Welcome one and all to Flixist’s new end of the year awards program, the Golden Cages! With Hollywood becoming increasingly out of touch with what the people like, we at Flixist have taken it upon ourselves to deliver the fair, balanced, dignity-filled awards you deserve. Why are we delivering our 2018 awards so late in the year? Because the Oscars do it and we’re better than them. The winners of the Golden Cages will be spread out over the next two weeks, right before the hostless Academy Awards.
It’s a total cliché to say that movies are meant to transport audiences into a whole different world, yet it is still true. Alfonso Cuarón has achieved this multiple times already: the Mexican director had a new take on Hogwarts in Prisoner of Azkaban, he shocked and awed with his dystopian Children of Men, and he almost made us believe that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were trained astronauts in Gravity. But it’s his films set firmly in our world that intrigue me the most and how he frames a particular part and time of the world in Roma shows the best of what the director has to offer.
Before I watched Roma, I was told very specific instructions by a trusted film buff friend: watch this in a movie theater. If you cannot watch this in a theater, he told me, watch it with a good sound system. From the first shot, a view of the sky from the reflection of a puddle, I could tell why. Even with a still image and virtually no action, I was already captivated by a number of sensory details—the sound of the water, a plane flying overhead, the rumbles in the street, and so on. By the time we actually get to explore the Colonia Roma neighborhood, I was completely overwhelmed.
We are meant to believe that long takes are this director’s “thing,” his signature. That still holds true, but Cuarón stages and blocks crowded scenes with such finesse in a way that truly makes you feel like you’re there on the street. It’s also a large credit to the sound design, with discernible layers of chatter and other noises adding texture to each scene. It’s impressive, and to be quite honest, very stressful to watch. Listen, I’ve never been to Mexico, but I have been to the Philippines. Places like these are defined by a flood of humanity, and I’ve never seen a movie capture that better than Roma.
You don’t even have to point to the outdoor scenes for this—remember the scene in the hospital? The noise, the panic, and whatnot? Without detailing it too much, it essentially onset flashbacks for my parents, both medically trained in a third-world country, making them speculate that these “actors” were real doctors. It was eerily realistic for them and even though I had never been in that situation, watching the movie made me feel like I just had.
Just look back at Cuarón’s previous filmography: the long take battle scene in Children of Men sure was impressive, but rewatch it and pay attention to the background action. Same for Prisoner of Azkaban—the scenes in the Leaky Cauldron and the Main Hall are busy and quite impressive to behold. I myself have an itch to rewatch Y Tu Mamá También all of a sudden. Cuarón can direct the hell out of a scene, and for that, he won our Golden Cage for Best Director.
The one thing I’d avoid though, is an advertisement Cuarón directed for a problematic “autism charity” that completely mischaracterizes the condition. While we hope he’s learned his lesson, and that he treats his own autistic son with care, maybe leave an asterisk next to his name for now. Nowadays, we can’t have a fave without them being problematic too!