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2016 Academy Awards: How Alejandro G. Inarritu Made Directing History


Five years ago, most people wouldn’t have known who Alejandro G. Iñárritu was. Now after this past Oscars, there’s no way he’s going to be forgotten.

Iñárritu, whose name I can’t spell without pasting it onto the page (don’t know exactly how to get that ñ or á on here), is now a part of legendary directing history. He’s officially entered the annals of all-time directors. By winning the Oscar for Revenant this year and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) the master at his craft became the 20th director to ever win a pair of Oscars for Best Director and only the third ever to win back-to-back awards.

Award winning is often a political and fluky thing. It’s quite possible that Iñárritu doesn’t ever win another Oscar. One of the previous two directors to win back-to-back, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, did not win after his dominant winning years for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve but John Ford managed to snag another Oscar for The Quiet Man after winning for Grapes of Wrath and How Green was My Valley.


What makes Iñárritu’s accomplishment so noteworthy is because All About Eve was made in 1950, so it’s been 65 years since the last time a director walked up to the stage for the Oscar gold in back to back years. This is the first time since color has been the norm for movies that that has happened.

A lot of this has been because awards are not perfunctory or robotic matters. A lot of the time, there is definitely a political or emotional slant to a movie winning awards unless that movie is just so dominant. But not every year do we get a picture as historical as say Titantic, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Ben-Hur, or Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (an underrated classic you must watch).

Revenant did not win Best Picture, so Iñárritu’s managed to be one of the uncommon directors whose movie was beaten for the top prize while he was still named top director (63/87 Best Pictures won Best Director also).

Best Picture and Best Director are often a hand-in-hand thing, but Best Picture is supposed to be a combination of EVERYTHING: Directing, acting, writing, composing, cinematography, makeup and wardrobe, editng and sound, etc, etc, etc. That’s why most movies that win Best Picture often snag the rest of the awards in the process the way legendary pictures do.

So, while Revenant did not earn Best Picture, it was certainly the best in its direction. The reason for Iñárritu’s particular achievement in this case is because of two reasons. 1, self-imposed restrictions that he placed upon himself and 2, his attention to detail.

Iñárritu has done as a director what a lot of actors (best example Daniel Day-Lewis) do called method acting where the actor literally becomes the character in order to give the best performance. They never break character and become the personality which they’re portraying. Imagine being the wife of Christy Brown, the paralyzed artist in My Left Foot because Lewis had that role and he didn’t leave the wheelchair.

How Iñárritu has pulled this off is by doing eccentric twists on his directing style. For instance, in this year’s Revenant, Iñárritu refused to do any scenes without natural light. Think about that for a second. Directors are already on a time limit and schedule. Pressure is on to complete movies in an allotment of a few months typically. There are light crews to help set up the ideal ambience for any scene in almost every scenario regardless of time whether it’s morning, noon or night.

But because Iñárritu wanted only natural light, he went a step further in degree of difficulty. Look at the movie. Revenant does complex shots and closeups and has to because of the lack of dialogue to help bolster the drama. It becomes a movie where the actual picture is what keeps the audience going. It’s not an action movie because of the plot, but an action-drama where the crew and actors live the experiences that they are trying to portray. They went to the tip of South America to find snow in winter time and Iñárritu was particular about going to lands that not only fit the subject matter but hadn’t already been touched by movie cameras.

The end result in a directing legend because he took the most complex requirements and succeeded at making a fantastic picture that many directors couldn’t pull off. This is after he did Birdman with mostly single takes. What made that picture so amazing is that while doing the movie in mostly single takes will get the movie over with in a jiffy, there’s an infinite amount of extra pressure to get that one take perfect because they aren’t going to do it again. The movie was about a play actor so Iñárritu wanted to film it like a theater production because in theater, you only get one shot to get it right. Wherea in film, sometimes it takes a whole day to complete one scene because all directors are perfectionists. In fact, there rarely are scenes that don’t require multiple takes before being finished and Iñárritu did the majority of a movie with single takes.

Critics, colleagues, and awards voters all alike love these things. It’s one thing to climb a mountain, it’s another to do it with weights tied to one’s legs and Iñárritu did two fantastic movies that won multiple Oscars beyond his directing trophies that had those kinds of anchors strapped to him. He’s the director who gave DiCaprio his Oscar role finally (sorry Martin Scorsese), and he’s a hybrid type where he enlists in producing and writing his films as well as directing them. After a thorough check, I’ve found that he’s only one of five men to have won two Best Directing Oscars, won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and Best Picture.

*Others being Billy Wilder and John Huston.

He’s the most hands on when it comes to his movies and what has made him such a delightful surprise is he’s been making foreign films, short films, and commercials for most of his career. He stepped out of his typical work domain to make Birdman and the results speak for themselves. He’s evolved since making 21 Grams and Babel over a decade ago. Now, he’s an artist challenging himself on the most difficult of levels and is making gems for us all.

Depending on his energy, drive, and what new crazy/genius thing he can do to limit himself (maybe make a movie so enthralling that he doesn’t even need music?) and I can imagine this being just the first two Best Directing trophies for him to take home. Oscars are political yes, but one thing people won’t ignore is if a man keeps topping himself and the competition. Iñárritu has blown away anyone else who can stand next to him the past two years and it’s possible he can do it again.


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]

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