Many typical white Americans think of Hispanic entertainment in terms of television programs on Telemundo while listening to “Despocito”. However, brilliant filmmakers have been making films in the Central America regions for years. This is my Top 10 Hispanic Heritage Movies. Plenty to chose from and several that are better. I’m trying more to show a certain scope of the culture with this list.
“Frida” chronicles the life and work of two of the most famous artists in history. Salma Hayek won an Oscar for her portrayal of Frida Khalo and her struggles with a lifelong marriage to Diego Rivera. Rivera was the younger Khalo’s mentor before they became lovers. It was a tumultuous relationship with multiple discrepancies and intense fighting, but their love of art and each other lasts. Diego Rivera is the famous muralist that painted the iconic Rockefeller Center piece in New York that was controversial at the time as a symbol for the Soviet Union was in the corner. Frida’s work embodies the rich, vibrant colors associated with the beauty Mexico is known for. “Frida” is simply luscious to watch.
This is probably the only found footage movie that I actually think is really good. A young television reporter named Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo are doing a night profile piece in a local firestation. The firefighters get a call that a woman is trapped in a near by apartment complex. With cameras rolling the police breakdown the door and discover a woman that is very aggressive and bites one of the officers. With the call going out the building is quickly surrounded and only a few of the lower floor residents escape. For everyone trapped inside chaos ensues, with the camera actually needed in an intelligent way because there’s a light on it and they can see through the lens in the dark. The reason I chose “[rec]” here is two fold. It shows that the Spanish culture is the one that can make one of these, as Americas found footage stuff sucks. Then, at the end there is some interesting Spanish heritage and evil spirit symbolism which is what started it all.
8. Selena (1997):
This is the one on this list not produced in a hispanic country, but “Selena” is about one of the most well known entertainers to come from the region. The main reason, the tragic way in which the talented singers life ended. Everyone knows how Selena was tragically killed by her crazed maid/friend just as she was becoming a mega-star. Jennifer Lopez was perfect to portray the young lady, and looking back on Lopez’s career it’s sadly ironic to what Selena could have been that successful too. Both in Spanish and English, her natural gift for making music impresses to this day.
7. Silent Light (2007):
Love can be a blessing as well as a curse. In “Silent Light” a not so well known fraction of Mexico, a faction of Mennonites, face a situation that threatens to tear this simple family apart. Their father Johan (Cornelio Wall) has fallen in love with Marianne (Maria Pankrantz), also a member of a Mennonite community family. Neither has an explanation as both have strong family values and religious beliefs, which is why it tortures them inside. But it cannot be ignored and they eventually engage with each other out of wedlock. Johan still loves his wife Esther (Miriam Toews) and their family. He tells Esther and there is no intention of the family splitting. However, the love for Marianne is still there. This is not a you’re cheating on me kind of situation. This is an unfortunate life situation. As I always say, the one thing in life that is impossible to explain is love. “Silent Light” shows us a glimpse of the moral issues that face all of us.
Pixar finally made a movie representing the positive parts of hispanic culture when they released the charming “Coco”. Day of the Dead is obviously their signature celebration that takes place every year. In “Coco”, a young man literally experiences the holiday when he is transported to a fantasy world that is actually the city of the dead. Using his charm and the power of Spanish music, the boy learns just how special his culture is. This is a great film to show children from different cultures the good side of this rich world full of amazing music.
5. “El Topo” (1970):
Alejandro Jodorowsky was an absolute madman. Also genius. It often took a lot of effort to get his movies made because he can’t describe on paper what is in his head. My favorite of the crazy man’s adventures would have to be “El Topo”. Translated in English to “The Mole”, “El Topo” is about the adventures of the titular character. We begin with a mysterious man on horseback traveling the desert holding an umbrella. His son, wearing only a hat, moccasins, and make shift thong, is told that he is ready to become a man. From there strange, and I mean strange, shootouts ensue along their journey. After killing multiple opponents including a deserved castration of a foe (don’t worry, it’s off screen), El Topo now leaves his son with the monks and picks up a woman whom he names Mara as the next part of his journey is to defeat four top gun men in the land to become the greatest gunman. He does so, but by using more trickery than showdowns. From there El Topo is betrayed by the woman and wakes up in a cave and considered a god. And so on. Look, there is plenty more that happens and plenty I did not include. What makes “El Topo” excellent is the concept of going through life and learning from the strangest things you have ever seen. This movie is different, but if you dissect it, there is a great deal of truth.
