Damien Chazelle Movies Ranked

2. Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash Review

What causes excellence? And, what should one endure to reach it? These are the questions at the core of Whiplash.

Damien Chazelle’s sophomore feature tells the story of a jazz drummer played by Miles Teller trying to make it at a major music institution in New York City. JK Simmons plays his abusive band leader who believes the worst possible thing you can say to someone is “good job”. He tells a story about jazz musician Jo Jones throwing a cymbal at the head of the great Charlie Parker, and uses this story as the basis for his harsh teaching ethos. 

There’s beauty in Whiplash’s intense simplicity that reflects the protagonist’s singular drive to be the best. Teller brings the mixture of fear and (unearned) swagger needed for the role. The questions are not really answered, though. While it’s clear Simmons’ character is in the wrong, Chazelle ignores whether or not abuse can push someone to greatness. Whiplash becomes a metaphor larger than jazz drumming, and instead becomes a story about enduring and overcoming negatives in life with jazz drumming as a sphere in which to explore such ideas.

Damien Chazelle’s first Oscar-nominated film is an excellent piece that launched the filmmaker from the role of Hollywood screenwriter to in-demand director with style, passion, and something to say.

1. Babylon (2022)

Babylon Review

Each of Damien Chazelle’s films are about history in some sense. Even those that take place in the present romanticize the art of the past (especially jazz). Babylon is antithetical to that romantic approach.

Where other films might glorify old Hollywood, Chazelle aims for a realistic portrayal of the excess and abuse that pervaded Hollywood’s Golden Age in a loud, expressive style. Underneath the lavish, glamorous party at the beginning is a Fatty Arbuckle-esque murder and a pile of elephant dung that covered the fourth wall.

This is Chazelle’s epic treatise on his beloved cinema. You cannot tell the story of cinema without the silent era, the transition to sound, the abuse suffered by actresses trying to make it in a patriarchal industry, or the highs of seeing one’s work up on that silver screen.

Some have criticized the film’s ending montage for taking the viewer out of the film, or being overindulgent. But that montage is what the movie is about: cinema in all its peaks and valleys. Where Quentin Tarantino romanticizes and fixes Hollywood in Once Upon a Time…, Chazelle is focused on a presentation of reality. It’s a tale of striving for greatness cloaked in nostalgia to examine the human condition, and there it ranks among the great cinephilic films like Boogie Nights, , or Singin’ in the Rain.

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Which of Damien Chazelle’s films do you enjoy the most? Did any of his releases have a profound impact on you? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and Twitter for more insightful movie lists.

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