THURSDAY, 2 AUGUST 2012

Ranking Christopher Nolan’s films

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As part of my Inception-countdown series, I ranked five of Christopher Nolan's movies. Well, now he's got two more under his belt, making his total of feature-length film to seven [excluding Following which wasn't widely distributed].

Just a quick bio per Wikipedia:

Born in 1970 in London, Nolan was one of three sons of a British father, who owned an advertising business, and an American mother, a flight attendant for United Airlines. Nolan and his brother Jonathan spent their childhood in both London and Chicago. He began film-making at the age of seven using his father's Super 8 camera and his toy action figures.

For his undergraduate, Nolan studied English Literature at University College London Union (UCLU). He chose it specifically for its film-making facilities, which consisted of a "Steenbeck editing suite (real film, real spools) plus a couple of 16mm cameras." Nolan was president of the college film society from 1992 to 1994; a contemporary described him as talented and focused on learning as much as possible about the mechanics and technology of film-making.

His big break in Hollywood came with Memento, starring Guy Pearce, which was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best screenplay.

So in honor of his 42nd birthday, I thought I'd rank those seven Christopher Nolan feature films in order of favorites. By favorites I mean those that have the best re-playability values to me, as I do think all of these seven are great-to-excellent. So far, there is none of his films that I didn't like, and Nolan is the only director whose ALL of his work I have seen.

Without further ado, here...we... go:

1. Batman Begins (2005)

The ultimate origins story and I think it's still the one to beat in terms of the um, inception of a superhero goes. Christian Bale is perfectly cast as the dark, tormented caped crusader and he's surrounded by a slew of top notch actors such as Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy, etc. The movie also benefits from a fantastic script and a formidable villain in Ra's al Ghul (Demon's head in Arabic). I've always loved a villain that starts out as friends of the hero, and Neeson's makes that transformation from fatherly mentor to sinister nemesis convincingly. I'd even overlook the miscasting of Katie Holmes on this one, it's THAT good!

2. Inception (2010) 


Perhaps Nolan's nod to the Bond franchise, Inception is one of those films that gets better and more satisfying with each repeated viewing. The cast is top notch, with scene-stealing performance from Tom Hardy and fun, rousing action set pieces. What I love most is the intriguing 'idea heist' sci-fi concept, and whilst the romance between Cob and Mal wasn't as compelling as I would've liked, I've warmed up to it a bit more than I did the first time I saw it.

3. The Dark Knight (2008) 


It's rare that a sequel lives up to the original, especially when one already sets the bar so high, but Nolan did just that! It's nothing short of casting genius to have Heath Ledger play the Joker, though a lot of people were skeptical at first, the late Aussie actor's iconic performance forever defined that character that it's hard to imagine anyone else playing that role (neither did Nolan as he said here he won't bring back the Joker character for Batman 3). The complex story and the level of character development in this film makes me forget this is a superhero film! Gone are the circus-y and frivolous-ness of the previous Batman flicks, as both Nolan's versions become the quintessential thinking person's superhero movie. This is definitely a welcome trend for this genre!

4. The Prestige (2006) 


As I said in this post, I wasn't blown away by this film on initial viewing. But about a year later I rewatched it and wow, I was riveted. We've got a brilliant tale of two magicians who become friends as well as rival, which intensified when one of them came up with the ultimate magic trick, and Nolan cast two great actors in those roles: Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Nolan's good luck charm Sir Michael Caine also has an important part, and plus who doesn't get a kick seeing David Bowie's cameo as the genius inventor Nikola Tesla!

I have a whole new appreciation for it after the second viewing and felt that I could connect to the characters more, especially with Borden (Bale). The whole twist and turns are utterly perplexing (in a good way) and that ending is just WOW! Set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century London, Nolan did a fine job in setting up a beautifully-shot period piece with gorgeous cinematography, costumes and wonderfully-rich atmosphere.

5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) 


Now that I've seen all three, I think The Dark Knight Rises is my least favorite, though by a very small margin. If you've read my super long review, then you'll know that there are quite a bit of issues I have with it that no amount of cool action pieces would solve. That said, I have only seen it once by now so there's a chance I might change my mind :D I do think visually it just gets better and better, this latest film does boast a visual spectacle that's meant to be seen on IMAX.

Seriously though, I think Nolan's Batman trilogy is ace and no doubt I'd buy the Blu-ray box set when it comes out. I think that's quite a feat considering Nolan didn't envision a trilogy when he first signed on to do Batman Begins, at least that's what I learned from various interviews.

6. Insomnia (2002) 


Did you ever notice Nolan's really skimpy when it comes to his movie titles? His one-word-titled movie starting with an 'i' is a small film with a budget of less than $50 million. Under less capable hands, the story of two Los Angeles homicide detectives set to investigate a methodical teenage murder in Alaska might've end up to be a run-of-the mill thriller. But the smart, twist-ridden script and excellent performances from the cast made this into something memorable and thrilling to watch. Al Pacino as the increasingly unhinged LA detective and Hilary Swank as the young cop who adore him work well together, but it's Robin Williams' as the creepy nutcase who's the scene-stealer. I think comedians actually make for the eeriest villains. Despite the title, Nolan certainly kept the audience wide awake with this one.

7. Memento (2000) 


One of the most original story and most innovative narrative structure, it's one that rewards with multiple viewings. Nominated for two Oscars for Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay, this is the first time mainstream audiences are introduced to Nolan's genius work. A tale of a man who, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. Guy Pearce is astounding as Leonard, it's a shame he was snubbed of any major acting nods! As #28 in IMDb's Top 250 Movies(along with three other Nolan's movies), this movie is etched in many people's memories for years to come. That said, this is perhaps the one film from Nolan that I have yet to see again and I'm not as keen to revisit it as I do the others.

Well, I'm sure everyone will have their own ranking of Christopher Nolan movies, so let's hear it!


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