I don’t know what came over me to try to take on this topic. Christopher Nolan is my favorite director, and he hasn’t directed a bad movie. Ten films, all positive. So how do I pit some of my favorite films against each other? I’ll do my best. To make it clear, I’ll judge these films leaning on the quality instead of my favorites. Let’s go to work.
10. Following (1998)
Not to bash the movie, but Following is Nolan’s worst film. It’s really a testament to how good he is because this movie is pretty solid. Shot in black and white, Following is a neo-noir crime film where the main character enjoys (you guessed it) following people and sort of living through them. This eventually puts him in contact with a thief, which gets the movie going. It’s good, but it’s ultimately forgettable. Again, to his credit, Nolan funded the film out of his own pocket so Following is difficult to match up with his blockbusters to come.
9. Insomnia (2002)
A few things stick out about this movie as great. The late Robin Williams’ performance is chilling. Sometimes I forget how good Williams was as an actor, and this reminded me. Al Pacino and Hillary Swank also add to the solid cast. Also, the fog scene serves as the most iconic moment of the film and it’s spectacular. Nolan puts you in the tension beautifully. He also makes you feel Pacino’s insomnia. Again, very good film, but the fog scene is the one thing that puts the movie on another level. I find it difficult to remember much else about it.
8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This is the one that tore me apart. I love The Dark Knight Rises, and originally had it as high as No. 5 on my list. But when I thought about its quality, I slowly had to move it back to eighth. There are some problems with action sequences where Batman or Bane will throw a punch or a kick and clearly completely miss, but the opposition will act as though he took the hit. Logic goes out the window at points and Marion Cotillard’s death scene is some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen. That being said, The Dark Knight Rises has my favorite score of the franchise. The rise scene is incredible; Anne Hathaway is great at Catwoman; Tom Hardy is terrifying as Bane; Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails his part; and it is the most emotionally charged film of the franchise and succeeds. So I love it. But I have to acknowledge its problems.
7. Memento (2000)
Memento is not the first of its kind, but it’s truly innovative. It’s the only film I know, or at least the most notable movie, that is shot backward. We’ve seen out of sequence before, but Memento is the cream of the crop when it comes to starting the movie at the end and finishing the movie at the beginning. This murder mystery takes you backward through the mind of the main character who suffers from short-term memory loss. He can’t make new memories. The only thing he knows is he has the condition. Guy Pierce gives a stellar performance in the leading role, and Carrie-Anne Moss also shines. The only reason I have it so low is that I don’t like the payoff at the end, and because of that I don’t think it’s great for a second viewing. Some people may and that’s fine, because this movie’s a classic.
6. Batman Begins (2005)
This is the first Nolan movie I saw, and it’s probably that way for a lot of people. He succeeded with the insurmountable task of bringing Batman back from the dead. Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin left the franchise in a coma. Nolan had Christian Bale pick up the cape and cowl and rooted his Dark Knight into a gritty reality. I didn’t want to see this when it came out because of the previous installments, but Batman Begins blew me away with its quality. I left the theater with my jaw dropped. It kicked off one of the all-time great trilogies and helped breathe life into the comic book movie genre. Also, the Batman voice works best in this movie. The major flaw, Katie Holmes’ performance is just awful.
5. Interstellar (2014)
Nolan’s most divisive film, Interstellar, works for me. I’ve heard people’s problems with it and I disagree. The Oscar-winning visual effects are spectacular, and the cast is phenomenal, including great performances from Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy and Anne Hathaway as well as voice actor Bill Irwin. Nolan’s most emotionally powerful film perfectly blends science with science fiction. And every time I watch it, the docking scene blows me away. I only have an issue with not being able to hear some of the dialogue. Hans Zimmer’s score, which is amazing, does drown out the actors at times. But I think otherwise, Nolan hits the mark. He even allows you to get attached to a few robots. Seen as Nolan’s worst film by some, I think it’s one of his best. I buy the importance of love in the film because it puts the appropriate amount of time making the characters realize that love could serve as much relevance as science. Also, they don’t just jump to follow love instead of science. They follow science before realizing maybe loves could be the answer, which makes it much more realistic and best in the hands of Nolan than another incapable director.
