Denis Villeneuve Films, Ranked (New Substandard!)

Denis Villeneuve / Getty

In the latest episode of The Substandard (subscribe, review, etc), JVL, Vic, and I talked about Harvey Weinstein in ways that may hit a bit too close to home for some of our listeners (are you anti-Harvey, anti-anti-Harvey, or anti-anti-anti-Harvey?) and have a spoiler-heavy (SERIOUSLY SO MANY SPOILERS) discussion about Blade Runner 2049. As a result of the fascinating-but-lengthy chat over the various philosophical quandaries presented by Blade Runner 2049, we had to cut a section ranking Villeneuve's films. So, after the embed, I shall do that here. For you, the people.

Note: This ranking does not include Polytechnique, August 32nd on Earth, or Maelstrom, which I have not seen. So, more accurately, this is "Denis Villeneuve Films Since 2010, Ranked." Whatever.

6. Enemy

I know some people who really, really like this movie but, honestly, I just don't get it. It's a bit weird and abstract for my tastes.

5. Incendies

Over at the Washington Post this week, I wrote an essay about Villeneuve's fascination with childbirth and parenting. If I had wanted to be a bit more provocative, I would've argued that he's the great pro-life filmmaker of our time.* And, honestly, I don't think it'd be that much of a stretch, especially when considering Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. But the linchpin of any such argument would have to be Incendies.

Major spoilers for Incendies for the next two paragraphs.

Incendies follows the efforts of a pair of twins trying to track down their father and brother following their mother's death. This is difficult for them, since they thought their father was dead and did not even know they had a brother. Villeneuve cuts back and forth from the present—where Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) is traipsing through the Middle East to uncover the past of her mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal)—to the past, where we see Nawal's travails. Travails that include her imprisonment and subsequent rape—by a man who turns out to be the son she abandoned.

This is all obviously very horrifying and her pregnancy is a very explicitly part of her punishment; if she could have aborted the babies she would have, as we see when she attempts to end the pregnancy by punching herself in the stomach. And most people—even many pro-lifers, I think—would agree that a pregnancy by rape/incest should be allowed to be terminated. However, by structuring the film as he does—by showing us the twins alive, successful, fully functional adults with lives and dreams and desires of their own—Villeneuve pricks a hole in the argument that abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape/incest. If you are pro-life, the only morally consistent position is to be pro-life regardless of the circumstances of the child's conception: As we see in the case of Jeanne and her brother, Simon (Maxim Gaudette), a life is a life is a life.

End Incendies spoilers.

4. Prisoners

A borderline great film that gets bogged down in the middle because Villeneuve desperately wanted to make a point about torture being bad. Could've made the same point and trimmed about 20 minutes. At two-and-a-half hours, it's just too long for what it is: an intricately plotted crime thriller with standout performances by every cast member.

3. Blade Runner 2049

Review here. I'm eager to see it again.

2. Arrival

Review here. This movie wrecked me harder than just about any movie I've ever seen. Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel. Niagara Falls.

1. Sicario

Review here. A four-star film for the trip through Juarez alone.

*This also would have necessitated viewings of August 32nd on Earth (IMDB's description: "Young Simone is involved in a near fatal car crash, and as she questions her mortality, she also decides to have a baby.") and Maelstrom (From IMDB, again: "Bibi's life is in shambles. She has just had an abortion. And the boutiques are failing because of her incompetence, which is the result of or has led to her substance abuse."). Sadly, I did not have time for this. Maybe I'll revisit this in the future.