Top Ten Director’s of the Now – Christopher Nolan
The concluding chapter to the series by G-FUNK
As it was stated at this beginning of this epic Top 10 list, the intention was never to rank the directors. The ten entries on this list have been presented in random order…with one exception. We’ve saved the best til last. And now: Christopher Nolan.
American and English by birth, Nolan grew up in Chicago and London along with his brother and frequent collaborator Jonathon. Like many of the strongest directors working today Nolan’s interest in film-making began at an early age. From age 7 he made use of his father’s Super 8 camera to make short features using action figures. He went on the study English Literature University College in London, a school he chose specifically because it allowed him access to cameras and editing facilities. For three years he served as the President of the college’s film society.
During this time Nolan directed his first short films, which included Tarantella and Larceny. Even at this early stage his peers and actors noticed Nolan’s unique style and professional approach. Whilst other film students focused on artistic expression, Nolan was creating challenging and unusual stories, often funded by himself. These early films show the traits the film-maker would later use in his feature films, specifically noir influences and delving into the realm of psychology.
1997’s Doodlebug is an early example of Nolan’s interest in psychology and brain stretching plot twists. It was a short film about a man chasing a bug around his apartment, eventually squashing it with a shoe. He then notices that the bug is in fact a miniature version of him – shortly before being squashed by a much larger version of himself.
The following year saw Nolan’s first feature film, Following, released. Shot in black and white on a budget of only $6,000 the story about a writer who compulsively follows strangers was a critical success. The narrative is told in non-chronological order, a technique that Nolan would revisit over in many of his features. This film also featured a burglar named ‘Cobb’, a name Nolan would reuse in Inception.
Following gained Nolan enough attention to embark on a loftier project: Memento. This film a name cast of Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano (the latter two having just come of the success of The Matrix) and was based on a short film written by Nolan’s brother Jonathon. The film dealt with the concept of amnesia in a revenge driven plot and featured black and white scenes that played in chronological order whilst the rest of the film played in reverse order, with the two timelines eventually merging. After generating strong word of mouth on the festival circuit Memento became a critical hit and brought in a strong box office, beginning the rise of Christopher Nolan as a household name.
Fans of the movie were given further enjoyment from the various DVD releases that allowed viewers change the order of the scenes and menus in the form of psychological tests that revealed extra features.
Memento also marks the first collaboration between Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister who would go on to work with Nolan on every one of his films, turning down the Harry Potter films to continue working with Nolan. Pfister has been nominated for four Academy Awards, each for his work with Nolan.
This was quickly followed up with Insomnia, a remake of a Norwegian film of the same name. Although this is not the most notable of Nolan’s film it still uses his trademark techniques and was a critical success. The casting of Al Pacino and Robin Williams indicated Nolan’s shift up the ranks of Hollywood, being the first time he’s worked with such well-known actors. Many scenes became key talking points, such as the chase through the thick fog.
What came next from the Nolan could’ve marked the peak of his career if he hadn’t some brilliant ideas percolating. In the years that followed the unspeakable horror of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin there had been some attempts to bring The Dark Knight back to the big screen. Some of these were shockingly awful (Schumacher’s ‘Scarecrow and Harley Quinn-as-Joker’s-daughter’ Batman Triumphant), interesting (Aronofsky’s street-hood vigilante) and potentially awesome (Batman vs Superman), but they all fell apart. In reality they were just getting out of the way for Christopher Nolan to reboot the franchise with an added injection of awesomeness.
Batman Begins was the Batman movie that modern audiences wanted to see. Stripping away the glam of gothic fairy tale aspects of the previous films it was a darker and more realistic take on the character. Nolan’s interest in psychology as the narrative crux gave new insight to a familiar and iconic character. This was taken further in the massively successful sequel The Dark Knight that built from the first film exploring the character’s motivation to looking at the impact of Batman on the society around him.
There’s so much to say about this two movies we’re going hold off on discussing them further until the up-coming House of Geekery series on the Batman Movies.
Between the record-breaking entries into the pop-culture shaking franchise Nolan directed the (surprise) psychological thriller The Prestige, which he adapted along with his brother. Bringing across Christian Bale and Michael Caine, the cast also included Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie and Andy Serkis and revolved around two magicians who went from being friends to rivals. Nolan flexed his narrative skills on this project by flaunting the twist in the opening scenes and keeping the viewer distracted while it plays out.
The Prestige is one of the more successful movies which relies a twist in that it is more intriguing on repeat viewings when the viewer can fully appreciate how much the plot is laid out before you. The performances on show are well worth multiple viewings as well.
Following the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight came Christopher Nolan’s most involved film, having scripted it solo in addition to directing. The layered tale about thieves who entered into people’s subconsciousness’s in order to steal information and take on the task of planting an idea on a person. Like The Dark Knight before it the movie became an instant hit and an undeniable part of modern pop culture. Like all of Nolan’s films Inception was a huge and considered by many to be his opus. It is undeniably his strongest film that doesn’t feature Batman.
Nolan’s blending of neo-noir with modern psychological studies and powerful performances and action has established him as one of the most popular and successful directors currently working. Whilst some directors, such as Tarantino, experiment with a wide range of genre Nolan has been refining his style from the beginning of his career making each new film a highly anticipated event as it is now assumed that it will be better than the previous. A reworking the line from The Dark Knight to become “I believe in Christopher Nolan” has become a common sentiment online in reference to his future projects.
On that note, everyone is well aware of the final part of his Batman trilogy named The Dark Knight Rises. Bringing on board Inception cast members Tom Hardy, Joseph Levitt and Marion Cotillard to join series regulars Christian Bale, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine (plus Anne Hathaway). Nolan is also heavily involved in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the latest attempt to bring Superman back to the big screen. Nolan’s future isn’t all capes and tights though.
Mr. Hughes is a script by Nolan detailing the life of Howard Hughes. The project was put on the shelf due to the release of Scorssese’s The Aviator with the intention of revisiting it when a decade has passed. With Nolan himself calling it the “best script” he’s ever written it’s a film we can look forward to in the future. Also on the books is The Keys to the Street, an adaptation of a psychological thriller that Gemma Atterton has expressed interest in.
Although there’s a sense of disappointment in the announcement that Nolan and Bale won’t be returning to the streets of Gotham after the third chapter these other projects will be enough to keep Christopher Nolan one of the most interesting directors currently at work.
And thus concludes the Top 10 Most Interesting Directors of the Now series.
Check in tomorrow for the ‘5 Directors Who Used to be Interesting’, the following day for the Best Movies by the Top 1o Directors and later in the week for Slam Adams’ own list of Top 10 Directors!