The Best Picture Nominees: Roma

| February 19, 2019

The 91st Annual Academy Awards are just 5 days away and to celebrate I am taking a look at all eight of the year’s selections in the Best Picture nominees.  Are they any good?  Let’s take a look.

For the connoisseur of the cinema there are few things more exciting than a director who explores the outer limits of their craft, and there is no one who stretches their creative muscles quite like Alfonso Cuarón.  He never seems satisfied to tread familiar waters.  He’s worked in genre of family movies (A Little Princess and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), literary classics (Great Expectations), road pictures (Y Tu Mama Tambien), the dystopian future (Children of Men) and outer space (Gravity).

Now he’s made his best and most personal film, a deeply felt autobiographical slice of life taking place in the middle-class Mexico City neighborhood that he remembered as a child.  Shot in gorgeous black and white, the film is not necessarily tied to a plot but plays out often like streams of consciousness, of memories sometimes connected and sometimes not.  His camera zeros in on certain things like a lingering memory – water washing down the driveway; the sight of a car trying to squeeze into a carport that is too small; the housekeeper doing laundry.

That housekeeper becomes our focus, young Cleo (Best Actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio making her film debut) works for a middle class family but never seems to stand apart from them.  She’s an indispensable part of this family, a purveyor of comfort and a confidant, not in an obvious way but in the manner of the flow of real life.  She not simply a wayward fixture or a stereotype but an integral part of their world, the glue that seems to hold them together.  We feel great empathy for these people and the things that happen to them.

But if Roma were only about the goings-on in the household then it wouldn’t engage us as much.  The outside world barges in and sometimes threatens to overtake them.  Among the lasting memories from this film is a revolution that, because of the domestic vantage point of the story, almost seems to drop into the plot out of nowhere, and yet it has been building all along.  Like the mop water over the opening credits it washing in and back out of the plot like the flow of real life.

It is such a great joy to experience a film in which every shot, every movement, every moment have been chosen carefully and placed on the screen not only with skill but with loving care.  Roma creates a gorgeous tapestry of images that won’t leave your mind – the driveway, the staircase, a movie theater, the ocean, a newborn infant.  But also faces that you’ll never forget.  They flow in an out of the frame like the tapestry of dreams and images.  It is a glorious and beautiful look into a specific world, of a culture and of people that we do not meet.  We leave the film with memories and also a great sense of empathy.  This movie is going to be remembered for a very long time.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.