Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is one of the defining directors of the last decade. He made his mark with gritty dramas like Prisoners and Sicariobefore moving on to sci-fi epics Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and Dune. His films combine sleek visuals with thought-provoking themes.
Like most great directors, Villeneuve is also a devoted film fan. Over the years, he has shared his love for many movies, both new and old. Some of his favorites, like Vertigo and Dead Ringersare classics that influenced his own work, while others are more recent but are just as stylistically daring as his own.
The Square (2017)
The Square is a Palme d’Or-winning satire from Swedish director Ruben Östlundwho won the award again this year for Triangle of Sadness. It follows museum curator Christian (Claes Bang) as he tries to promote the latest exhibition: a small square space surrounded by strips of light. Christian has an interesting few days. He gets pick-pocketed, sleeps with an American journalist, has an argument about a condom, and deals with an ill-fated stunt at a gala dinner.
The Square skewers the art world, contemporary Sweden and maybe modern life in general. Like the titular square, it is open to many interpretations. How much it succeeds is for the viewer to decide.
The Beguiled (2017)
Sofia Coppola won the Best Director award at Cannes for this Southern Gothic drama starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst. Set during the Civil War, the film takes place at a girls’ school run out of an old plantation house. One of the students finds a wounded Union soldier and brings him back to the school to recover. His presence destabilizes the household in a variety of ways.
This is actually the second screen adaptation of the novel by Thomas P. Cullinanbut Coppola’s version is radically different from the 1971 film directed by Don Siegel.
Amores Perros (2001)
The film, whose title loosely translates to ‘Love’s a Bitch’, explores three interconnected stories: a teenager who enters the Mexico City dog-fighting scene, a model with a leg injury that threatens her career, and a hit man trying to get in touch with his daughter.
Amores Perros is clearly inspired by Pulp Fiction, but with gritty realism and a hefty dose of class commentary. Iñárritu would go on to reach bigger audiences and greater critical acclaim with his films Birdman and The Revenantbut Amores Perros remains his most raw and intense project.
Dogtooth is the debut film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimosthe brains behind The Lobster and The Favorite. But this project is far more bizarre than those movies. It revolves around a nameless family; a mother (Michelle Valley) and father (Christos Stergioglou), their adult son (Christos Passalis), and two adult daughters (Angeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni). They live behind the high walls and locked gates of a lavish home. Only the father ever leaves. The others are perpetually cut off from the outside world – the mother by choice, the children by design.
The film takes the idea of homeschooling to the extreme. The children are effectively prisoners, not just physically but mentally too. Even their language is circumscribed by their father. He teaches them the wrong words for things, perhaps to keep them even further removed from reality. Dogtooth defies easy description, which is probably why Villeneuve embraced it.
A Prophet (2010)
This prison film chronicles the transformation of inmate Malik (Tahar Rahim) from quiet loner to hardened criminal. Malik is a Frenchman of Algerian descent in a prison divided between Corsican and Muslim gangs.
He finds a unique place in the prison hierarchy between these two factions. Soon, the shy young man is a powerful figure within the harsh environment.
Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (2016)
This film follows four leftist radicals in Quebec who carry out acts of vandalism and terror in the hopes of sparking revolution. It investigates the morality of the activists and their methods. Those Who Make Revolution Halfway is inspired by real protests that took place in 2012, and the narrative is interspersed with documentary footage and news broadcasts.
The story is ultra-specific, but the themes are universal. Is political violence ever justified? How much responsibility do activists bear for their comrades’ crimes? Radical movements must always grapple with these kinds of questions. Directors Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie offer a nuanced take on this complicated material.
Dogville is an experimental drama from controversial auteur Lars von Trierwho also directed Antichrist and Nymphomaniac. The story takes place in a Rocky Mountains town during the Great Depression. Grace (Nicole Kidman) comes to Dogville to escape the gangsters who pursue her. There, she encounters a host of characters – several of them played by A-listers like Stellan Skarsgård and Chloë Sevigny – eking out an existence in the bleak landscape.
Dogville polarized audiences on release, with some critics even calling it anti-American, but its stature has grown in the years since. Its admirers include Quentin Tarantino.
Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kirsten Wiig) agree to undergo a controversial new shrinking procedure, so that they can begin a new life free from financial worries. (Everything’s much cheaper when you’re only 5 inches tall.) But at the last moment Audrey changes her mind, leaving Paul to navigate his miniature existence alone.
Director Alexander Payne has made some great comedy-dramas over the years, like Election, Sideways and The Descendants. Downsizing is not quite as affecting as those movies, but it succeeds in blending a whacky sci-fi premise with sharp social commentary.
Rakka is one of a series of short films produced by Oats Studios and directed by District 9‘s Neil Blomkamp. It focuses on a group of survivors after earth is invaded by a reptilian alien species with superior technology. It boasts an abundance of gore and mayhem, like a sci-fi Apocalypse Now.
Sigourney Weaver puts in a great (and very meta) performance as a resistance fighter taking on the aliens, known as the Klum. The design of the Klum is excellent, matching the high bar Blomkamp set with the ‘prawns’ from District 9. Hopefully he follows Rakka with more shorts set in this universe, or even a feature.
Dead Ringers (1988)
Dead Ringers is a psychological thriller from body horror maestro David Cronenberg. It stars Jeremy Irons as a pair of twin gynecologists (he plays both characters). The twins are brilliant but twisted. They deceive women into thinking they are with one of them, when in fact they are dealing with the other. They are also unusually close. As the film’s tagline says: Two bodies. Two minds. One soul.
Irons carries the movie. He succeeds in making each twin unique, and plays them both with subtlety and surprising depth. Dead Ringers is based on a B-movie premise, but Irons and Cronenberg have enough skill to transform it into a genuinely unsettling, slow-burn horror.
NEXT: Denis Villeneuve on ‘Dune’s 10 Oscar Nominations, Why He’ll Never Release the Deleted Scenes, and’ Dune: Part II ‘