RANKED: Denis Villeneuve's Movies

Denis Villeneuve is not a filmmaker who sees the light at the end of the tunnel. If you’ve ever seen any one of his movies you’ll know that there is a sense of dread and uneasiness to every frame, the feeling that nothing good will happen and that everything is just wrong. Yet, the 50-year-old director hasn’t exactly tackled melancholic stories in his career either: His movies have included child abductors, terrorists, drug lords, hitmen, high school shooters and depressed alcoholics. Yet since his American debut, Prisoners, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, he has steadily but surely built up a following that is making him a reputable force to be reckoned with. That film’s polite but good reviews were transformed over the last few years into an undeniable cult following. The grisly murder mystery at the center of the story has typical B-movie tropes, but he has a knack for making a script better just by the way he films, paces, and directs. About this he says, “All my life, I’ve searched for good screenwriters; I love writing, but I’m not a good screenwriter and I take forever to complete a script. For the first time ever, I’m receiving screenplays from Hollywood that actually intrigue me. I had heard so many horror stories about foreign filmmakers going to Hollywood that got fucked by the system. Martin Scorsese warned me in fact that ‘You need to remain intact, that’s the most important thing.’ ” Here are 8 of his movies ranked with quotes from my reviews of those films.

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"With his fourth film, Denis Villeneuve has hit a new career high. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's stage play, "Incendies" is the firecracker we've been waiting for this fall. Political, angry and thoroughly engrossing, Villeneuve's film is one of the year's best.  The film's central stories, taking place both in present day Montreal & the Middle East, are filled with corruption and violence as a brother and sister duo try to find out who their recently deceased mother really was. The torching and shooting of a bus filled with muslims bystanders, by christian radicals is the centerpiece of this tough unforgettablemovie. It's a sequence breathlessly shot and horrifying to watch in its authenticity.  The way Villeneuve tells his story is original and visionary, his perfectly calibrated command of the frame is impressive ditto his middle eastern nightmare of a film that creeps up on you from its first frame to the last. I was also completely taken back by its final twisty revelation that only puts the icing on the cake. The film will more than likely find a comfort zone from both critics and audiences when it finally gets released in the States. Villeneuve hasn't really gotten the reputation he deserves south of the border and I think this film might just finally do it for him." [A]

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"Toronto was a kind of homecoming for Canadian boy Denis Villeneuve whose “Arrival” had very successful showings at both Telluride and Venice just a week prior. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist who is recruited by the military after enormous Alien pods show up across the globe. Many countries are prepared for war, but Louise believes that the visitors might actually be on earth for non-violent reasons. Adams, in one of her very best performances, gives a touching and rewarding performance in a film that feels like a better version of Christopher Nolan’s well-known sci-fi blockbusters. The sentimentality is somewhat stripped down for a more concrete and profound look at the ties that bind us all on earth. It’s a thought-provoking adventure that isn’t about war, but communication instead. Villeneuve once again proves to be the real deal. The 49-year-old Quebecois filmmaker is building up a solid, loyal fan-base that could one day rival Nolan’s. The fact that his next movie is “Blade Runner 2” only gets us more excited about his future." [B+]

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"The film, set thirty years after the original, has a quiet brooding lead character in Ryan Gosling's Officer K, who is a blade runner himself, seeking defacto droids that pose as humans. Just like Ford's Deckard, he's the best at what he does. Trouble comes in the form of an uncovered secret that could open a whole can of worms for the totalitarian government of the new world, which leads K on a quest to find Deckard, who's been missing for more than thirty years. It implicates K and a childhood memory that was implanted in his subconscious when he was created or did it actually happen? None of his American films have managed to capture the bloody, brutal brilliance of "Incendies," but, by golly, is this man on his way to that peak again, slowly learning the tricks of the trade to fully master his own auteur voice in a studio system lacking in, well, distinct and unique voices. "Blade Runner 2049" is Villeneuve gaining confidence in his ability to let a narrative breathe and have the confidence of the audience member to follow him along a deeply steeped, tip-toeing and risky narrative. It's 153-minute length, not counting the 11-minute credits, will surely be an endurance test for many. It's a film front-loaded with cinematographer Roger Deakins' beautifully lit frames, but beneath those frames lie secrets that will no doubt become more visible with repeat viewings, or at least that's what I hope because after a single viewing of "Blade Runner 2049" I can honestly say a lot of questions are still left unanswered." [B+]

