Cinephiles mourn the death of cinema as more and more film content is created for streaming services and mass audience consumption. Plenty of films and filmmakers have bucked these trends over the last year – as has always been the case in the never-ending struggle between film as art and film as content – but one young auteur stands out amongst the current generation of up-and-coming filmmakers. Though his latest work was not nominated for Best Picture at the 95th Academy Awards, Damien Chazelle has clearly established himself as a force in the film industry, and a worthy advocate for cinema as an artform.
Chazelle attended Harvard, but his films are not quite as pretentious as those by fellow Harvard film alum Darren Aronofsky. They are heartfelt, profound, and simple while maintaining complex layers of ideas. His passion for film is evident within each of his movies, both the process of creation and the form’s history. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, his senior thesis created with music collaborator Justin Hurwitz, is a black and white musical that hearkens back to a couple of bygone eras in film. There is no doubt that what Chazelle makes comes from the heart as much as it comes from an intellectual and practical place.
The main theme across Damien Chazelle’s filmography is the pursuit of greatness. Whether his protagonists are musicians, actors, or astronauts, his characters are striving to be the best in the face of a long history of incredible individuals. This idea is a mirror of Chazelle’s own artistic career – cinema is filled with a history of greats, but how does one make their own mark? It’s not a question of what hasn’t been done before, but a question of how have things been done before, and what new flair can Chazelle bring to it as an artist.
Each of this modern auteur’s films is great in its own way, but our hierarchical society dictates that there must be some sort of order. The best recommendation that can be given is to simply watch them all, but in this list you will find each of the five feature directorial efforts of this talented director judged by their unique qualities: their contributions to the form, their enjoyability, their critical and public receptions, their longevity as cultural touchstones. This is: Damien Chazelle Movies Ranked.
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5. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009)
Damien Chazelle’s first feature was his thesis at Harvard, and his first foray into jazz musicals. The film was shot in a cinéma vérité style, using non-professional actors and locations around Boston. Much of the music is diegetic, played live by the performers within the film.
While it is an interesting piece of cinema, it isn’t the most engaging film in the world and is easily Chazelle’s weakest (which is to be expected of a college student’s first film). The most impressive aspect is his work with the actors – their performances feel natural, which is not easy to accomplish with people who are not trained to act on camera.
This film’s significance within Chazelle’s filmography lies in the groundwork laid for his later works. This film is a call back to filmmaking of and around the era of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the French New Wave all at once, establishing the filmmaker’s strong love for film history.
Chazelle’s experience with the musical performances in Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench would greatly aid the production of Whiplash and La La Land, another pair of jazz musical films.