Monday, November 14, 2016


Welcome to another installment of the DIRECTOR SERIES, where we take a look at directors in the world of film and the advancements they have made, the style they possess and where their place is in the history of cinema. Today, we take a look at a really solid filmmaker who we’ve been reviewing for the past week and who has maybe a higher profile now than ever before in his career...DENIS VILLENEUVE.

Over the past week we have been profiling Villeneuve’s cinematic history in preparing for his latest work Arrival (check out our review), but this is an opportunity to speak to his entire filmography, his accomplishments as a director, and where he goes from here.

Denis Villeneuve is a French-Canadian filmmaker from Gentilly, Québec. He got his start into the world of cinema when he attended film school at Université du Québec à Montréal and began making short films through Radio-Camera’s youth film competition in the early 1990s. He didn’t release his first feature film until 1998, however. Un 32 août sur terre (August 32nd on Earth; check out our review) was his first foray into the sphere and showed off a lot of promise that would come to fruition later on in his career in terms of his directorial style and camera movements. The film certainly showed off some weaknesses in terms of budget and experience though. It was a breakthrough in its own way as it selected to be a part of the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section. Three years later, he made the film Maelstöm which won many film awards in Québec and was selected as the Best Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival. After this relative early success, Villeneuve dropped off the scene for several years before he would enter the unprecedented run he has been on to this day.

Although he had done a small short-film and some work on a documentary project in-between, Villeneuve had his triumphant return when he released his 2008 short film Next Floor (check out our review). This short film received much critical acclaim and won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The following year, Villeneuve released the film Polytechnique (check out our review) to critical acclaim and controversy. It ended up being one of the most successful Canadian films of that year even if it was not financially successful broadly. Villeneuve had hoped it would have reached a broader market and even shot this film in both French and English in hopes of reaching a broad audience in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Undeterred by the financial setback from Polytechnique, in 2010 Villeneuve released what would become his breakout feature: Incendies (check out our review). The significance of Incendies in terms of Villeneuve’s career cannot be overstated. This was a project that Villeneuve had been thinking about and working since 2004 when he first saw the stage play and felt he was seeing a masterpiece. This film showed at several film festivals including the 2010 Venice Film Festival, 2010 Telluride Film Festival, 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, and the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It received massively positive reviews and awards recognition. The film won nine Jutra Awards (Québec Cinema Awards) and eight Genie Awards (Canadian Film Awards). Additionally, it provided Denis Villeneuve with his first, and only to date, Academy Award nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category (which it lost to the film In a Better World from Denmark).

Following the success with Incendies, Villeneuve made his first film with a major studio, Warner Brothers, with by far his largest budget at that point in time with the film Prisoners (check out our review). This film was notable for a number of reasons but it was the start of a beautiful friendship between Villeneuve and acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins which continues to this day. Villeneuve was also graced with his most accomplished cast as well. Prisoners went on to be his most successful film at the box office to date by making $122 million and shone a light on his work to more people than ever before. The same year he made Prisoners he also made the far smaller film Enemy (which got its public release the following year; check out our review). This film was discussed a fair bit in the film geek community but failed to gain traction elsewhere. His 2015 film Sicario (check out our review) got him back into the mainstream, making more than $80 million and receiving widespread critical praise.

This past weekend we saw the release of his latest film Arrival to further critical praise and relative box office success. The internet has been buzzing about this film and likely will be for a while. Next year, Denis Villeneuve will be releasing his first franchise film with the sequel to Blade Runner titled Blade Runner 2049 (check out our editorial). This has created anticipation around his work and more discussion of his attributes as a director. It will also mark the third time he and Roger Deakins will be working together. He is also developing a film called The Son based on a Norwegian crime novel.

When I look at the history of Villeneuve’s career, I am struck by just how consistently excellent he has been. Even in his early films where he showed some flaws, he always had remarkable talent that has translated positively over the course of his career. Since 2009 he has been on an almost unprecedented run by releasing six feature films all to massive critical acclaim and a couple to solid box office success as well. I was first introduced to him with Sicario last year and having the opportunity to review the films for this series has been amazing. I feel like I have truly experienced greatness in filmmaking and I would encourage people to seek out Villeneuve’s work and experience it. Many of these films will move you and make you think. They are almost uniformly stunningly beautiful and brilliantly crafted. Villeneuve is a true artist in our time and a great filmmaker and I can’t wait to see his future work!

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