Friday, July 13, 2012

Top 7: Christopher Nolan Films

In honor of Christopher Nolan's latest film, The Dark Knight Rises, hitting theaters next week -- as well as the recent ceremony where he got his handprints cemented in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater, becoming one of the few directors in movie history to receive such an honor -- I've decided to count down my favorite flicks by the 41-year-old director.  Raised with dual citizenship in Chicago and London, and producing every film he's made with his wife, Emma Thomas, Nolan is an unusual breed of filmmaker in today's modern era.  He's a family man, constantly working with his brother, Jonathan. He's also a director who shies away from revealing spoilers about his films before they're released, as well he stays away from using digital cameras and CGI whenever he can, favoring film cameras and stunts mixed with miniatures to create larger than life action.  I just greatly admire the dude and would love to just sit down and talk film with him someday.  Even though he's only made seven films, when you consider the fact that the average film director is just making his big break at this point in his life, Nolan truly is a unique fella.  So here it is, all seven of Christopher Nolan's films ranked in order of my favorite.  As a special side bar, all films are perfect 10 out of 10s.  Just throwing that out there, so on to number 7:

7.  Following
Christopher Nolan's very first film, about a writer who essentially stalks people in order to obtain material for characters, and eventually takes to breaking and entering to learn more about them.  Shot over the course of a year in London with his friends as cast and crew, shooting only on weekends because that was the only time of the week that they all didn't have to work at day jobs, you have even more appreciation for this film.  While the film is light on deep character work, it still unfolds in a way that leaves the viewer trying to piece together all of the clues to figure out the eventual outcome.  While Nolan was obviously less experienced when he made this film, it shows that true brilliance shines through any imperfections.  (As a side note:  The film can be seen on Netflix instant streaming.)

6.  Insomnia
Nolan's first studio gig, Insomnia is as gripping a psychological thriller as anything that Hitchcock produced.  A remake of the Swedish film, Insomnia tells the tale of a cop who cannot sleep while trying to solve a murder in an Alaskan town where the sun doesn't set.  The film really shines as Al Pacino's character starts to slip in-and-out of dream state as sleep continues to evade him.  Featuring a creepy performance from Robin Williams, and an awesome chase scene across floating logs, Nolan proves his mastery of the genre.  While not the Christopher Nolan film that I find has the most memorable moments, Insomnia is a solid film worth watching over and over.

5.  Memento
Nolan's sophomore effort is the film that got him noticed by the film industry at large.  Memento tells the story of Leonard, a man with anterograde amnesia -- in other words he has lost the ability to form new memories -- trying to avenge his wife's murder.  This is easily one of the toughest films to watch and keep up with.  The story is told backwards and forwards at the same time, your mind having to stay in constant motion, but if you can resist the headaches, Memento rewards you with being one of the most original, and fascinating films of all-time.

4.  The Dark Knight
This is quite possibly Nolan's most recognized work as a director.  His follow-up to Batman Begins was nothing short of spectacular.  The story was an ensemble look at the cast of Batman characters, shifting the focus from Bruce Wayne to everyone else.  Featuring Heath Ledger's jaw-dropping performance as the Joker, an imminently likable Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, and a perfect Two-Face story arc, The Dark Knight is a masterpiece.  I was literally speechless when I first saw this film, and while when I'm sitting at home looking for a Nolan film to watch, this isn't the first one I grab just cause it's so darned serious, I still love it as much (but hints why it is at number four and not higher).

3.  Inception
This was a movie that I was actually not that pumped about after first seeing it.  I was anticipating it so much -- I had watched every trailer and had created a preconceived idea in my head of what the movie should have been rather than realizing the movie that it was.  Upon subsequent viewings, I have grown to love Inception more and more.  Nolan's mind bending tale of dream thieves being tasked with the job of having to enter a mind and create an idea, features the best of Nolan's action-oriented Batman films with the best of his smaller fare like Memento.  The story features complex moral ideas with emotional complications, while also retaining a sense of fun and escapism because the action and imagery is just so darn cool.  In the fun department it bests Memento and The Dark Knight, proving to be just as thoughtful, but with a little more dash of awesomeness.

2.  The Prestige
There is something about rival magicians in turn of the century London that is magical to me.  None of the characters turn out to be all that likable, but like a great magic trick, you cannot tear your eyes away from it, dispelling the notion that you have to like the characters in order for it to be an entertaining ride.  No matter how many times you have seen it, the twists still surprise, because Nolan does such a masterful job of creating mystery and suspense.  Christopher Nolan is the true magician of The Prestige, mystifying his audience, taking us into the world of real magic, showing us how magicians tick, and that there is a cost to concealing your secrets -- obsession is the name of the game.  Featuring one of my personal favorite Christian Bale performances, I could watch this film over and over again and probably not tire of it.

1.  Batman Begins
The best Christopher Nolan film period.  Perhaps it's because this film was what introduced me to the filmmaker, I don't know, but none of his other films are as emotional or as fun as this one is.  Nolan set out to tell a more realistic version of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, and yet created the definitive Batman movie in the process.  Let's see, the movie had an awesome Batman in Christian Bale, it delved  deeper into the psyche of Bruce Wayne than any other Batman film before or since, and it simply represented the best of the comic book while within a more realistic setting.  The relationship between Bruce and Alfred was both touching and humorous, and the action was as finely crafted as any James Bond or Indiana Jones action set piece, with equal dashes of cool moments and humor.  Of course, I think to really sum up why I feel Batman Begins stands above even its successor, is because, while Nolan takes it seriously, he doesn't forget to have a little fun with some well placed jokes and nail-biting action that maybe isn't 100% possible, but is 100% cool.

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