Three films. Three Years. Three Masterpieces. One Director.

Denis Villeneuve turns 51 years young today, and if his recent films have shown us anything, he is just getting started. 

After Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016), last year’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017) completed a three year streak in which Denis Villeneuve directed one film each year.

Be warned: hot take incoming. 

Those three films, when looked at together, amount to the greatest three films, released in three consecutive year trifecta from any director, ever. 

Directing three films in back to back to back years is a daring feat to begin with, and only few of the all time greats have done so. Here is a list of some of the most notable directors working in Hollywood today. Tarantino, Bigelow, Scorsese, Anderson, Ramsay, Inarritu, Nolan, Boyle, Coppola. While they have all released plenty of hits this side of the 21st century, none have even been able to complete three in three years. 

When looking at some of the best directors who have managed to direct three feature length films in three years, a few notables come to mind. Woody Allen gave us Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978), and Manhattan (1979). Hitchcock completed Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960), and Sergio Leone churned out A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). These are all incredible trios, and many would argue that some are superior to Villeneuve’s three film collection, but there are a few arguments as to why Denis’ run is the most impressive. 

To begin, the three films Villeneuve directed were not a part of a connected trilogy or franchise, so the production was not planned to move as one fell swoop from one film to the next. The environments and characters are new and fresh from film to film. With every project, he had to start again from square one, realize a new vision and approach production in radically different ways, which is the characteristics that separates his quasi-trilogy from directors like Leone, which follows The Man With No Name from dusty town to dusty town.  

Furthermore, the films each fall into different genre categories, that actually belong to different genres under the surface of their narrative. To begin, Sicario is, at heart, a tactile thriller, but is really a neo-western that grapples with one of the most controversial topics in American political and social life today: the drug trade along the Mexican border. Arrival is a geo-political drama, disguised by it’s science fiction structure that says more about human nature than extraterrestrial life. Finally, Blade Runner 2049 is a personalized art house film, again masked by science fiction, but with the added pressure of being a sequel to one of the most celebrated films in American film history, 35 years after the release of the original. While there is some variation with Allen’s films, with two being romantic comedies and one a drama, they generally wrestle with similar structures, thematic elements, and character types. 

Finally, at this point in his career, Villeneuve was just beginning to truly realize his directorial vision, whereas Hitchcock had established himself as a homerun hitter and fell into a directorial groove with all-time classics like Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), and Dial M for Murder (19554), to only name a few. While he has never produced a film that disappoints by any means, Villeneuve was just beginning to master his craft, after delivering diversified hits like RRW FFWd (1994), Polytechnique, (2009), and Prisoners (2013). He was still discovering his trademark visual style of today that makes his films immediately recognizable, and establishing the thematic threads that subtly string his films together, as any truly elite director’s filmography has. 

Some will say it’s just fanboying, others will say it’s outright wrong, and surely, there will be good arguments to support claims that this throne belongs to a vast amount of other directors. Regardless, there is no denying how great Villeneuve’s last three films have been, and only liars will act as if they aren’t incredibly excited to see what the Canadian director will offer with the Dune remake that is on the way. 

BY: Quinten Sansosti

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