Oscars 2019: Why “Roma” should win best picture

By Ishaan Parmar and Sua Kim

This year’s Best Picture category is filled with biopics, a remake and, for some reason, “Black Panther.” The only two truly original films in the whole category are Yorgos Lanthimos’s period piece dark comedy “The Favourite” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma.” “The Favourite” is a wickedly funny romp that turns period piece tropes completely on their head, but “Roma” is still deserving of the title of Best Picture.

“Roma” is the latest venture from Alfonso Cuarón, director of “Children of Men” and “Gravity.” On this film, Cuarón serves as writer, director and director of photography. “Roma” is inspired by Cuarón’s childhood in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City and follows the life of Cleo, a fictional representation of Cuarón’s childhood nanny.

To call “Roma” a passion project would be a gross understatement. Cuarón wrote, directed and shot the film himself, pouring his life experiences, heart and soul into this movie. “Roma” is Cuarón, and none of the other films nominated for Best Picture have such an intimate relationship with their director.

The whole film is a panorama, not only of Cleo’s life but of Mexican life as a whole. We see Cleo move from the suburbs where she lives and works as a house maid for a doctor’s family to the small village where she searches for the father of her child to the beaches where the family vacations. We even see her caught up in a riot in one of the most stunning scenes in the film, just one of the many ways that Cuarón touches on the political unrest in 1970s Mexico in the film.

“Roma” is the most meticulously crafted film of this year, and it is beautiful to look at. Cuarón shoots the film in black and white digital, giving the audience the sense that they are peeking into both his past and Mexico’s past. Cuaron’s use of natural and practical lighting in the film are second to none, and make the film feel even more real. Almost all of “Roma” is shot with some sort of camera movement. There is lots of horizontal movement, from dollying to panning to tracking, that mimics the feeling of looking at a tapestry painting.

No other film made this year pays such acute attention to detail. Everything in this film was thought out and planned carefully, and that includes the casting. Cuarón looked far and wide across Mexico to find the woman that would play his nanny, and he did not miss. Yalitza Aparicio shines in her debut role as Cleo. She is strong and vulnerable and caring, qualities rarely found in an actress’s screen debut.

“Roma” is a beautifully layered film as well that reveals more and more of itself upon more and more viewings. It requires a keen eye and does not treat its audience as dense and inattentive viewers. From the gorgeous opening shot, Cuarón introduces themes of the four earthly elements as well as dreams of escape. He explores class differences through Cleo and her relationship with the family that she serves. Cuarón explores tangible social issues through the fiction of “Roma” without preaching to his audience.  

In a year filled with films that are trying to capture the essence of historical figures now long gone, “Roma” is the film that feels the most real. The characters and the emotion of the film feel genuine, as if we are watching real life. “Roma” is a film about real people and their everyday struggles in an unpredictable environment. It does not simply seek to amaze or entertain. It reflects a way of life unfamiliar to most, the life of a woman who was extremely influential on Alfonso Cuarón.

“Roma” is a film that, if possible, should be seen in a movie theater. However, Netflix only gave it a limited run in theaters, so it will likely be most widely seen on Netflix. The Oscars have, historically, been hesitant to include Netflix originals in their festivities, but Cuarón’s “Roma” may just be too good for the Academy to ignore this year. Hopefully, “Roma” brings the Best Picture award for the 91st Academy Awards back to Netflix headquarters this year.