In 2000, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu hit Hollywood full force with his astronomical feature debut, Amores Perros. A fearless story of intertwining lives, the film unsurprisingly earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. After that, the director went on to make history time and time again, from becoming the first Mexican filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award for directing or producing, to being the first one to win for Best Picture or Screenplay.
Decades after Amores Perros, Iñárritu remains one of our greatest living filmmakers, churning out a new poignant, philosophical masterwork every handful of years. Each of the director’s films peels back another layer of his psyche—whether it be a contemplation on the brutal connection between man and wilderness that he explored in The Revenant, 21 Grams’ meditation on the afterlife, or Babel’s dissection of the language’s power.
Unsurprisingly, Iñárritu’s most recent film, black comedy Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, which studies the life and regrets of a famous documentarian, is equally thoughtful and provocative, easily re-confirming the director’s status as one of Hollywood’s giants. With Bardo proving that Iñárritu seemingly can’t make a wrong move, we saw it was high time to rank the master’s feature-length works from great to greatest.
Here are all of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s movies, ranked:
Savage, pummeling, an endurance test, and the most visually striking movie you’ll see all year, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant is a dark ride through the depths of humanity and a father’s search for justice. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a wild, physical performance, plays frontier trapper Hugh Glass, who, mauled by a bear and left for dead, survives to embark on an epic quest for revenge against the man who left him for dead and murdered his son. Another mesmerizingly gorgeous collaboration between Iñárritu and celebrated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the ruthless story is so naturally artistic that it’s easy to lose sight of the technical mastery involved, but the result is a brutal, edge-of-the-world Apocalypse Now.—Brent McKnight
Iñárritu’s most recent directorial effort, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, follows esteemed Mexican journalist and documentarian Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who decides to return to his homeland after receiving a distinguished award. What follows is a thoughtful meditation on identity and fame imbued with both quiet austerity and biting humor. A film about a filmmaker, it is no surprise that Bardo contains undeniable notes of Iñárritu’s own life and filmmaking portfolio. At times a dizzying, absurdist visual feast, the film is reminiscent of Birdman, which often rejects formal filmmaking “rules” by presenting itself in a long, unbroken shot, and by permeating many of its frames with dozens of light sources. On a philosophical level, Bardo seems to be a callback to Iñárritu’s earlier work, touching on death with the same nuance as 21 Grams, and considering identity with the same force as Babel. While Bardo can admittedly be a bit self-indulgent at times, not quite knowing when to cut back on the long pontifications, it is an undeniably empathetic look at the human condition, and one of the director’s most thought-provoking films to date.
Released on the heels of Iñárritu’s career-defining feature debut Amores Perros, 21 Grams is the second entry into his “Trilogy of Death,” which is completed by Babel. In keeping with the trilogy’s trademark, 21 weaves together a number of different storylines: Grieving mother and recent widow Cristina (Naomi Watts), dying mathematician Paul (Sean Penn), and ex-convict Jack (Benicio del Toro), all of whose lives are bound together by a tragic hit-and-run. Not only is 21 Grams a gripping, moving character study, but it also thoughtfully interrogates themes of guilt, grief, trauma and redemption. Throughout the film’s two-hour runtime, each character inches toward a powerful moral, which, while largely faith-based, manages to feel authentic and not at all cloying. Iñárritu accomplishes this largely due to the film’s sincere emotional weight, and staggering, raw performances from Watts and Del Toro, which earned them both Academy Award nominations.
Iñárritu’s first feature after his “Trilogy of Death,” Biutiful follows broke middle-aged father Uxbal (Javier Bardem), who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and given mere months to live. His sobering prognosis forces him to reflect on his life—namely his tumultuous relationship with his childrens’ mother, alcoholic sex worker Marambra (Maricel Álverez) and his construction worker brother Tito (Eduard Fernández), as well as his illegal, morally dubious business practices. Along the way, Uxbal is also compelled to reconcile his feelings of grief following the loss of his father, and overall questions of mortality. Perhaps most miraculous about Biutiful is that Iñárritu is able to touch on all of these weighty matters without the film feeling disjointed or overlong. Indeed, the story is immaculately constructed, with Uxbal’s personal relationships, turbulent work life and existential crises all effortlessly bleeding together, suggesting that earthly and abstract matters aren’t as different as we might think. What results is a heartbreaking ode to the fleeting nature of life, and what it really means to make a difference while we’re here.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) used to be somebody. Specifically, he used to be Birdman, a once globally beloved superhero turned pathetic pop culture footnote 20 years after his relevance (and his fortune) has faded. Thompson influenced an entire niche of blockbusters; now, decades later, the poor sap just isn’t important anymore. Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is about the rigors of celebrity; the transience of fame; the utter horseshit fakery of the drama world; artistic sacrifice; fatherhood; and about a million other themes all rolled into one fluid two-hour package. Above all else, though, Birdman is tender, raucously funny and deeply tragic. The final qualifier just proves that this is an Alejandro González Iñárritu film, but Iñárritu is operating on a new level here. This is intimate, personal stuff, perhaps his best effort since his first, 2000’s Amores Perros—or at least his most passionate, for more than just the director himself. The film at times reads like a dedication to Keaton’s work in Tim Burton’s Batman movies, and an admonition against the indulgent comic book rumpuses Thompson is supposed to have helped invent. There sure are a lot of pictures about caped crusaders out there, but don’t even the most over-the-hill superheroes deserve a chance to fly anew? —Andy Crump
The grand finale of Iñárritu’s “Trilogy of Death,” Babel sees what is perhaps the director’s most complex, ambitious tapestry of characters. The film follows four different storylines: A young boy living in the Moroccan desert, married couple Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) vacationing in Morocco, the couples’ young children and nanny who take a trip to Mexico, and a deaf teenager in Japan. The film, which earned Iñárritu the Best Director Award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, sees the filmmaker at the height of his powers. Babel illuminates the surprising interconnectedness of people all over the world without being preachy, a message bolstered by powerful, empathetic, nuanced performances. Most of all, the film highlights the effect of things left unsaid, wrapping up on a hopeful note that emphasizes our universal potential for redemption.
Iñárritu’s first feature, Amores Perros (or Love’s a Bitch), is also his best. Like many of his others, the film weaves together multiple storylines. One sees two young lovers planning to run away together, another a model whose career is cut short when her leg is cut off in a catastrophic car accident, and the last follows a former guerilla terrorist. One of the things that makes Perros such a triumph is its staggering originality. Throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Iñárritu dares to defy filmmaking conventions by unraveling storylines in a bold, nonlinear fashion, employing a grainy, shaky, low-fi camera technique in multiple scenes, assembling a cast of largely unknown actors, and not shying away from grueling violence. Iñárritu’s formal rebellion amounts to something spectacular: A visceral, raw, unflinching meditation on violence. It’s ambitious, surprisingly moralistic, attention-grabbing and sharply written. The remainder of Iñárritu’s vast filmography can, in some ways, be seen as a ripple of Perros.