Moviefied’s Top Five Latin American Films

At Moviefied, we couldn’t resist exploring our top five Latin American films in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. There’s more than enough inspiration to be found in the bumper crop of the exceptional cinema renaissance happening in Latin America in recent years. Latino films have become a regular presence at international film festivals, offering global audiences a glimpse of how the region has grown. In fact, whittling down our top five  films was easier said than done. Take a look to see if you agree with our selections.

Cinema Tropical Presents 
the 10 Best Latin American Films of the Decade


David’s Top 5

Passionate, political, brutal, romantic and magical characterize my Top Five Latin American Films. In reviewing the films below, as well as El Norte, Motorcycle Diaries, Sin Nombre, and Amores Perros, I was blown away by their collective power. They represent some of the most exciting works from some of today’s dynamic new directors. I found myself not only entertained but also transported by the lives I watched on screen, a diverse range of people from all levels of society and culture just south of the border.
1) City of God /Cidade de Deus – 2002 (Brazil)

City of God is a film of virtuosic direction by Fernando Meirelles. It tells the story of the Rio de Janeiro slums where crime is ruled by an army of gangs composed of an endless supply of live-for-today young men. The film is frenetic, colorful and necessarily violent.  Just like a drug deal gone brutally bad, the movie moves at rapid fire pace with youthful energy and passion. The camerawork dances throughout, thumping fast, then suddenly spiraling down to an adagio of memories, then speeding back up again to a festivity of gun shots. The film does not take the viewer on an escapist thrill ride that glorifies weapons and bloodshed. It takes the viewer into inner city Rio to experience the short mortality in ghetto life where a thirteen-year-old boy carries a gun. 

2) Y tu Mamá Tambien  2001 (Mexico)

Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) are two close school friends from different social classes. The realities of life: dishonesty, corruption and death are oblivious to them, as they care only about sex, puerile jokes, drinking, drugs and, of course, wanking. Underneath every fart joke lies a dead body tragically mangled on the side of the road. The friends’ bond seems so authentic you forget that they’re two actors and not two lifelong buddies. Watching Tenoch and Julio is fun, feels real, and is voyeuristic. 



Road films are often good vehicles for developing relationships between unlikely characters.  As the characters travel in a quest to reach their goal, they encounter and overcome many obstacles that cause them to grow and transform. Dora, played brilliantly by Fernada Montanegro, takes such a journey and experiences a rewarding transformation. The viewer goes from being revolted by her selfish actions over a young boy, Josué (Vinícius de Oliveira), who witness his mother’s death, to wanting her to adopt him for life. She’s a conflicted woman, a little mean and self-centered; and yet, eventually, we come to hope that Josué (who seems to be a good influence on Dora) will stay with her. This film is about family, searching for one, finding an untraditional one, and discovering that even the unlikeliest people need a family



Argentina’s historical-political drama centers on a couple who discover that their adopted daughter, Gaby, may be the child of one of the more than ten thousand victims who disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. Through Alicia’s discovery, skillfully played by Norma Aleandro, we learn the facts surrounding the adoption of their child five years earlier. Gaby is an adorable and charming little girl; yet she possesses an air of melancholy that seems to stem from her tragic birthperhaps aligned with Argentina’s tragic past. One can’t help but feel that Alicia must find the truth of Gaby’s birth and locate her birth family; yet we don’t want her to lose her “daughter.” The viewers are forced to ask themselves what they would do in the same situation. 


“We all have matches inside us that will only ignite once we encounter love.”

Like Water for Chocolate is a spicy treat for anyone who likes a dash of magical realism in their movies. Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is the youngest daughter of a cruel and overbearing mother. Tita, ever quiet and unhappy, releases her emotions into her cooking. A wedding cake prepared with her tears results in here sister’s wedding guests uncontrollable weeping. Tita’s passion for Pedro (Marco Leonardi), the boy whom she loves and cannot have, results in a dinner of quail and honey sexually arousing everyone at the table.  Fire is essential to this movie: fire controlled in preparing hot chocolate and fire uncontrolled through passion that ignites the “matches” inside us. 


