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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan

Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan, eh. I really like the guy. Consistent filmography. Hardly a hiccup in sight. One of the most dependable directors on the planet. Seems like a chill dude.

What it is that Chris (may I call him Chris?) has managed to achieve so well, is locating the ever-elusive clitoris situated between a mainstream formulated cinema appeal, and an intellectual tangle which prefers to ask the questions rather than answer them. More often than not, this complex technique of trickery guarantees a house full of smiling faces. Are you one of those people who enjoys spending their time alone, developing theories about inconspicuous details and then connecting them to some hypothetical Reddit argument you upvoted? Then you should find more than enough open-ended sources from Nolan’s endeavours to keep your fingers busy. On the other side, if you simply enjoy munching your popcorn at high speeds whilst dribbling your soda upon your lap and making remarks such as “woaaaah, look at those special effects, maaan!”, well, there’s something in there for you too.

It's no surprise to me that Nolan has made so much money over his career, because the guy totally deserves it. He’s worked hard and I’m proud of him. 10 films later, and he is one of the most acclaimed directors on the planet, grossing over $4.7 billion worldwide with 34 Oscar nominations and ten wins. That’s an average of $470 million, 3.4 Oscar nominations, and one Oscar win per every single film. Every single film! And here I am, getting excited when my Facebook status gets 10 Likes.

Your own love for Christopher Nolan will depend on your taste for the whole movie medium itself. If you prioritise well-written personalities over rich storytelling, then this director may not be for you, because in all honesty, his notable character developments are sporadic at best (in fact, the large majority of fictional individuals in Nolan's world are indecipherable from one another). However, if you enjoy a little confusion in your life, delivered via non-linear narratives and troubling flashbacks, forever lost within themes of obsession and psychological disorders and identity turmoil, then do yourself a favour, and watch all of his films. Again if needs be. That’s what I did, and look at me now. I’m writing a whole article on Christopher Nolan like I’m some fucking expert or something.

Ready? Here’s my worst to best of the man's directed features. And no matter what this list says, each and every piece of work on offer here was a pure inspiration to me. I just want to go outside and write movies with my brother Jonathan. Let’s ask that boy Hans Zimmer to sort out the score. That guy really knows what he is doing.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 10. The Dark Knight Rises

10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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Welcome back to Gotham City! Eight years after Batman’s former glory! And never has the absence of the Joker been so sorely evident as it is in this dismal curtain call. In all fairness, the city’s latest supervillain (the monstrous Bane) was the perfect character choice due to his vast differences from those who came before, but his distressingly humourless outlook on political themes weighed on the somewhat boring side, which caused me to mourn for the comedic relief of Ledger’s iconic role, more here than ever. Certainly, Hardy does an okay job. As does Bale within the very uncomplicated Batman role. As does Hathaway playing the much adored Catwoman. But these badly-written performances were not the movie’s primary dilemmas. Rather, the true difficulties came during the disorganised plot which tried to do too much too slowly, somehow not getting its act together in a whopping 165 minutes, all the while overwhelming us with an often deafening music score and indecipherable dialogue. Of course, fanboys have vigorously defended the flick to this very day, and they did have some points. Don't look at this as a film. Look at it as the final piece to DC’s greatest film run ever, and then you can't be too disappointed, right? Because, even at his worst, Nolan's foray into superherodom was still up there with the best.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 09. Interstellar

09. Interstellar (2014)

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What's that you say? A dystopian science fiction epic? Where Earth is dying? A group of space explorers have to go where no man has gone before? All to save humanity? What an original story! Regardless, this tired plot decorated with Kubrick fellatio quickly proves its worth, by singeing your retina and expanding the spaces between your cerebral lobes as one absolute technical masterpiece. The big budget special effects are monumental feats of visual stimulation while the conceptual designs and complexities of wormhole theories were evidently heavily researched, spinning in the infinity of space without losing its human touch. Remarkable! Awe-inspiring! Tremendous! Woweee! Unfortunately, repeated viewings of Interstellar were far less inspiring. The dominant problem came with this flick dressing itself up like some scholarly think-piece, which works until you actually think about it (in particular, the bootstrap paradox building a barrier around any worthwhile debate, but let's ignore that for now). What's more, those desperate heart-tugs poking at some mushy dynamic between unmemorable characters also fell short to me, as I found it impossible to emotionally invest in these individuals who were all utterly void of any defining personalities whatsoever. Like everyone, I admire Nolan for ambitiously stretching this film to its very limits (and the grandiose effort is undeniably yet another essential display of cinematic artistry), but it was far too big for its own fabric, and it tore, errors glaring through, blinding anyone who looked directly at it.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 08. Insomnia

