10 Latino Actors and Directors Roger Ebert Championed in His Reviews

The entertainment world is mourning the death of legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who passed away at the age of 70 on Thursday after a long battle with thyroid cancer. Ebert, the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, reviewed films for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his passing and hosted At the Movies with rival critic Gene Siskel. During his career, Ebert even helped shine a spotlight on Latin luminaries in Hollywood. Here’s a look at 10 Latino actors and directors that Roger Ebert championed in his reviews.

1. ebert slide 01

In 2010, Javier Bardem starred in Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s critically acclaimed Spanish-language film Biutiful. The Spanish actor not only earned a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival that year; he also got some love from Roger Ebert for his performance. “What drew me into the film and engaged my sympathy was the presence of Bardem himself,” wrote Ebert in his review. “Bardem, who received a best actor Oscar nomination for Biutiful, is a vastly human actor. He can be handsome, ugly, hard, tender or a monster (as he was in No Country for Old Men). Here he suffers, and is good, and suffers partly simply because he cannot do good things.”

2. ebert slide 02 Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz was beyond brilliant in 2006’s Pedro Almodovar film Volver; she even earned Academy Award nomination for her performance in the Spanish-language film. But we weren’t the only ones happy to see Cruz shine in a role that had her speaking her native tongue. “It is refreshing to see Cruz acting in the culture and language that is her own,” wrote Ebert. “As it did with Sophia Loren in the 1950s, Hollywood has tried to force Cruz into a series of show-biz categories, when she is obviously most at home playing a woman like the ones she knew, grew up with, could have become.”

3. ebert slide 03 Alfonso Cuarón

Ebert has nothing but positive things to say about Alfonso Cuarón in his review of the 2001 Mexican coming-of-age drama Y Tu Mama Tambien, a film that not only introduced Hollywood to Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, but made the Mexican filmmaker a highly sought after talent. “Alfonso Cuaron is Mexican but his second and third features were big-budget American films. I thought Great Expectations (1998), with Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Bancroft, brought a freshness and visual excitement to the updated story. I liked A Little Princess (1995) even more,” wrote Ebert in his review. “It is clear Cuaron is a gifted director, and here he does his best work to date. Why did he return to Mexico to make it? Because he has something to say about Mexico, obviously, and also because Jack Valenti and the MPAA have made it impossible for a movie like this to be produced in America."

4. ebert slide 04 Guillermo del Toro

“Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is one of the cinema's great fantasies, rich with darkness and wonder,” writes Ebert about the noted filmmaker’s 2006 Mexican dark fantasy film, which earned three Academy Awards. “It's a fairy tale of such potency and awesome beauty that it reconnects the adult imagination to the primal thrill and horror of the stories that held us spellbound as children.”

5. ebert slide 05 Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek didn’t just star in 2002’s biopic about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the Mexican actress – an Oscar-nominee for her performance in the film – also produced Frida, which Julie Taymor directed. Ebert gave the film three and a half stars, saying “Biopics of artists are always difficult, because the connections between life and art always seem too easy and facile. The best ones lead us back to the work itself and inspire us to sympathize with its maker. Frida is jammed with incident and anecdote--this was a life that ended at 46 and yet made longer lives seem underfurnished.”

6. ebert slide 06 Jessica Alba

It’s hard to believe Jessica Alba only has one major acting award nomination, a Golden Globe nomination in 2001 for her starring role on Fox’s Dark Angel. The underrated actress did get some respect from Ebert though for her work in 2005’s action thriller Into the Blue. “The Jessica Alba character seems to have wandered over from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, or maybe she thinks she's in a video. Then the plot kicks in and she gets a lot to do while still looking fine in a swimsuit. She also looks surprisingly sweet after the stripper she played in Sin City.”

7. ebert slide 07 Benicio Del Toro

Steven Soderbergh’s two-part biopic Che, which tells the story of one of the world’s most famous revolutionaries Ernesto “Che” Guevara, earned the film’s star Benicio Del Toro a Best Actor Award at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, as well as some much deserved kudos from Ebert. Benicio Del Toro, one of the film's producers, gives a heroic performance, not least because it's self-effacing,” says Ebert. “He isn't foregrounded like most epic heroes. In Cuba, he emerges in victory, in Bolivia, he is absorbed in defeat, and sometimes is almost hard to recognize behind a tangle of beard and hair. He embodies not so much a personality as a will. You may wonder if the film is too long. I think there's a good reason for its length. Guevara's experience in Cuba and especially Bolivia was not a series of events and anecdotes, but a trial of endurance that might almost be called mad.

8. ebert slide 08 Demian Bichir

Sure, Demian Bichir was the only actor from 2011’s heart-breaking film A Better Life to earn an Academy Award nomination… But Ebert called out the entire cast in his review for their splendid work. “… the performances are pitch perfect, even including Gabriel Chavarria as Ramon, the man who steals the truck,” writes Ebert. “It adds an important element to the film that he embodies a desperate man, not a bad one. When Carlos acts at a crucial moment, he is recognizing that.”

9. ebert slide 09 Pedro Almodovar

It's no wonder Pedro Almodovar is one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors. Throughout his career, the Spanish filmmaker earned acclaim from Ebert for his impressive work. “Pedro Almodovar loves the movies with lust and abandon and the skill of an experienced lover. Broken Embraces is a voluptuary of a film, drunk on primary colors, caressing Penelope Cruz, using the devices of a Hitchcock to distract us with surfaces while the sinister uncoils beneath. As it ravished me, I longed for a freeze frame to allow me to savor a shot.” He even goes on to talk about Almodovar’s favorite color. “Mention must be made of red. Almodovar, who always favors bright primary colors, drenches this film in red: In the clothing, the decor, the lipstick, the artwork, the furnishings -- everywhere he can. Red, the color of passion and blood. Never has he made a film more visually pulsating, and Almodovar is not shy.”

10. ebert slide 10 Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez’s casting as la Reina de la Musica Tejana for the 1995 biopic Selena may have received some criticism because la Lopez is Puerto Rican, not Mexican-American like Selena Quintanilla. But Ebert didn’t seem to mind one bit, calling it a “a star-making performance.” “After her strong work as the passionate lover of Jack Nicholson in the current Blood and Wine, here she creates a completely different performance, as a loyal Quintanilla who does most of her growing up on a tour bus with her dad at the wheel.” Ebert goes on to add: “Selena succeeds, through Lopez's performance, in evoking the magic of a sweet and talented young woman. And, like [Gregory] Nava's My Family, it's insightful in portraying Mexican-American culture as a rich resource with its own flavor and character. It's ironic that the most successful modern Latina singer could once have had a talk with her dad where he sighed, ``You like Donna Summer, I like doo-wop.'' But he also said, ``You gotta be who you are. She was.”