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Foreign Filmmakers Are Having a Historic Decade at the Oscars, Led By the Three Amigos

Damien Chazelle remains the only American filmmaker to win Best Director in the 2010s.

Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro

Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro

Dave Allocca/Starpix/Shutterstock

“Roma” may have earned Mexico its first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but the country has been dominating the Best Director race at the Academy Awards for much of the last decade. Cuarón’s victory continued an unprecedented run of wins for Mexican filmmakers. In the last six years, the Oscar for Best Director has gone to a Mexican filmmaker five times: Cuarón in 2014 for “Gravity,” Alejandro G. Iñárritu for “Birdman” and “The Revenant” in 2015 and 2016, Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water” in 2018, and Cuarón again this year.

Cuarón, del Toro, and Iñárritu, collectively known as the Three Amigos, have singlehandedly turned Mexico into an Oscars powerhouse in the last six years. Cuarón’s 2013 win for “Gravity” was the first time a Mexican filmmaker won the Best Director Oscar, and since then the Three Amigos have owned the category. The one break came in 2017 when Damien Chazelle won the prize for “La La Land.”

While Mexico has been at the forefront of recent Best Director winners, Cuarón’s “Roma” victory continued a remarkable decade for foreign directors as a whole. In fact, Chazelle remains the only American filmmaker to win Best Director in the 2010s. Outside of the Three Amigos, the U.K.’s Tom Hooper won for “The King’s Speech” in 2011, France’s Michel Hazanavicius won for “The Artist” in 2012, and Taiwan’s Ang Lee won for “Life of Pi” in 2013.

Compare the 2010s to previous decades and it’s apparent how progressive the Academy’s choices have became over the last several years. In the 2000s, four of the 10 winners for Best Director were foreign born: Roman Polanski, Peter Jackson, Ang Lee, and Danny Boyle. The 1990s had just three foreign-born winners out of 10 (Anthony Minghella, James Cameron, and Sam Mendes), as did the 1980s (Richard Attenborough, Miloš Forman, and Bernardo Bertolucci). The 1970s had just one: Miloš Forman.

Thanks largely to the Three Amigos, the 2010s is already the most inclusive decade when it comes to Oscar winners for Best Director.

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