Myrna’s Top 5

1) The Motorcycle Diaries / Diarios de Motocicleta 2004 (Argentina)

The Motorcycle Diaries is a biopic about the journey and written memoir of the young man who would several years later become internationally known as the iconic Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.  However, this story is by and about Ernesto Guevera (Gael García Bernal), a twenty-three-year-old middle class medical student looking for a break from his studies in 1952 as he sets off traveling across South America on a motorcycle with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna).  It is a unique look into the everyday life of South America in the middle of the 20th century, lusciously photographed by cinematographer Eric Gautier. The Motorcycle Diaries is an entirely personal story, a socio-political allegory that captures a far more vulnerable Ernesto Guevara than the one we think we know, a rare glimpse into the young mind of a major cultural revolutionary. Brazilian director Walter Salles Jr. takes us on this soulful and quietly exhilarating journey.

2) Buena Vista Social Club 1999 (Cuba/ Germany)

 Wim Wenders’ documentary Buena Vista Social Club is about the adventures of Ry Cooder in Cuba, with some legendary ‘soneros’ musicians of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50,  who were forgotten following Castro’s takeover of Cuba. The result was the album and documentary  Buena Vista Social Club, recorded with the ninety-year-old singer/guitarist Compay Segundo, guitarist Eliades Ochoa, baritone Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, “the Cuban Edith Piaf.”
Wim Wenders shows these exceptional musicians in their hometown, following them into their usual hangoutsthe cafes, clubs and even living roomsas well as to concerts in Amsterdam and New York’s Carnegie Hall, capturing their unbelievable vitality, infectious, intoxicating joy which is conveyed in every frame of this ravishing documentary. According to Ry Cooder, In Cuba, music flows like a river. Buena Vista Social Club is the proof.

3) Waste Land / Lixo Extraordinario 2010 (Brazil / UK)

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This quote was taken literally by the renowned Brazilian artist, Vik Muniz, on his yearlong journey in Rio de Janeiro and the world’s largest landfill. Waste Land, is an uplifting documentary highlighting the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit.  Artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom. Vik collaborates with the brilliant catadores, pickers of recyclable materials, characters who live and work in the garbage, quoting Machiavelli and showing us how to recycle ourselves. The creations were exceptionally beautiful, and his philanthropic motives for crafting his art were just as stunning.

4) Love’s a Bitch / Amores Perros 2000 (Mexico) 

A horrific car accident connects three stories, each involving characters in different levels of society dealing with loss, regret, and life’s harsh realitiesall in the name of love. Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) is trying to raise enough money to run away with his sister-in-law, and decides to enter his dog Cofi into the world of dogfighting. After a dogfight goes bad, Octavio flees in his car, runs a red light and causes the accident. Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero) and Valeria’s (Goya Toledo) newfound bliss is prematurely ended when she loses her leg in the accident. El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria) is a homeless man who cares for stray dogs and is there to witness the collision. Amores Perros signals the bold, audacious, fiercely human and ultra-violent directorial debut of González Iñárritu, a gifted Mexican director bound to make a mark on international cinema. Reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, though edgier than both, Amores Perros is a wonderful entry to Mexican Film Noir.

5) The Headless Woman / La Mujer Sin Cabeza 2008 (Argentina)

 The Headless Woman opens with glamorous, middle-aged dentist Vero (María Onettoa tour de force) driving along a road. There’s a sudden bump. She’s hit something. But what? A dog? Or maybe one of the teens we’ve seen loitering on the roadside? Clutching her brow, she speeds off without finding out what, exactly, just dented her fender. With no formal exposition or character introductions, Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel (La Ciénaga) hands us an intimate, firsthand experience of Vero’s temporary discombobulation. Vero’s loss of memory adds a level of discomfort to her daily life; her anxiety awakens a mindfulness of her bourgeois complacency, which in turn makes her reassess the connections she has with her own family. The closing shot suggests that you can never change those accustomed to a life of privileged conformity. Director Lucrecia Martel is proving herself to be a major new talent in world cinema.


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3 thoughts

  1. I love Y Tu Mama Tambian and it really turned me on to Mexican cinema. I would add to this list The Others, which was a truly frightening flick directed by Mexican director Alejandro Amenbar – that movie scared the crap out of me.


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