All 7 Damien Chazelle Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

4. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009)

As far as independent feature-length debuts go, one can do much worse than Damien Chazelle’s 2009 freewheeling, black-and-white romance. Shot in location on a shoestring $60,000 budget, “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” centers around the on-again, off-again relationship between a jazz trumpeter (Jason Palmer) and a young waitress (Desiree Garcia) while providing a panoramic view of Boston’s music scene.

If quite easily his less refined effort on every technical front (his true coming-out party would in fact have to wait five more years), Chazelle’s lively first foray behind the camera laid the groundwork for his subsequent output—showcasing many pet interests, stylish calling cards and love for jazz music that would bleed into his subsequent work and become synonymous with his name later in his career. Despite its obvious shortcomings and lack of finesse, the low budget, loose narrative structure, and improvisational dialogue actually lends another layer to the film’s quirky authenticity that none of his sturdier Hollywood productions have yet been able to replicate. “La La Land” and music heads in particular should find plenty of reasons to take the plunge and revisit this gem, if only to notice the many parallels with Chazelle’s 2016 Best Picture runner-up.


3. Babylon (2022)

Conversely, Damien Chazelle’s operatic, no-holds-barred epic about the excesses of silent-era Hollywood challenged viewers to keep up with its exuberant, coked-up rhythms by rendering the debauchery of “La Dolce Vita” with ample doses of “Boogie Nights” hedonistic depravity for good measure.

In tracing the rise and fall of multiple characters during the transition to talkies through three hours of pure, unfiltered chaos, Chazelle uncorks a black-hearted cautionary tale that busts upon the inner secrets of showbiz and takes a close look at the seedy underbelly hiding beneath Hollywood’s glitz and glamour. The director seems to have changed his tenor since his “La La Land” days; “Babylon” feels less of a rose-tinted love letter to cinema than a mournful eulogy that acknowledges the human sacrifice that has kept its dream factory up and running for the past century. This bitter message might have admittedly been a tough pill for certain audiences to swallow but will surely enhance its prospects for later reassessment. Your mileage may (and will) vary—especially when it comes to the film’s go-for-broke ending—but all in all, “Babylon” must be seen to be believed.


2. La La Land (2016)

To anyone who considers Chazelle’s 2016 smash hit, which left an indelible imprint in pop culture and further solidified his status as a major talent in the industry, as the director’s crowning achievement, please don’t take the following placement as a backhanded compliment. Suffice to say, we’re talking about an instant classic in its own right.

Centering around the fated romance and missed connection between jazz pianist Sebastian and aspiring actress Mia—both of whom are trying to make it big in the city of angels—Chazelle’s infectiously charming ode to Golden Age musicals dazzled us and tugged at our heartstrings more than any given film in the past decade. Anchored by two career-best performances in Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, virtuosic camerawork and elaborate musical numbers, “La La Land” is a stunning achievement in both style and substance that deftly avoids the common pitfalls of its set-up.

Though openly paying homage to its candy-colored Technicolor forebears with virtuosic sequences and lovingly crafted set-pieces, “La La Land” manages to elevate above the crowd by chillingly conveying the cost of pursuing one’s dreams in a cutthroat environment like showbiz—all culminating in a bittersweet climax that launched the film into the pantheon of 2010s cinema. Passionate, entertaining, and profound in equal measure, “La La Land” will warm even the coldest heart.


1. Whiplash (2014)

It is a game of inches between the top 2 spots, but it’s hard to look past Chazelle’s breakout 2014 film, which is his most riveting to date, as well as the clearest expression of his cinematic vision and signature themes.

The perils of artistic obsession are chillingly conveyed in “Whiplash”, in which a talented, self-assertive young drummer (Miles Teller) and a ruthless instructor (J.K. Simmons) drive toward each other on a collision course, with the latter pushing the former past his breaking point. As the story progresses, one begins to realize how deep Chazelle is prepared to burrow into the pit of human misery, as a means to explore the heavy price of pursuing artistic excellence at all costs.

The result is a nerve-racking thriller masquerading as a conventional music drama that subverts audiences’ expectations to stunning effect, waltzing its way into a loud crescendo that leaves an unforgettable mixture of despair and transcendence in its wake. The film ticks off all of Chazelle’s itches and trademark obsessions, and it is, full stop, one of the defining films of the 2010s decade.