Sunday, March 3, 2024

Christopher Nolan’s movies ranked

MosaicArts and EntertainmentChristopher Nolan's movies ranked

BY ALEX LAVINSON
Staff Writer




Christopher Nolan is one of this generation’s defining filmmakers. In his 20-plus years in the industry, he has garnered widespread acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Despite his success, Nolan has never deviated from what makes him interesting in the first place. From his signature storytelling to his mentally tasking concepts, Nolan’s auteurist flair will forever be ingrained in his process, regardless of how high he flies. The latest testament to this is “Oppenheimer,” Nolan’s sweeping three-hour war biopic.

Since its release in July, “Oppenheimer” has become the highest-grossing biopic of all time and the second highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. It’s safe to say that people love “Oppenheimer” and Nolan’s movies in general.

However, I’ve always thought that Nolan is often overrated, especially in the eyes of the public. While Nolan has a case to be one of this generation’s most established filmmakers, I’m not sure that automatically makes him one of the best. Of course, he has films that I deeply admire and would be willing to watch again and again, but he also has films that I completely detest or simply feel nothing towards. That being said, allow me to scale the depths of Christopher Nolan’s filmography in search of the good, the bad and all that lies in between, featuring heavy analysis on my top three.

12. “Tenet” (2020)

Messy, incoherent and chock-full of exposition, “Tenet” is Nolan’s most flavorless work.

11. “Batman Begins” (2005)

A corny and tedious introduction to the Batman trilogy, with Christian Bale’s Batman proving forgettable unless faced with a worthy opponent.

10. “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

Also corny and tedious, just to a lesser extent. A forgettable end to the trilogy.

9. “Following” (1998)

Although the blueprint for Nolan’s later projects, “Following” offers little to no engagement or lasting impression.

8. “Dunkirk” (2017)

A technical marvel that narratively falls short.

7. “Insomnia” (2002)

Although well-made, “Insomnia” barely offers a memorable plot or distinct cinematic style.

6. “Interstellar” (2014)

A beautiful space film that unfortunately commits too many of Nolan’s usual sins, whether it be by heavy exposition or bloated storylines.

5. “The Dark Knight” (2008)

Between its menacing cast of villains and its numerous iconic action sequences, “The Dark Knight” is genuinely one of the best comic book movies ever.

4. “Oppenheimer” (2023)

Nolan’s most self-reflective and philosophical film. “Oppenheimer” is deeply ingrained in the human condition and all that it fails to absolve.

3. “Memento” (2000)

I feel like ranking “Memento” third somewhat downplays its brilliance. It’s probably Nolan’s most well-made film, even if it isn’t his best, featuring both his greatest invention of structure and what is arguably his most shocking twist in a film.

The main reason I don’t rank “Memento” first is because it’s a difficult movie to stomach. Its reverse structure makes it Nolan’s most headache-inducing film, with it starting at the end of the protagonist’s timeline before working its way back to the beginning. Nolan uses this technique to place the audience in the mind of the protagonist, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a man who has severe anterograde amnesia, yet tries to solve a mystery in spite of that.

When this mystery is solved, we come to the same revelation as he does. Only unlike Shelby, we won’t forget about it. “Memento” is a film about life’s simple pleasures and how avoiding them can lead us to confront unwanted truths. It’s the project that put Nolan on the map, and for good reason.

2. “Inception” (2010)

Exposition-heavy as ever, but it doesn’t matter to me. “Inception” makes up for its excessive explaining and foreshadowing by being an absolute treat of a movie that fully commits itself to being as turbulent and mind-boggling as possible.

It’s a film about a group of thieves infiltrating the dreams of their targets, and while pulling off that concept is no easy task, Nolan makes it look effortless. From the dream sequences to the time variations to the visuals, “Inception” is simply a delightful watch — that is, if you aren’t still confused by its extensive conceptualization. Do I think that Nolan should’ve made the entire first half an essay on dream theory? No, but I do think that the second half of the film makes it all worthwhile.

The second half features Nolan at his most intense and breathtaking. The further our protagonist, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), sinks into the twilight dreamscape, the more the audience infiltrates his subconscious, discovering what truly plagues him. Starting out as an overly complicated espionage thriller, “Inception” evolves into something much more beautiful, earnest and downright gratifying.

1. “The Prestige” (2006)

“The Prestige” is so subtextually drowned in Nolan’s own journey as an artist that its protagonist’s bitterness feels autobiographical. A part of me thinks that Nolan uses the protagonist, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), as a way of conveying his own competitiveness when it comes to filmmaking. But perhaps it’s only his speculation of what happens when an artist goes too far. 

After all, art can be both meditative and self-destructive. Nolan acknowledges this throughout the film, whether it be from the audience’s reassuring applause or the town’s dark, brooding atmosphere. As a commentary on tortured artists, the film doesn’t miss a beat. But that’s not all, as the film also serves as a stage for one of Nolan’s own acts of wizardry.

The film is a magic trick in itself. Using on-screen misdirection, Nolan fools the audience in the same way that the antagonist, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), fools Angier throughout the film. Like a magic trick, “The Prestige” is simpler than originally thought, yet even more satisfying. It may not be Nolan’s biggest or flashiest venture, but it is certainly one of, if not his most, striking and thematically rich.

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