With just four feature-length films under his belt, Damien Chazelle has already established himself as a major force in the industry as well as one of the most exciting filmmakers of his generation. Having burst onto the scene with a one-two punch of critically-acclaimed smash hits in “Whiplash” and “La La Land”, the Oscar-winning director has continued to heap praise and accumulate accolades, being dubbed a precocious prodigy with a knack for character-driven stories with elaborate set-pieces and electrifying musical numbers.
Now at 38, Chazelle has garnered a global following and the respect of his peers, including a murderer’s row of Hollywood A-listers that line up for each one of his projects. His latest, an $80 million period epic starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt and Diego Calva that takes riotous aim at the excesses of 1920s Hollywood, became one of the most talked-about studio releases of 2022, polarizing audiences and sparking heated online discourse over the past few months. On the heels of its VOD release, we’re taking a closer look at Chazelle’s already-impressive catalog, from his bona fide masterpieces to his underlooked short films, to see where “Babylon” lands.
7. The Stunt Double (2020)
A stuntman travels through the history of cinema, as an action hero, an Indiana Jones-type caricature explorer, a tough-as-nails cowboy, and other colorful characters in this 10-minute-long short film that was shot vertically on an iPhone 11 Pro.
A glorified big commercial for Apple’s new smartphone model that was entirely funded by the tech giants, “The Stunt Double” serves as a relatively interesting, pocket-sized proof of Chazelle’s infectious love for the history of cinema that showcases many of his strengths as a visual storyteller. Only recommended to diehard fans who want to cross every last one of his directed features off their personal watchlist, “The Stunt Double” feels awkward and stale save for a few curious compositions that pay thinly-veiled homage to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Pierre Melville and John Ford—inadvertently making you wish you’d be watching their referenced films instead of the short itself. Overall, if intended as a convincing argument as to whether vertical-screen films will be a thing in the near future or not, Chazelle’s short film falls completely flat.
6. Whiplash (2013)
Not to be mistaken with the critically acclaimed feature-length film of the same name it inspired, this 18-minute Sundance sensation (where it opened to rave reviews and won the Short Film Jury Prize) cemented Chazelle as a force to be reckoned with and set his entire directorial career in motion by securing funding for the full-length version of the script that brought him into global prominence a year later.
Allegedly based on the director’s own strenuous experience at Princeton High School, the story centers around a novice drummer named Andrew (Johnny Simmons) who auditions for a prestigious jazz band under the direction of a ruthless conductor (played by a terrifying JK Simmons in what would eventually become his career-defining role). Though not as technically polished or well-rounded as the 103-minute film that sprung from it, Chazelle’s remarkably assured short showed us a glimpse at his directorial skills and panache, not to mention some iconic scenes that made it into the full-length 2014 film too. A must-watch to any Chazelle completionist.
5. First Man (2018)
“First Man” may have been (prematurely) billed as a flag-waving, epic recount of one of mankind’s biggest achievements of the 20th century through the lens of the first man to walk on the moon, but Damien Chazelle reached far beneath that glossy surface in his sturdy biopic. Starring Ryan Gosling as the eponymous world-famed astronaut, the film actually delivered a slow-burn, introspective character study about a stoic, emotionally-withdrawn NASA technician grappling with grief who becomes immersed in his work in order to cope with the tragic death of her daughter—a far cry from the exuberant, musical crowd-pleasers in which Chazelle had cut his teeth in.
Despite heaping praise for its stunning technical achievements, immersive IMAX visuals and sound design, “First Man” was not quite the home-run moviegoers originally expected fresh off “La La Land” and “Whiplash”, though its muted reception has more to do with their own preconceived expectations than any particular fault of its own. It may fall short of Chazelle’s best work to date, but in lieu of the onslaught of focus-tested, bland biopics that has become endemic to our multiplexes in recent years, “First Man” stand out more than ever as a welcomed addition to the genre.