Alfonso Cuaron

Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in the best of the Harry Potter films - Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in the best of the Harry Potter films - Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

  • Born: 1961
  • Rank: 65
  • Score: 549.20
  • Nominations: 3 Oscars (two for writing, one for editing)
  • Feature Films: 6
  • Best: Children of Men
  • Worst: Great Expectations

Films (in rank order):

  1. Children of Men – 2006
  2. Y tu mamá también – 2001
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 2004
  4. Sólo con tu pareja – 1991
  5. A Little Princess – 1995
  6. Great Expectations – 1998

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 2002 – 7th – Y tu mamá también
  • 2004 – 8th – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • 2006 – 2nd – Children of Men

It was Guillermo Del Toro who got the big recognition for Pan’s Labyrinth (and because he’s doing The Hobbit), and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who got the Best Director nomination for Babel in 2006, but it was Cuaron who made the best film and who is the best of the three amigos. His career began with Solo, a satire that actually translates well, rare for a foreign comedy. Then he came to the states and made the very nice children’s movie A Little Princess. He followed that up with Great Expectations, which in spite of moving it to modern day Florida and starring Ethan Hawke, is actually a pretty decent film. Then he took things to new limits.

Every time I watch Y tu, I like it more. It’s like the polar opposite of Henry James – it shows us the different levels of society and how they intersect (and don’t). It actually understands the different levels and understands its characters. Then he followed that with what is still the best of the Harry Potter films. Two years later he made the brilliant Children of Men, the second best film in a very good year. He’s got several films in the works at the moment, but we’ll just have to wait with baited breath for his next one.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – #7 film of 2004

I explained to my mother yesterday that this is the one Harry Potter film that is definitely better than the book. In the later films, they have to cut a lot of the books, which are much longer and which, frankly are much better (the books really take a big leap with the fourth one). The first two films were directed by Chris Columbus, who, shall we just say, does not make the list. But the perfect combination came with the third film – not only a book that’s not as long or as good as the later ones, but also far and away the best director involved in the series, and one who was already established with child actors.

There were interesting reactions when Cuaron was announced. After all, he had just made the very sexual Y tu (there is even a great visual reference to it when they think Buckbeak has died, when Hermione stands between Harry and Ron), but Cuaron was well suited to this material. After all, he had made A Little Princess.

Of course, it wasn’t just Cuaron’s talent that made the film such a success. There was the every growing collection of fantastic British actors (in the new interview in Empire, Daniel Radcliffe says “There’s maybe a couple more that we need to complete the set”) and this film brought in three of Britain’s finest acting talents – the always under-rated David Thewliss, the well-used but rarely remembered Timothy Spall and the brilliant Gary Oldman. They were perfectly cast as the three old classmates and they played off each other brilliantly.

There was also the visual effects. The first two films had good special effects, but placed up against Lord of the Rings and Star Wars in the same year, they were nothing special. They went a different direction with the effects in this film (right down to the final freeze-frame shot) and they were much better. This was the first film to really capture the Harry Potter experience.

One of the tricky things with making such beloved books into films is when you need to do a moment that’s not in the book. LOTR had already accomplished that with the “no one tosses a dwarf” followed later by “toss me.” The perfect Harry Potter moment like that comes in this film, and I think it might be a favorite of everyone’s. The moment when Hermione punches Draco. It’s so perfect, for the characters, for the moment, for the film.

Addendum (30 June 2009):  Re-reading and re-watching all of Harry Potter in anticipation of Half-Blood Prince, I was surprised to be reminded that the moment when Hermione punches Draco actually is in the book.  It’s not nearly as memorable in the book as it is in the film.  But what I forgot to mention is the great moment in the dormitory when the 5 Griffyndor boys are eating the candy that makes them act like animals.  It is a great moment and one that wouldn’t have been easy to include in a book, but works so well on film, just showing the way they can relax together after all this time of living so close to each other.

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