4. “All About my Mother” (1999):
Easily the most accomplished Spanish filmmaker has got to be Pedro Almodovar. My favorite both his most complex as well as joyous film has got to be “All About My Mother”. An openly gay artist, all of Almodovar’s films touch in some way on the LGBTQ combined with heterosexual ideals, and somehow always does it with a feeling of inclusion other than alienation. A true humanist. “Mother” tells the story of a medical worker named Manuela (Cecilia Roth) and her son Esteban (Eloy Eztorin) seeing a showing of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. The young man is so excited to run across the street to get an autograph from the star he is ran over and killed by a car. Thus begins Manuela’s attempt to inform the boys father by traveling to Barcelona. Turns out, her ex is now a transvestite. Unexpected interactions, including a run in with Esteban’s sister (Penelope Cruz), now a nun, Manuela befriending a man in love with a junkie, and our main character suddenly being in a play, are just a small taste. “All About My Mother” has a lot going on surface wise, but it is simply about how life and human interactions in a multitude of worlds can shape us.
3. “Tigers are Not Afraid” (2019):
“Tigers are Not Afraid” is the best movie I have ever seen, no matter the country, that deals with children having to deal with constant horror, but through the children’s eyes and imagination alone. You will have to interpret it in your own personal way. “Tigers” is a fairy tail of being in the worst situation ever, Mexican drug cartels, and making the best of it. Also, this is a movie about ghosts and narco-satanicos. For everyone that wants to ‘Build a Wall‘, please watch this movie and just realize what you are against. The creative minds of a rich kid running around playing with “Avengers” characters in the backyard here in America is just like ghetto kids pretending tigers can jump off walls or imagine a crazy life around a fire. “Tigers” is a movie about showing what is happening to children that don’t understand the world, but have to. Oh, and I also cannot forget to mention, that stuffed tiger mascot is the shit!
2. “Sin Nombre” (2009):
PREFACE: SEVERAL ACTORS REPORTEDLY USED DIFFERENT NAMES AND SOME WERE ACTUAL ACTORS, SO I WILL JUST USE CHARACTER NAMES. Many people in America that never see it don’t understand that tragic situations and gangs are only really bad in Mexico. Not even close, there’s a ton of countries around the world, including ours, with the exact same thing. “Sin Nombre” portrays such a situation with brutality without taking away a genuine overall human aspect. A vicious gang led by Lil’ Mago, seen above, is the definition of pure evil. They viciously beat a kid named El Smiley near to death for his initiation. El Smiley has a girlfriend he is trying to hide. Lil’ Mago finds out, kills her in an attempted rape, then tells El Smiley “Don’t worry, I’ll get you another.” Meanwhile, our main character El Casper is tired of this. When Lil’ Mago brings the group to rob a train where desperate people are trying to escape to America. Lil’ Mago attempts to rape Sayra, a girl trying to escape with her family to live with relatives in New Jersey. El Casper is done and shoots the kingpin, making him a marked man. On the train they go, and hopefully they make it. “Sin Nombre” shows the harshest of gang evil, but also the willingness to stand up against it.
1. “Roma” (2018):
Already established as a great director, Alfonso Cuaron returned to his home country and made his most beautiful film to date with “Roma”. This is one of those pictures that, by the time you get to the end, you feel like you have just been hugged with joy. Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is a housekeeper for a wealthy family. While keeping to herself on the issue, it is clear there is tension between the head of the household Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira). In her personal life Cleo gets pregnant by an idiot who thinks he’s a martial arts master. When she tells him the baby daddy, he’s out real quick. Cleo goes crying to Sofia afraid she’ll be fired, which is not the case. Sofia was not very kind to the servant early on, but now they are both going through hardship. Sofia is human. With it being clear dad is not coming back from a business trip, the family, now including Cleo, stick together with the grandmother even buying her a crib. Also, they have to stick together with the 1971 student riots going on in the streets. With a tragedy involving the pregnancy takes place everyone is devastated. But in the end the famous shot of Cleo running out into the ocean and saving the kids she helped raise for years is a tear-jerker. “Roma” is pure. “Roma” is what matters. “Roma” is what is important.