Welcome to “The Hot Seat!” Look, Christopher Nolan has taken the film world by storm. Phenomenons like this don’t exist much anymore, directors that are getting massive budgets to make films that aren’t part of a franchise or existing IP. His stances on using real film and the cinematic experience to tell stories has become something of a point of contention online, with film fans annoyed at Nolan-bros constantly talking him up and praising him as the second coming of film. Problem is that they all see every Nolan film as well because he’s just a great director. Each entry into his filmography has felt like an interesting point of discussion at the worst and a masterwork at best. He’s one of the last filmmakers of his kind, and I don’t know if we’ll see their like again.
Let’s get to the rankings.
- Following : I mean…right? Nolan’s debut film is also his worst. So many forget that this one exists, a blind spot for even some of his hardcore fans. There are some influences on display and a fun thriller element, but it doesn’t display what he can truly do with his talents. That said, it’s a fun noir/thriller-styled story that was impressively shot on a budget of $6000. There are few that can deny the importance of that. Nolan turned out a watchable film with fun ideas on one of the lowest budgets in the industry. Most haven’t seen it, but it’s worth watching. Most Nolan films are.
- The Dark Knight Rises : Nolan very obviously didn’t even want to make this one. Following up one of the greatest successes in Hollywood history and a film frequently described as one of the best ever made is a daunting task, one made even more challenging after having lost one of your stars. I have some issues with this film and so many of them revolve around the runtime. I enjoy pretty much every performance, I think it’s gorgeously shot, the music is great, but the film feels bloated and overlong. The pressure to make a grand finale to the Dark Knight Trilogy had to be behind this. My opinion on it as the worst of the trilogy and one of the lesser Nolan films doesn’t mean I don’t connect with it, because I really do. This, however, is a movie that I’m less interested in revisiting compared to most of his other films.
- Inception : This is going to be one of those lists, where I enjoy pretty much every film and have to toss some lower on the list because I just enjoy others more. Inception is a casualty of that. I absolutely love this one, a weird mishmash of ideas that culminate in a symphonic display of timing and cinematic skill that perfectly balances all of Nolan’s positive and negative traits. It’s full of exposition, but it’s fun to watch and that tempers most frustration. It’s very technical, but everything is so laid out that you get it when you’re finally just walked through the heist itself. Oh, and it’s a heist movie! “Sci-fi heist” should, in my opinion, be a genre unto itself. After seeing this in theatres I had to show others, and it’s a movie that I’ve continued to revisit in the near-decade since its release.
- Dunkirk : So I’ve got a confession – war films aren’t really my thing. I’ve enjoyed some here and there, but it’s not something I easily connect with. There’s got to be a gimmick or trick to it for me to get locked in. For Saving Private Ryan it was the legacy, for Hacksaw Ridge it was a mixture of familiarity with the material and the possible good work of Mel Gibson, and for Dunkirk it was the chance to see Nolan really play with time. He set up a triptych and then knocked that sucker down in an incredible way. Something wonderful happened in the structure of this film, layered into the story with different time lengths and smart editing choices that had an oddly magnetic quality to them. It’s also very short for a Nolan film. I went in the afternoon and came out only 90 minutes or so later, confused and wondering what time it truly was. See, Nolan even messed with his normal runtime!
- Insomnia : I’m really down for Robin Williams as a bad guy, it’s seriously a fun thing. They don’t really make movies like this anymore, the mid-budget thriller with big stars in it. I love all of the ideas behind this, a detective that just can’t sleep due to the midnight sun and his guilt combined with the clumsy criminal element of Robin Williams. Pacino is really peaking here, might actually be the last time he wasn’t just going over-the-top. I didn’t see this until a couple of years ago and I just ate it up. There’s a lot of scenes set in fog, there’s a foot chase over logs, it’s just full of fun setpieces like that combined with character moments that let the actors go nuts while still keeping them from being extra.
- Memento : Here it is, my gateway drug. I watched this in high school and sixteen-year-old Clint was blown away. Entirely a gimmick, boldly reliant on narrative tricks, and mixing different filmic styles and tones with wanton abandon, this was the first Nolan film broke big and it put him on the map as the crazy young director to watch. We’ve got a weird Guy Pierce, he of the frosted tips, Joey Pantaliano hamming it up, and Carrie-Ann Moss deviously switching between victim and femme fatale. Once in a while, you get a film that shows its hand right at the start and you get a journey worth watching. This rarely happens in a way that almost no one complains about, and it’s left this a fan favorite (and a Clint favorite) to this day.
- Interstellar : We’re really splitting hairs here. Interstellar is one of the most beautiful films to be screened in a theatre, period. You don’t have to connect with it emotionally like I do, but there are few that can deny its magnificent visuals. Beyond all that I happen to find it moving and absolutely wonderful in how it breaks my heart. I cry pretty easily in movies, but this was a multi-cry movie for me as I get hit on and off throughout it. On occasion, we get a movie that I want to see more than once in theatres but rarely do I go back again the next day to see it again. That was a shocking moment for me and cemented Nolan as a favorite filmmaker in my book.
- Batman Begins : Even I’m surprised that this is so high up on my list but…well, I’m learning more about myself every day. This is an early test for Nolan. See, the way things used to be structured is that you got an interesting indie movie that made some money and did well with critics, followed by a mid-budget film with some stars to see how you handle yourself. Then you’ll get yourself a big-budget franchise. We tend to see directors rushed these days, but when Nolan received the Batman franchise they allowed him some room to play after being able to handle filming Insomnia and he delivered an expensive, fun new start for the character. It’s the most comic-booky of the trilogy and I absolutely love that about it.
- The Dark Knight : Surprise, this isn’t my top Nolan movie! It’s still a masterpiece and contains one of the greatest performances in film history alongside a new style for the Batman films that really landed. Filming a superhero remake of Heat is a bold move, but having a superhero movie land with fans and critics is so rare that I just can’t help but shine a light on it yet again. I still pop this on here and there to this day, mostly choosing scenes I love to revisit but occasionally just taking it all in. The wonderful practical effects and stunts alongside incredible performances (must…not…discuss…interrogation scene…again…) make for an absolute blast that really deserved the praise that it continues to get to this day.
- The Prestige : C’mon, two magicians that are kind of in love with each other battling it out over who can do a single trick a bit better? Yeah, I was going to love every moment of this. There’s a lot of commentary on cinematic roles here, and when it’s combined with the wonderful performances from the primary cast you get a strange little film that blew my mind in the theatres. Cards on the table, when I saw this I didn’t really follow film or directors yet so I didn’t know who put this together. I learned later, when Nolan’s name became huge with The Dark Knight. This remains one of his weirder films and my absolute favorite of his.
And that’s it! I love Christopher Nolan, and so does most of the internet/film community. He’s a clever director that manages to take high concepts and get general audiences interested, which is an impressive feat. What about you? What’s your ranking?