Education and Early Career
Vallée studied film at the Université de Montréal. On the strength of his award-winning short film, Stéréotypes (1992), he moved on to feature filmmaking with Liste noire (1995), a well-crafted, unabashed genre film. The Hitchcock-inspired crime thriller stood apart from the artsy auteur cinema and crass commercial comedies that typified Québec cinema at the time, and became the top-grossing Québec film of 1995. It also earned nine Genie Award nominations, including nods for Vallée’s direction and editing.
Emboldened by this success, Vallée moved to Los Angeles, where he directed the western Los Locos (1998), starring and produced by Mario Van Peebles, and the erotic thriller Loser Love (1999). He also directed two other acclaimed short films: the Genie Award-winning Les Fleurs magiques (1995) and the Prix Jutra-winning Les Mots magiques (1998).
Disheartened by the vacuous projects that he was being offered, Vallée started working on an idea that was pitched to him by his friend François Boulay about his experience growing up gay in Québec during the Quiet Revolution. Vallée and Boulay drew from their childhood experiences and completed the screenplay for C.R.A.Z.Y. It originally centred on a Catholic family in Boston, as Vallée intended to pitch it to Hollywood producers. But his friend Michel Côté, who had starred in Liste noire and whose fame in Québec gave him some clout in the industry, convinced Vallée to set the film in Québec and shoot it in French — a feat that took some 10 years to realize. Vallée was so determined to achieve a particular tone and style that he voluntarily deferred his director and co-producer fees, totalling around $600,000, to accommodate the substantial cost of music rights in the film’s $6.5 million budget.
Côté took the role of the conventional French-Canadian father who has a hard time getting along with his five sons — especially Zachary (Marc-André Grondin), whose burgeoning homosexuality is perceived by the patriarch as an incomprehensible aberration. The film’s engagingly nostalgic script, superb acting, remarkable soundtrack and sure-handed direction made C.R.A.Z.Y. that rarest of things — a highly entertaining and accessible movie that reflected a relatable, real-life Canadian experience.
A critical and commercial success in Québec and abroad, C.R.A.Z.Y. was the highest-grossing Canadian film of the year and won numerous major awards, including 10 Genie Awards and 13 Prix Jutra (now Prix Iris), including prizes for best film, director and original screenplay at both galas. It also received the Golden Reel Award (now the Cineplex Golden Screen Award for Feature Film) as the highest-grossing Canadian film of the year, the Billet d’or as the highest-grossing film in Québec, and the Prix Jutra for the Most Successful Film Outside Québec two years in a row.
The Young Victoria (2009)
One notable admirer of C.R.A.Z.Y. was American filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who hired Vallée to direct a period piece he was producing: The Young Victoria (2009), a romance about the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, 2001; Downton Abbey, 2010–15) and starring Emily Blunt. The Young Victoria was generally well-received by critics and audiences and proved that Vallée could deliver as a hired hand on big-budget projects. The film went on to win about a dozen international awards, including at least two audience awards as well as a BAFTA and an Academy Award for costume design.
Vallée’s successful transition to Hollywood also signalled a maturation of Québec cinema and the graduation of its best filmmakers to the A-list level of Hollywood talent. Philippe Falardeau, Xavier Dolan and, most notably, Denis Villeneuve would soon follow in Vallée’s footsteps.
Café de Flore (2011)
But however high-profile The Young Victoria may have been, it was miles away from the heartfelt C.R.A.Z.Y. and incited Vallée to return to a more personal mode of address. His next film, the Canada-France co-production Café de Flore (2011), was an ambitious, almost mystical tale of filial love and the nature of soul mates, inspired largely by Vallée’s own divorce. A complex art film that moves between multiple characters and time periods, Café de Flore received a lukewarm response from audiences and most critics upon its release, but earned 13 Genie Award nominations and a devoted cult following.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Wild (2014)
After this foray into new auteurist chic, the versatile Vallée returned to Hollywood to direct two star-studded biopics: Dallas Buyers Club (2013), which became the first film directed by a Québec filmmaker to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture; and Wild (2014), based on the bestselling memoir by Cheryl Strayed about her 1,770 km trek along the Pacific Crest Trail following years of drug addiction and trauma. Vallée solidified his reputation as an actor’s director after directing Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to Oscar wins in Dallas Buyers Club, and Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern to Oscar nominations in Wild. Vallée and co-editor Martin Pensa also received an Oscar nomination for Best Editing for Dallas Buyers Club.
Demolition (2015) and HBO Series
Vallée continued to establish himself as a prolific A-list Hollywood director with Demolition, his fourth feature film in five years. Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper, the drama about a man coping in the aftermath of his wife’s sudden death opened the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival.
Vallée continued to show remarkable creative stamina by directing the entire first seasons of two notable HBO series: Big Little Lies (2017–), written by David E. Kelley and featuring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern; and Sharp Objects (2017), starring Amy Adams and adapted from Gillian Flynn’s award-winning crime novel. Big Little Lies went on to be one of the year’s most acclaimed dramas, winning eight Emmy Awards including Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special, and Outstanding Limited Series.
On the difference between making a film and a television series, Vallée told the Globe and Mail in 2016, “it’s not television — it’s just another film that happens to be seven hours long. It’s filming episodes one, two, three as a long feature film, then taking a 10-day break, then back for four, five, six, seven as another long feature film. It’s a marathon, but it’s the same kind of creative work.”
- Best Short Film (Les Fleurs magiques) (1996)
- Best Motion Picture (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2005)
- Achievement in Direction (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2005)
- Original Screenplay (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2005)
- Golden Reel Award (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2005)
- Best Short Film (Les Mots magiques) (1999)
- Best Film (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2006)
- Best Direction (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2006)
- Best Screenplay (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2006)
- Most Successful Film Outside Québec (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2006)
- Billet d’Or (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2006)
- Most Successful Film Outside Québec (C.R.A.Z.Y.) (2007)
- Best Comedy (Stéréotypes), Yorkton Short Film Festival (1992)
- Most Promising Director, Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Québécois (1992)
- Grand Prix, International Competition (Les Fleurs magiques), Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival (1998)
- Jury Award, Best Drama (Les Mots magiques), Aspen Shortsfest (1999)
- Best Canadian Feature Film (C.R.A.Z.Y.), Toronto International Film Festival (2005)
- Audience Award (C.R.A.Z.Y.), AFI Fest (2005)
- People’s Choice Award (C.R.A.Z.Y.), Atlantic Film Fest (2005)
- Best Director (C.R.A.Z.Y.), Gijón International Film Festival (2005)
- Best Screenplay (C.R.A.Z.Y.), Gijón International Film Festival (2005)
- Special Jury Prize, Best Feature (C.R.A.Z.Y.), Gijón International Film Festival (2005)
- Best Canadian Film (C.R.A.Z.Y.), Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards (2006)
- Audience Award, Best Narrative Film (The Young Victoria), Hamptons International Film Festival (2009)
- Audience Award (The Young Victoria), Cinéfest Sudbury (2009)
- Best Canadian Feature (Café de Flore), Atlantic Film Festival (2011)
- Best Canadian Film (Café de Flore), Vancouver Film Critics Circle (2012)
- Sebastiane Award (Dallas Buyers Club), San Sebastián International Film Festival (2013)
- Best Breakthrough Director (Wild), Hollywood Film Awards (2014)
- National Arts Centre Award, Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards (2015)
- Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Big Little Lies), Primetime Emmy Awards (2017)
- Outstanding Limited Series (Big Little Lies), Primetime Emmy Awards (2017)