If there is one word to describe filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, it’s ambitious. Since his first film Pi in 1998, Aronofsky has continually upped the ante when it comes to his ambitions. He has become known for weighty and frenetic films. His films are stylistic to a fault. Favoring unsettling imagery and highly contemplative material, Aronofsky’s efforts are always divisive, and rarely play it safe. He is always willing to challenge the viewer and there is something rewarding about all of his films. As of now, he doesn’t have a movie that one could truly designate as a disaster. Seven films in, Aronofsky’s vision is without question one of the most polarizing among modern film directors. Let’s take a deeper dive into his filmography with a ranked list of his work thus far.
While it is possibly his most accessible movie to a casual film going audience, Noah lacks the qualities that make his films so intriguing. Combining some great performances and stunning visuals, Noah never quite manages to put all the pieces together. The melodrama in the film is often somewhat over the top. But, Aronofsky’s biblical blockbuster is never boring even when the pace feels sluggish at some points. Russell Crowe delivers a solid performance giving us a layered and interesting look into a man divided between doubts about his own vision, and dedication to god. Overall, Noah is a film worth seeing, and though it is his weakest film, it proves Aronofsky is simply incapable of making a truly bad movie.
Ambitious to a fault, The Fountain remains one of Aronofsky’s more polarizing films. However, on its ambitions alone, it is a movie with lots of ideas, and not a lot of time to fit them in. In one of Hugh Jackman’s most demanding performances, The Fountain has Jackman doing some of his best work. Telling a story spanning centuries, the movie’s themes often feel as if they’re overreaching. The timelessness of love and death is the central point of Aronofsky’s 96 minute epic and emotional journey. It also features a terrific performance from Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz.
Destined to be rewatched and understood more by the masses as time goes on, Aronofsky’s 2017 meditation on Biblical stories, fame, or even the creative process shook audiences. mother! is a fascinating and manic film of which its themes are wide open for debate. A common theme among Mr. Aronofsky’s films is that often they will find themselves being appreciated more over time. Therefore, it is certainly possible that in five years, this movie could rank higher among his work. Until then, we will look at mother! as a movie possibly ahead of its time. Jennifer Lawrence delivers one of her best performances, and the film’s third act is one of the most intense and energetic finales in recent memory. Ultimately, the movie is one of his most audacious creations to date.
In his first film, Aronofsky would adopt a lot of the themes and visual style he would become known for. Playing with surrealistic imagery and general paranoia, Pi is a bold directorial debut. Ranking it at number four seems unfairly low. However, that’s just how great of a filmmaker Aronofsky is. Pi delivers a tremendous look into several themes that normally wouldn’t seem to fit together. Mathematician Max Cohen is the central focus of the movie and played fantastically by Sean Gullette. The movie deftly balances now-familiar material of God and obsession. Pi is a film that commands attention through a highly claustrophobic, POV lens of its central character.
Featuring a stirring central performance from Natalie Portman, Aronofsky crafted the exquisite Black Swan with a lot of care. He seemingly loves characters descending into madness and this is no exception. Perhaps one of his better directorial efforts, Black Swan chronicles a ballet companies production of “Swan Lake”. When Portman’s character gets the role, she slowly slips into paranoia and an overwhelming sense of insanity. Black Swan succeeds thanks to the unique visual eye Aronofsky has. The way he moves the camera is very much in sync with the dancing. Ultimately, Black Swan is a disturbing, but a superbly directed character study.
Horrifying and ultra-realistic, Aronofsky’s drug addiction saga is made so brilliantly, you feel like you are taking the trip with the characters. That’s on purpose, of course. Aronofsky’s gritty and harrowing Requiem for a Dream features collections of scenes and constant camera cuts to give the viewer the sense of losing control. That loss of control is exactly what Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans experience in this film. Simply put, the movie is meant to disorient you and it relishes in its style. Aside from its brilliant filmmaking techniques, the movies packed to the brim with incredible performances and heartbreaking drama that makes this a tough, but rewarding watch.
The crown jewel of Aronofsky’s films is one where the director pulls back from the typical manic filmmaking style he’s known for. The themes he loves are all still there; losing control, internal struggles, and even obsession. However, in the most subdued film he’s made, Aronofsky allows Mickey Rourke to take center stage, and give the performance of a lifetime. Rourke’s arc in the film does resemble his real life to some degree. Because of that, the movie wouldn’t be the same without Mickey in the lead role. A truly flawless performance and film, The Wrestler stands alone atop the polarizing filmmaker’s distinguished body of work thus far. Overall, it is a layered and complex story about regaining one’s identity, through letting go of the past.