MEXICO CITY (AP) – All eyes in Mexico this weekend will be on native son Alejandro González Iñárritu, and the possibility that he could win this year's directing Oscar for "The Revenant" – an unprecedented third in a row by a Mexican director.
If that's not enough for Mexicans to cheer about during Sunday's Academy Awards show, Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki seems to be a shoo-in to win his third cinematography Oscar in a row – a first for an individual of any nationality.
Together with directors Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón, they're part of a new Mexican generation responsible for many of Hollywood's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films of recent years.
"They are at the head of a generation that demarcated a before and an after in Mexican cinema," said José Antonio Valdes, deputy director for information and special projects at Mexico's governmental film institute, the Cineteca Nacional.
"They come from a generation that has a different mentality, where the idea of the global filmmaker was already a reality, and I think we are seeing that now," Valdes said. "Mexican filmmakers no longer think in terms of Mexico. They think globally."
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Mexicans taking home statues on Oscar night has become something of an annual fixture. González Iñárritu won best director last year for "Birdman," following Cuarón in 2014 for "Gravity." Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" in 2006 won three Oscars and was nominated for three more.
All four, who were born in the early 1960s, came of age professionally in Mexico and first achieved fame in their home country.
In 1991 Cuarón put out the popular romantic comedy "Sólo con Tu Pareja" ("Alone With Your Partner"), with cinematography by Lubezki, which was honored with two Ariel awards — the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars. Del Toro's "La Invención de Cronos" (released in the U.S. as "Cronos") in 1993 won nine Ariels. Lubezki won Ariels for 1992's "Como Agua Para Chocolate" ("Like Water for Chocolate"), "Miroslava" (1993) and "Ambar" (1994).
González Iñárritu's debut came later — the widely hailed "Amores Perros" of 2000.
The lag was partly because movies didn't figure in his early career plans. From age 17 he traveled the world working on a cargo ship, and returned to Mexico only in the mid-1980s to begin studying communications at the Iberoamerican University.
While still a student, both he and classmate Martín Hernández, who later became González Iñárritu's principal sound engineer, became DJs at a Mexico City rock station. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Hernández recalled he had the morning show and González Iñárritu the afternoon, and the owners let them stay late to play with the studio equipment.
"We took advantage of that, we made ourselves the masters of the station," Hernández said.
They withdrew from college in what was supposed to be a temporary move, but both remained at the station until the following decade before striking out into film and never looking back.
González Iñárritu co-founded the Z Films agency, where he first directed commercials, and later a TV pilot and the 1996 short feature "El Timbre" ("The Doorbell") featuring Mexican actor Damián Alcázar.
It was a time when Mexican cinema had fallen far from what the country considers its golden age of the 1940s and '50s. Many offerings in the 1980s were campy sex comedies or movies about narcos. The following decade an economic crisis crippled Mexico, including filmmakers who often depended on government support. Just 137 films were made in Mexico between 1994 and 2000.
"There were no opportunities in the second half of the 1990s ... Today they make 140 movies a year," said Daniela Michel, director general of the Morelia International Film Festival.
Along with Lubezki and the Cuaróns, Michel was part of a cinema club that devoured not only mainstream Hollywood fare but works by foreign directors like Andrei Tarkovsky and Terry Gilliam.
"They all were already very clear that they wanted to make movies, and real movies," she said. "They were going against the current, because in Mexico we were being told that cinema was dead."
When González Iñárritu's "Amores Perros" hit screens in 2000, it captivated moviegoers with its innovative storytelling of a sibling rivalry. The film was a national box office hit and swept 11 Ariel awards, including best movie, director and actor (Gael García Bernal).
It was also the first Mexican movie since 1975 to be nominated for the best foreign-language film Oscar.
The Cuaróns followed up the next year with "Y Tu Mamá También" ("And Your Mother, Too"), which also saw wide international distribution and earned the brothers an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.
All four ended up moving to Hollywood and made increasingly big splashes. Lubezki was first doing cinematography for 1994's "Reality Bites." Alfonso Cuarón directed "A Little Princess" in 1995, in collaboration with Lubezki. Del Toro put out "Mimic" in 1997, and González Iñárritu directed "21 Grams" – from a script by fellow Mexican, Guillermo Arriaga – in 2003. It was followed by two other Oscar-nominated films, "Babel" with Brad Pitt and "Biutiful" starring Javier Bardem.