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"Sicario has been compared to Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic for its investigation of the Mexican drug cartel. That’s where comparisons should end. Sicario is a whole other beast, relying heavily on atmosphere, a pulse pounding score and Roger Deakins’ beautfully gritty photography. Emily Blunt, in the best performance of her career, is a SWAT team agent who gets promoted by a task force official (Josh Brolin, in a meaty role) to follow him through various danger zones of Mexico and learn about the nitty gritty goings on. Benicio Del Toro is a mysterious consultant hired to assist in the case, a man who doesn’t speak the whole truth and fully reveals himself as the story goes along. It’s his best role since 21 Grams and elevates the pulpy material to intensely real levels.Villeneuve shoots the whole thing like a pro, giving us epic wide screen shots that take advantage of the breathtaking locations and his always gloomy visual style. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay (his first; he’s known primarily as a TV actor) has bumpy stretches, especially when the action takes a break, but the cast and crew elevate the drug drama into something artistic and twisty. It’s a good thing them that Sicario’s action sequences are refreshing, plentiful and the highlights as they encompass a wide array of claustrophobic feelings and put you right in the thick of the action, especially in a scene involving a raid inside a secret cartel tunnel." [B+]

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"My first day started with a screening of Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Octavia Spencer and Maria Bello. An incredible cast having a go at a screenplay that was on the “black list” for the longest time. The film will get many comparisons to David Fincher’s “Zodiac”. An understandable comparison since this is a 150 minute tale about missing kids and the obsessed people trying to solve the case. The obsessed are Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective and Hugh Jackman as the up-to-no-good father of one of the missing children. Unlike “Zodiac” Villeneuve’s film doesn’t manage to get you as obsessed about the case as its main characters. The screenplay is also nothing new, we’ve all seen this before but the twists and turns keep the story going. It helps that Director Villeneuve has a great visual flair, as he showcased in the Oscar nominated “Incendies” in 2010. Jackman, fresh off his “Les Miserables” nomination, could get a second nom for this one. He delivers a passionate, relentless performance, easily the best work he’s ever done." [B]


"The Polytechnique school shooting in Quebec was still a big deal many years after it happened; it affected a generation and Villeneuve was one of those people. Shooting a film about the tragedy was a daunting task, and the film he made was not without controversy in Canada.  During a class, a gunman shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before committing suicide. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. He told the women that he hated feminists, claiming that he was “fighting feminism” and calling the women “a bunch of feminists.” He shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women. ”Polytechnique is an organic film, a beast. The film is alive.” The film jumps back and forth in time, meditatively trying to find some peace with the tragedy. Villeneueve’s film tries to tackle the human cost of gender warfare and comes up with varying but troubling answers. Think Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, but French-Canadian. Shot in beautiful black and white by Pierre Gill, it’s an astonishing statement by a filmmaker who wants his voice to be heard. It justly won the Best Picture Genie award (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars), his second one after 2008’s Maelstrom triumph. The following year he triumphed again with Incendies, winning his third Best Picture Genie.[B]

"On a personal note, I lived through the Montreal film scene when Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallee, and an 18-year-old Xavier Dolan among others, revolutionized French-Canadian cinema, and in the process gave themselves a shot at the Hollywood studio system. It was a very exciting time, but it was always Villeneuve that I kept an especially close eye on. People who saw his movie Maelstrom back in 2000 knew this was a talent to watch. The film, narrated by a doomed fish, features a career-making performance by Marie-Jose Croze as a depressed, suicidal woman who gets romantically linked to the son of the man she killed in a hit and run accident. The style was grimly unique and had a surrealist aspect to it that was almost too frightening to watch. Or maybe it was just the images Villeneuve conjured up with his camera – he could find the most basic looking detail in a frame and accentuate its impact just by the way he positioned a camera or had the cinematographer light up the scene. “It’s strange, when I finished Maelstrom I told myself, no more movies with a female lead. My first three films had that. Yet with my following film, Polytechnique, I made a film about the female condition and Incendies, the Middle East female. It just seems like women inspire me and that’s a good thing.


"Doppelganger films have been big at TIFF so far. Director Denis Villeneuve -on a roll already with “Prisoners”- brought us two Jake Gyllenhaal’s with “Enemy”. Gyllenhall plays a Toronto professor that finds out he has an exact look alike living in the same city. It’a film very much inspired by Cronenberg but that also lets Villeneuve bring his own voice to the picture. This is sexy, smart, mysterious filmmaking at its best. The other doppelganger film had Jesse Eisenberg going insane with the appearance of his doppelganger. Directed by Richard Ayaode (Submarine) “The Double” is a dark comedy that fizzled out at its end but has shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” throughout its running time." [B]