Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is making a strong case for being the most impressive director of the 21st century. Certainly he has plenty of competition; Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese continue to amaze, Christopher Nolan continues do his thing while reaping in enormous profits, and there are certainly valid arguments to be made for David Fincher, Richard Linklater, the Coen Brothers, Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, and others. But AGI may have separated himself with The Revenant.
For a while, Inarritu was known as a one trick pony. Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel were all deadly serious and somber films that weaved multiple stories into a breathtaking tapestry. That said, following Babel, some wondered whether Inarritu had any other cards. I would have been perfectly content if he didn't; Amores Perros is nothing short of the best Mexican film I've ever seen, and Babel was an astonishing blend of beautiful shots, moving music, and heartfelt acting that visually explained many of the cultural misunderstandings that still plague us today.
In 2009, Inarritu made Biutiful. It's by far his most underrated movie, one of the few which critics en masse got wrong (its a 58 on metacritic). It's as solemn as Inarritu's original trilogy, but this time the relentless focus of Inarritu's camera is on poor Javier Bardem rather than multiple protagonists. Then came Birdman in 2014, a true departure in tone for the Mexican. I think it's less of a film than Biutiful yet still was one of the best films of last year. Certainly others agreed, as Inarritu won Best Director and Birdman won Best Picture at last year's Oscar's.
Now he's back with The Revenant. It's a stunning film, simultaneously inspiring and depressing. Leonardo DiCaprio turns in his best performance in a long time; DiCaprio is often exciting and moving as an actor, but since 2006 I can't seem to forget that I'm watching DiCaprio instead of the character. That's not the case here. It's an amazing, gritty performance, and I think it will deservedly bring DiCaprio the Oscar he has been waiting for. Tom Hardy also deserves immense credit for his tenacious performance; I don't understand why he always gets snubbed at awards season.
People can disagree over who has been the best director this century, its much harder to argue Emmanuel Lubezki has not been the top cinematographer. He has won the Oscar the past two years Gravity and Birdman and I would be shocked if he does not become the first cinematographer to win the award three years in a row. Lubezki and Inarritu insisted on using only natural light and settings, meaning the actors and crew nearly froze to death. But the rewards were worth the suffering: The Revenant is one of the beautiful, visually stunning films I've ever seen. The action scenes have a verisimilitude I have never experienced and the landscapes are nothing short of gorgeous.