Oscar Directors: Villeneuve, Denis–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

August 22, 2020

Denis Villeneuve Career Summary:

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Denis Villeneuve OC CQ (born October 3, 1967) is a French Canadian film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is a four-time recipient of the Canadian Screen Award (formerly Genie Award) for Best Direction, for Maelström in 2001, Polytechnique in 2009, Incendies in 2011 and Enemy in 2013. The first three of these films also won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Motion Picture, while the latter was awarded the prize for best Canadian film of the year by the Toronto Film Critics Association.

Internationally, he is known for directing several critically acclaimed films, such as the thriller films Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), as well as the science fiction films Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).[3][4] For his work on Arrival, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.[5] He was awarded the prize of Filmmaker of the Decade by the Hollywood Critics Association in December 2019.[6]

Villeneuve was born on October 3, 1967, in the village of Gentilly in Bécancour, Quebec, to Nicole Demers, a homemaker, and Jean Villeneuve, a notary. He is the eldest of four siblings; a younger brother, Martin, later also became a filmmaker.[7][8]

Villeneuve played hockey in his youth, but considers himself a poor player.[9] He became interested in sci-fi comics through the works of Moebius, Enki Bilal, Jean-Claude Mézières, Philippe Druillet and Alejandro Jodorowsky.[9][10] He then developed a passion for cinema and made short films during high school.[8] Among his favorite films at the time were 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner.[9]

Villeneuve attended the Séminaire Saint-Joseph de Trois-Rivières[7] and later studied science at the Cégep de Trois-Rivières.[8] He studied cinema at the Université du Québec à Montréal.[9]

Villeneuve began his career making short films and won Radio-Canada’s youth film competition, La Course Europe-Asie, in 1991.

August 32nd on Earth (1998), Villeneuve’s feature directorial debut, premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. Alexis Martin won the Prix Jutra for Best Actor. The film was selected as the Canadian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 71st Academy Awards, but was not nominated.

His second film, Maelström (2000), attracted further attention and screened at festivals worldwide, ultimately winning eight Jutra Awards and the award for Best Canadian Film from the Toronto International Film Festival. He followed that up with the controversial, but critically acclaimed black and white film Polytechnique (2009) about the shootings that occurred at the Montreal university. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and received numerous honours, including nine Genie Awards, becoming Villeneuve’s first film to win the Genie (now known as a Canadian Screen Award) for Best Motion Picture.[15]

Villeneuve’s fourth film Incendies (2010) garnered critical acclaim when it premiered at the Venice and Toronto Festivals in 2010. Incendies was subsequently chosen to represent Canada at the 83rd Academy Awards in the category of Best Foreign Language Film[16] and was eventually nominated for the award, though it did not win. The film went on to win eight awards at the 31st Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, Best Direction, Best Actress (Lubna Azabal), Best Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Overall Sound, and Sound Editing.

In January 2011, he was selected by Variety as one of the top ten filmmakers to watch.

Villeneuve followed Incendies with the crime thriller film Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film screened at festivals across the globe, won several awards, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 2014.[22]

After Incendies and Prisoners, Villeneuve won Best Director for his sixth film, the psychological thriller Enemy (2014), at the 2nd Canadian Screen Awards. The film was awarded the $100,000 cash prize for best Canadian film of the year by the Toronto Film Critics Association in 2015.[23]

Villeneuve directed the crime thriller film Sicario, scripted by Taylor Sheridan,[24] and starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, and Josh Brolin.[25] The film competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, though it did not win.[26] It screened at the Toronto in 2015 and went on to gross nearly $80 million worldwide.[27]

Villeneuve directed his eighth film, Arrival (2016), based on the short story Story of Your Life by author Ted Chiang, from an adapted script by Eric Heisserer, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner starring. The film was released in 2016. Arrival grossed $203 million worldwide and received critical acclaim, specifically for Adams’s performance, Villeneuve’s direction, and the film’s exploration of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. Arrival appeared on numerous critics’ best films of the year lists,[31] and was selected by the American Film Institute as one of ten films of the year.

It received eight nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, ultimately winning one award for Best Sound Editing.

Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).[35] Scott served as the film’s executive producer on behalf of Warner Bros. It was released on October 6, 2017 to critical acclaim and middling box office returns.

David Ehrlich of IndieWire wrote, “Few filmmakers of the 21st century have risen to prominence and prestige with the forcefulness of Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve, whose seemingly unstoppable career has been bolstered by a steady balance of critical respect and commercial success. In fact, Christopher Nolan is the only other person who comes to mind, and the similarities between the two of them are hard to ignore.”

Villeneuve would direct Dune, a new adaption of the 1965 novel for Legendary Pictures with Villeneuve, Eric Roth, and Jon Spaihts writing the screenplay. Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac and Zendaya will star in the film. It is scheduled to be released on December 18, 2020, by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Villeneuve will serve as an executive producer and direct the first episode of Dune: The Sisterhood, a spin-off television series focusing on the female characters in the novel, for HBO Max.

Villeneuve is set to direct the adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s crime novel The Son.

Villeneuve is married to Tanya Lapointe, a journalist, and he has three children from a previous relationship. His younger brother, Martin Villeneuve, is also a filmmaker.


Feature films

Year Title Director Writer Producer
1998 August 32nd on Earth Yes Yes No
2000 Maelström Yes Yes No
2009 Polytechnique Yes Yes No
2010 Incendies Yes Yes No
2013 Prisoners Yes No No
Enemy Yes No No
2015 Sicario Yes No No
2016 Arrival Yes No No
2017 Blade Runner 2049 Yes No No
2020 Dune Yes Yes Yes
TBA Cleopatra[51] Yes No No
TBA The Son adaptation[48] Yes