08. Insomnia (2002)

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Insomnia was Nolan’s first studio feature, and after the immense success of Momento, it was a vital intersection in the director’s career. Was he going to validate his previous victory as a non-fluke? Or would the additional pressure topple the man over? Aware of the wager, Christopher took the safest route possible and opted to remake a 1997 Norwegian psychological thriller (same title) in a typical Hollywood crime style, complete with murder, cover-ups, sleep-deprivation, and guilt. To further secure a healthy box office stockpile, two of the most renowned actors that money could buy were hired to execute this cat-and-mouse device, namely Al Pacino being his usual enthralling self, and Robin Williams in one of his most subtly impressive (and underrated!) roles to date. In fact, this is some of the greatest acting you are ever likely to witness in any Nolan film, and the praise which followed was quick to state nothing less. However, there was still a problem: the plot itself. The story had a promising start by accomplishing a hefty dose of anxiety without relying on the director’s usual overblown intellectualism, but in the end, it was this very cautious lack of challenge which ultimately spiraled the piece into lower realms of predictability, now regarded as perhaps the most formulated flick in Christopher’s entire filmography. That said, I was not disappointed in the slightest, it's a very cool film, and I would watch it again maybe.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 07. Batman Begins

07. Batman Begins (2005)

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After the cartoonesque absurdity of Clooney’s syndicate threatened to capsize the entire Batman franchise forever, one may say Nolan’s job was a comparatively easy affair. Wisely opting to uproot the narrative and start from the very beginning, Batman Begins was just as the title promised: an origins story, completely standalone yet preparing us for a much more complex hero to come. This incarnation was perfectly suited for Bale’s quietly unsettling demeanor, and I was happy to revisit this classic protagonist as he trained himself up to protect Gotham against that scary Scarecrow villain. Nolan’s first ruling order was to throttle all excessive explosions, witty one-liners, flashy sparkles, goofy action sequences, and ludicrous gadgets right out of his baby, gone. He then restrained those stereotypical superhero elements into a much more down-to-earth neo-noir crime thriller, governed by darker storytelling, human characters, and a concentration on minute details rather than any of the overwhelming special effects from previous sequences. What happens next may surprise you: a groundbreaking delivery of comic book adaptations, influencing a fresh breed of more realistic, adult cinematic experiences which favoured a gloomy sincerity over any humorous cheap shots. And for that, I thank you, Chris. Almost instantaneously, people dubbed this effort as one of the greatest superhero flicks ever put together, without any idea of what was coming next.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 06. The Prestige

06. The Prestige (2006)

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Based on Christopher Priest's 1995 novel of the same name, the most notable achievement of this mystery thriller is that it delivers itself exactly like any magic trick would. The Prestige as a film is secretly the star of the whole performance, while the magician rivalry (adequately portrayed by Bale and Jackman) are merely props in their own show. Nolan has confirmed that the separate acts of this story were specifically ordered to mimic an illusionary device, of which this clever idea conned an elaborate aura of wizardry into every scene, distracting us with mind puzzles and magnificent reveals, oblivious to the two lead characters as they battle it out for magic dominance. Also, David Bowie is Nikola Tesla for today, just for your records. Moving on, and much like any worthwhile sleight of hand trick, it’s impossible to dissect the contents without spoiling the surprises for those using fresh eyes. However, I will say this: The Prestige is a good movie, but not a great movie. It's a spectacle of imaginative entertainment which tangles itself up in its own complex web of deception, and more often than not, yells the word “surprise!” a touch too enthusiastically. No one would call this Nolan’s most disappointing offering, of that I’m sure, but I certainly would understand the argument of it being one of his most forgettable.

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Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 05. Following

05. Following (1998)

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And here we have Nolan’s debut feature, a non-linear neo-noir crime thriller about a struggling writer who gets mixed up in the arts (and obsessions) of thievery. By all means, it’s a conventional story in comparison to the director’s latter-day explosions, but with a mere $6,000 budget to its name, the true exhilaration came from Christopher Nolan himself, as he desperately attempted to unleash his intensely ambitious prowess against such suffocating restrictions. Without the crutch of an expensive Hollywood gleam, this film was oiled up with a heavy black and white slick, lubricating the mysterious smarts to speed along at a nimble pace, cramming the quick ride with sharp objects until it reached a maximum capacity, and then pouring everything directly into your belly until you were satisfied despite the meal's overall modesty. Additional admiration must also be handed to the convincing performances offered by the actors themselves, who were not only all unknowns back then, but are still unknown to this very day somehow. Regardless (and according to various respected sources), Following is one of the greatest no-budget movies ever made, and its neglected position in Nolan’s remarkable filmography is an unforgivable injustice. If you take nothing else from this review, know that the man’s genius is, at times, more evident here than on any other project, because it’s almost inconceivable that he achieved what he did with what he had.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 04. Memento

