Maybe the biggest surprise about Mexico’s Oscar haul Sunday night is this: “Roma’s” win for foreign-language film is the first time our south-of-the-border neighbor has taken home that award.
While it lost to “Green Book” for best picture, Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical epic, named for the Mexico City neighborhood in which he grew up, nabbed three awards Sunday, taking the cinematography award and becoming the second directing winner in a row from Mexico.
Putting together recent evidence, maybe it’s time to start thinking of Mexico as Hollywood South.
Thanks to the writers/directors/bros who call themselves the Three Amigos — Cuarón, 2018 best-picture winner Guillermo del Toro and 2015 winner Alejandro González Iñárritu — the only other countries with more overall Oscar success are France, where filmmaking was born (78 Academy Awards, compared with 27 for Mexico), and Italy (56). Of that squad, Cuarón has the most nominations (10) and he and Iñárritu (with seven nods) are tied with four trophies apiece. Both have two directing wins. Del Toro is two-for-four.
Mexico has been a foreign-language nominee nine times, including strong contenders such as Alfonso Arau’s “Like Water for Chocolate” and Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros,” but kept coming up short for the shiny prize won most often by Italy (14) and France (12). That stat is even more surprising when you consider that Canada, which (mostly) shares our language, has won that trophy — for the French-speaking “The Barbarian Invasions” in 2004.
The mighty Quinn
The first nomination for a Mexican-born moviemaker was in 1943, for production designer Emile Kuri’s work on the western “Silver Queen.” He went on to win twice (for “The Heiress” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”). The first acting winner was supporting actor Anthony Quinn (birth name: Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca) for “Viva Zapata” in 1953. He won the same award four years later for “Lust for Life.”
Neither of the top acting awards has gone to a performer from Mexico. Quinn was a best actor nominee twice (for “Wild Is the Wind” and “Zorba the Greek”) while Demián Bichir got a nod for 2012’s “A Better Life.” In the best actress category, “Roma” star Yalitza Aparicio joins 2003 nominee Salma Hayek (“Frida”). Among supporting actresses, only Mexico City-born Lupita Nyong’o has won (for “12 Years a Slave”) while Katy Jurado (“Broken Lance”), Adriana Barraza (“Babel”) and Marina de Tavira (“Roma”) were nominees.
Look at it this way: If you wanted to win best director in the past six years, unless you were “La La Land’s” Damien Chazelle, you had to be from Mexico. Cuarón (“Gravity,” “Roma”) and Iñárritu (“Birdman,” “The Revenant”) have won it twice and del Toro took it home last year for “The Shape of Water,” with an acceptance speech that began, “I am an immigrant.” No director from Mexico had even been nominated until Iñárritu in 2007, for “Babel.” He lost, but he and his compadres have gone five-for-five since then.
Mexican directors have been on a winning streak but none can match Emmanuel Lubezki’s feat in 2014-16, when he became the first person to win three consecutive cinematography Oscars (for “Gravity,” “Birdman” and “The Revenant”). He also should have won for the mind-blowing “Children of Men” in 2007, but he was beaten out by — you guessed it — a fellow native of Mexico, Guillermo Navarro, who shot del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
Behind the scenes
Quite a few Mexican artists have won in other categories, many for films by the Three Amigos. Others include production designer Edward Carrere (for “Camelot” in 1968) and makeup artist Beatrice De Alba (who apparently did an amazing job on Hayek’s unibrow in “Frida”). And Hermosillo-born composer Bill Melendez received a best-score nomination for the “Peanuts” feature “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” in 1971.
A virtual Oscar
Lost in the midst of “Roma” mania was the fact that while Iñárritu did not make an eligible feature this year, he won a special technical Oscar for “Carne y Arena,” a short film exploring virtual reality that debuted to raves at the Cannes Film Festival last May.