Today is a sad day, as Canada, and indeed the world of cinema, unexpectedly lost one of its finest modern filmmakers yesterday, Jean-Marc Vallée, at the age of 58.
Born and raised in Montreal, Vallée was a seminal figure in the development of modern Quebecois cinema, comparable to the likes of Denis Villeneuve, whose success, in some very small part, could arguably be attributed to Vallée, who opened the door to Hollywood for more Quebecois filmmakers. His early work initially consisted of French-Canadian short films, and while his first feature, 1995’s Black List, was also in French, his subsequent 1997 release, which was also his first English language feature, Los Locos, was a Western with an intriguing leading cast of Mario Van Peebles and Danny Trejo.
However, it was Vallée’s fourth film from 2005, C.R.A.Z.Y., which he also co-wrote, that truly brought the then up-and-coming filmmaker to the international stage. Rightly regarded as one of the greatest Canadian films ever made, C.R.A.Z.Y. proved that when it came to drama Vallée could do it all (I can’t think of a Canadian filmmaker who has struck a better balance of comedy and drama), while still managing to convey a distinctive style of his own. A mark of any great filmmaker.
It might have taken a number of years, but Vallée finally landed his first international feature-length gig with the Emily Blunt-led British period drama The Young Victoria, which released in 2009 and received generally positive reviews, serving as another notch on Vallée’s ever-expanding cinematic belt, proving that his knack for the dramatic was far from a fluke.
While Vallée’s next production saw him return to French-Canadian cinema with 2011’s Café de Flore, it would be another four years after The Young Victoria before an international production would come knocking, only this time it would be the most significant film of his career, from both a professional and artistic perspective.
I still vividly remember when Dallas Buyers Club released in 2013. Hell, I still remember the buzz even before its release. Sure, zoned in on Matthew McConaughey’s shocking weight loss and eventual Oscar-winning performance (aside the equally impressive Jared Leto), but Vallée’s superb work on the film did not go unnoticed…even if the Academy seemingly nominated everyone but him for an Oscar.
Nonetheless, the work started pouring in for Vallée after Dallas Buyers Club. He would go on to direct another dramatic powerhouse in 2014’s Wild, which earned its stars Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern Oscar nods, proving that Vallée was a master of drawing inspired performances from his actors, not necessarily dissimilar from Quentin Tarantino, only from a far more grounded approach. He would then follow this up the following year with what would sadly be his last feature length film, Demolition, which received mixed reviews and bombed at the box office.
Vallée did not end his career with a dud, though. Far from it. He instead shifted to directing television, receiving some of the most significant praise of his career, and the awards to deservingly go with it.
The first season of the hugely popular HBO series, Big Little Lies, was entirely directed by Vallée, which unquestionably lended to its acclaim and popularity amongst audiences, not to mention helping earn Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern earn their respective Emmy Awards in 2017. Forgoing the second season and handing the reins to Andrea Arnold, Vallée then directed the limited series Sharp Objects, which released to further acclaim, and while Vallée’s work here failed to land any significant nominations for direction, despite his impressive work, he once again helped earn his leads, this time Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations for their performances.
Jean-Marc Vallée is eternally enshrined in the annals of Canadian cinema. He was a master of the dramatic who gave his actors the room to experiment, evoking the absolute best in them as a director, even if his understated efforts did not always receive the recognition they deserved. Nonetheless, he is an irreplaceable presence in cinema as a whole who will be greatly missed.
All of us here at Hollywood North Magazine offer our condolences to Jean-Marc Vallée’s family and friends, may he rest in peace.