04. Memento (2000)

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When analysing the ingenuity of Memento, one needs to highlight a few things. Like how this is only Nolan’s second feature film. Or how excellent the choice was to cast Guy Pearce, as his lack of high profile celebrity would be unable to dominate any of the hyperactive chatter. Or how the neo-noir psychological thriller was not only overly-smart but also profoundly tragic without losing an element of subtle humour throughout. I mean, just as a written summary, a feat of daring inventiveness is revealed, by introducing a vengeful man hunting for his wife’s killers, running its narrative flat-out by using two connected storylines: one proceeding forwards, while the other worked in reverse, accentuating the main character’s severe case of anterograde amnesia. After a description like that, your sphincter is already preparing itself for the insertion of puzzle pieces, while the doctor politely asks, "Would you mind sorting this out for me?". And sort it out, you will. Long after the film has ended. And that, above all else, is what you’ve got to respect Nolan for. It's the fact that most men would have tripped themselves up during the very first stages of developing dual timelines which would speak the same adventure coming from opposite directions, why would anyone do that to themselves? And yet, somehow, this director holds our attention and rewards our persistence so delightfully that the end result was an instantaneous success from all corners, often lauded as Christopher's crowning achievement. It has even been preserved by the National Film Registry in 2017, which they tell me is a good thing.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 03. Dunkirk

03. Dunkirk (2017)

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Take a War World II script about allied soldiers struggling to survive the frustrating death trap of a beach surrounded by Nazis. Then hand this true story to a man notorious for birthing psychologically complexities and unresolved narratives out of thin air. Stir well, and what do you get? Nothing less than an over-the-top war film of epic proportions with high budget bombs bursting your brain open and soldiers with uncontrollable mental disorders snapping at a moment's notice, of course! Except, Dunkirk was nothing like that. Rather, it was a backstory-less, Hollywood-less, (almost) dialogue-less, (basically) CGI-less masterpiece, which boasted subtleties and reservations without ever choking on the boring bullet. And how did it achieved such a unique feat? By dropping you in the middle of an intensely streamlined documentary atmosphere, intended to accurately portray war as an honest character itself, not some celebration of high-speed adrenaline explosions nor an immoral praise for so-called historic heroes whose actions deserve anything but. Truthfully, Dunkirk is an indescribable piece (it would be difficult to even spoil it), other than agreeing with those critics who called it one of the greatest war films ever made. Yes, Hans Zimmer outdid himself. Yes, Harry Styles was just fine. But it was our director, now functioning at maximum confidence, who surprisingly shone through as the least Nolany version of Nolan yet.

Click here to witness Ammr and Jared’s live-action review of Dunkirk (filmed while drunk)!


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 02. The Dark Knight

02. The Dark Knight (2008)

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I’m just going to talk about the Joker for a minute, do you mind? For here we have arguably the most complex character in all of the comic book universes, with so many ways to interpret the intricate madness that the vastly diverse cinematic variations of the supervillain are only tied together by name alone. And yet, from Nicholson’s creepy blueprint right until Leto’s dismal miscarriage, none corrupted the maniacal psychopathy quite as troubling as Heath Ledger did. Delivering his chaotic anarchy beneath a grungy demeanor, the on-screen deterioration of this Joker’s sanity was so realistic, that it ultimately killed the actor himself, haunting the film with a deeper core of tragic sadness. However, from an artistic perspective, it was the perfect way to go, undeniably Ledger’s peak performance, while he leads the pack as the deepest character Nolan has ever told (even winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the first comic-book movie actor to ever do so). That said, while Joker dominates all conversation, the film itself was deserving of the performance, as a superhero movie except with all of the superhero trademarks furiously blackened out, redefining the formula of good vs. evil vs. everything in-between (hey, Two-Face). And then, there it was. The greatest flick in the superhero genre, period. It still makes anything that Marvel has done look like a children's candy store surrounded by protective guardians just in case someone chokes.


Worst to Best: Christopher Nolan: 01. Inception

01. Inception (2010)

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Inception as a concept is enough to evoke a restless enthusiasm in your little vibrating knees, with Leo and his team exploring the possibilities of extracting information from the human mind during their dream states. And yet, it’s the balance within this neo-noir science fiction heist film which truly lifts it as Nolan’s absolute crowning work. The action is intense, the visuals are unrivaled, and the human dynamic between this all-star cast successfully glues the complicated premise together, stacking layers upon layers of intellect on top of your mind, demanding that your full attention is invested otherwise you will surely be buried beneath its surrealistic abstractions forever, wake up. Not even the most extreme Nolan antagonists (Nolantagonists?) could ever accuse him of any ambition deficiency, but Inception is three levels up, so meticulously detailed that it took the man around ten years to develop, cautiously explaining his perplexing plans adequately without spoon-feeding anyone, requiring you to do some of the work, let’s meet halfway. And then like a dream, it weaved through your head long after the credits had rolled, rewarding repeated visits, and giving hope to modern cinema as effortlessly one of the best movies of the decade. Maybe even the best. It’s the perfect film within the perfect film within. And there is nothing else like it.


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