4. Dunkirk (2017)
It may be a little too quick to put this film this high, but I do think it’s one of the greatest and most unique war movies put to screen. The cinematography is absolutely phenomenal. Everything looks realistic instead of showy, and Nolan respects those who fought in and were affected by the battle. There is a lack of character development, but that’s the point. It’s specifically about war. It’s not slowed down by a forced love triangle *cough* Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor *cough.* Recent Academy Award winner for his supporting role in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and newcomer Fionn Whitehead power the three storylines in the film. Also, when you watch the movie a second time, it provides a whole new experience as you can pick out more things from the knowledge you gained in the first viewing. My two nitpicks, again I struggled to hear some of the dialogue and, despite being mostly grounded in reality, there are just a couple unrealistic scenes. Although I’d probably rewatch some of his other films more often, this movie is better crafted.
3. The Prestige (2006)
At number three comes a great Nolan film that gets a bit lost in the shuffle. Although he just revitalized a comic book franchise with Batman Begins, Nolan didn’t truly reach the stratosphere until The Dark Knight. This was the film in the middle. Starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as rival magicians, The Prestige takes you on a while ride. It’s a lot more intense than I thought I would get. Their obsession to best the other magician drives them to dark places. Add Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and the late David Bowie to the mix and you’re in for a psychological thrill ride. You’ll definitely want to watch this one again to pick up on what you missed. I don’t want to say too much more to spoil anything because I’m thinking there’s a good chance you probably haven’t seen it. Trust me, it’s one of his best.
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
Probably number one on a lot of people’s lists, The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies of all time. Nominated for eight Academy Awards and winning two (including Heath Ledger’s best supporting actor victory), The Dark Knight changed the game … period. It wasn’t just the kickoff for how great a comic book movie could truly be, as it joined Iron Man in the summer of 2008 to ignite the possibilities for the franchises of today. It was also solely responsible for the Oscar format change from five to a possible 10 best picture nominations because it caused an uproar when it was not nominated. It forever cemented the comic book movie genre on the same level among the best films of the year. It’s not just a great comic book movie. It’s a great movie. The late, great Ledger obviously steals the film, but don’t discount another solid performance from Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, while Aaron Eckhart adds a good take on Harvey Dent/Two-Face. The score elevates from its predecessor. It’s all-around amazing. It has one flaw and that’s Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance. It’s only slightly better than Katie Holmes’ in Batman Begins. Other than that, it’s a top-10 film in my book. But so is number one…
1. Inception (2010)
Inception is an original idea where Nolan had to shoot for the stars, and he nailed it in every way. The ensemble cast shines with Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and, of course, Michael Caine. Inception earned eight Oscar nominations (including best picture), winning four (including best visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing and cinematography). Nolan brings the audience into a new world, taking the proper time to explain it without using out of place exposition. Once explained and the mission begins, this movie is nonstop excitement. The deeper he takes us into the dream worlds, the more tense the movie gets. Plus, he’s forced to balance four levels of dream worlds simultaneously and he doesn’t miss a beat. The attention to detail is remarkable. For instance, the score. Oh my God, the score. Arguably the best ever and robbed for best original score at the Oscars, losing to The Social Network, the score is iconic. So much so that I could type out “bwaaaaaahhhh” and you know what that means. Then you look deeper into the score and realize that it’s the kick song, “Non, je ne Regrette Rien,” by Edith Piaf slowed down because as the layers get deeper, time on that level increases. Hence, the song slows down to last longer. The bottom line, it’s one of the most original films I’ve seen that is an achievement in directing with one of the best scores I’ve ever heard. If I’m going to pick a movie to watch right now between The Dark Knight and Inception, it’ll be a coin toss. But Inception is the overall better film.
Catch my review of Dunkirk on today’s (Aug. 2) episode of The Bridge, where I make my debut with the movie-reviewing segment, “Five Minutes in the Film Room.”
The Bridge is broadcast as a one-hour radio show every Wednesday night at 7 ET on Sports Radio America. After the live broadcast, the show is released as a podcast on iTunes and at lundinbridge.com on Friday. You can listen to the live show every Wednesday on Sports Radio America here or through the TuneIn app.