the choice to shoot in black and white but because of it. Every frame feels like a world unto itself, with the stark contrast in lighting creating a depth in every single shot that would be lost were color to be added. Writer/director Cuarón also did the film’s cinematography, the first time he has done so on one of his films, and it shows just how important the camerawork was to him. Cuarón uses the horizontal pan to extraordinary effect, focusing just as much on the world around his characters as the characters themselves.
Cuarón, whose previous three films were Gravity, Children of Men, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, has not made such a subdued film in a long while — if ever. Roma is at times quiet: a calmness characterizes the house in Colonia Roma more often than not. But those moments of quiet accentuate Roma’s louder scenes, from a wildfire in the woods or a violent protest in the streets. I would, therefore, not describe Roma as a slow film. No, it is deceptively gripping. One moment all will be well, and the next, you’ll realize you have forgotten to breathe for the entire scene.
I am typically pretty cautious about directors going out of their way to cast non-actors as the leads in their films. Most often, you end up with a sub-par performance, but at its worst, the convention ends up a gimmicky mess that makes a mockery of your film. However, that being said, first time actor Yalitza Aparicio is an absolute gem in the role of Cleo, a character who Aparicio seems to have such a deep understanding of and appreciation for. With a background in early childhood education, Aparicio perhaps uses some of that knowledge in her dealing with the four child actors and their characters in the film. Aparicio exudes such a love toward them, such a tenderness, that it would be hard to image that background not informing her performance to some degree.
It seems a staple of these lists that I must talk about the growing trend of direct-to-streaming movies. I think it is a shame that Netflix gained distribution rights to this film that is so improved by seeing it on a big screen. I know that it is still in limited engagement in theaters so, if you have the opportunity, get yourself to a theater and see it before it leaves. I suppose the upside of a Netflix release is that more people will have the opportunity to see it. If you are reading this and you have a Netflix account, you can stop reading this right now, log-on to Netflix, and watch Roma at this very moment.
And, lastly, my previously expressed fears about Widows and its representation this awards season are multiplied by several orders of magnitude with Roma. Only ten times in the history of the Academy has a foreign-language film been nominated for Best Picture and never has one won. However, Cuarón is in good standing with the Academy. Gravity was nominated for Best Picture and won him a Best Director award. Meanwhile, both Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También received nomination in their writing categories. Not to mention that, between Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro, Mexican filmmakers have been getting increasing levels of recognition at the Oscars, so perhaps there’s a perfect storm brewing for Roma to make a run on Best Picture. I certainly hope so. Now, quit reading this and go watch Roma, you’ll be glad you did.
Simon Ong is a screenwriting student and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Follow him on Twitter at @DrSimonScience and on Letterboxd at ongs.