Ranked: Christopher Nolan
9. The Dark Knight Rises
The final chapter in Nolan’s Batman trilogy had giant shoes to fill. It was following a summer blockbuster that happened to be the highest grossing movie of that year, eventually crossing $1 billion worldwide, and was met with so much near-unanimous critical acclaim that it was considered an Oscar snub come award time. Those are almost insurmountable odds for any movie to overcome, and I think Rises flounders trying to. Still an entertaining superhero movie, but not the capper to The Dark Knight we were all hoping for.
Nolan’s feature debut shot in cheap black-and-white like fellow indie debuts Clerks and Pi. Reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, a curious wannabe-writer obsessed with following people gets tangled with a crafty burglar who takes more pleasure in being in people’s private spaces than actually taking their things. It’s a clever neo-noir that demonstrates Nolan’s preference for pretzel-like cinema puzzles. Unfortunately, it never quite overcomes its inherent amateurishness.
Interstellar is Nolan’s newest giant puzzle. It stars Matthew McConaughey as a NASA engineer/pilot forced into farming when a deadly plague, known as The Blight, decimates the world’s food supply. He is chosen to captain a space expedition to find a new planet to call home using a newly discovered wormhole as a shortcut. Using this theoretical science, Nolan intertwines the intangible elements that bind us to the people we love with the corners of science that we haven’t quite figured out yet. Although it is often dramatically heavy-handed, it does not slow down McConaughey’s comeback tour one bit as he crafts one of the more well-developed blockbuster protagonists in a long time.
This remake of a Norwegian thriller coincidentally snuck in and out of the movie theaters while everyone slept. Although well-reviewed, it never garnered any hype. It was a slow and almost dream-like thriller about an LA detective (Al Pacino) investigating a murder in Alaska during its month of sunlight. Forced into a game of cat and mouse with the primary suspect (Robin Williams), Pacino’s cop starts questioning his own sanity. It features two great performances from popular actors at a time when they were starting to deliver more bad than good, which makes it all the more sad that it went unnoticed. It also featured meticulous, exposition-less scenes of planning 6 years before “Breaking Bad” turned a lot of heads with similar scenes.
5. Batman Begins
After the dreaded bat-nipples, everyone expected Batman’s next cinematic adventure to be a little more ways off, if at all. It took the inspired hiring of Christopher Nolan to get the franchise moving again. Rather than treat Batman as an institution that already existed as a man with a plan but falsely considered an urban legend, Nolan used that preference of puzzle storytelling to reverse engineer the Caped Crusader exploring his motivation, training, and the development of his tech and persona. If you can deal with it erasing some of the mystique of the cowl, you will be rewarded with a more interesting focus on Bruce Wayne (played awesomely by Christian Bale).
The end-all, be-all of Nolan puzzles stars Guy Pearce as a vengeful husband incapable of making new memories since the death of his wife. Tattooing clues on his body and taking Polaroids of important people, he constantly pieces the puzzles together over and over taking obsession to a new tragic height. The real star of the vehicle though is the fractured timeline gambit that makes sure that at least half the scenes include the audience having as much information as the protagonist.
3. The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is one of the most fascinating superhero movies. It went above and beyond the call for a big budget movie that would usually get treated like Hollywood fluff should be. It was masterfully put together by Christopher Nolan with two of the better supporting actors of 2008, both Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart, not to under sell the performance of Christian Bale. Its a shame that award shows like the Oscars did not consider it, but there is no question that it will outlive the rest of nominees even if it didn’t earn over $500 million at the box office.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb (lifting a name from Nolan’s debut), a dream thief, hired to do the most difficult type of corporate espionage there is: inception, planting an idea in a subject so that they think they came up with it themselves. Movie physics re already pretty bad, when you add dream logic it is hard to know where reality begins and ends. With Inception that is part of the fun. Nolan essentially crafts a bigger blockbuster than any of his superhero movies with scenes seemingly lifted from so many different Bond films with members of Cobb’s dream team living out their own action movie fantasies.
1. The Prestige
Many will probably find it strange that The Prestige is at the top of the pile, but I love it. It is a smart thriller that repurposes old tricks and makes them feel fresh and new again. Not without Nolan’s puzzle trademarks, it focuses much more this time on his other trademark: obsession. It stars Wolverine (I mean, Hugh Jackman) and Batman (I mean, Christian Bale) as rival magicians whose one-ups-man-ship leads to deadly results. Both actors give one of their best performances.