FILM::Ranking Christopher Nolan


Everyone loves Christopher Nolan these days – even Wired magazine, who invited Nolan to guest edit their latest issue. I’ve been a fan since his early work, starting with Memento. (Never saw Following. Will eventually get around to it.) I’m of the opinion that he could be this generation’s Martin Scorsese, but maybe I am exaggerating a bit. Still has a little ways to go, probably, but is well on his way to that stature.

Since I love his work, love film, and like ranking things (and I just saw Interstellar), I decided to rank his directorial work in order of what I liked the best. I’ve included the Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB and Metacritic scores for each as well, for comparison.

Since I have yet to see Following, I’ll go ahead and list it in “honorable mention” as not to rank something I’ve not seen. I did not include “Doodlebug,” as it was a short film.

Honorable Mention: Following (RT – 78%; IMDB – 7.6; Meta – 60)
General Plot: A young writer who follows strangers for material meets a thief who takes him under his wing.

Now, on to the rankings…

8. The Prestige (RT – 76%; IMDB – 8.5; Meta – 66)
General plot: Two stage magicians engage in competitive one-upmanship in an attempt to create the ultimate stage illusion.

Things I liked: The casting was great. Loved Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rivals. Never can go wrong with Scarlett Johansson, in my opinion.

Things I didn’t like: Being last on a list of movies by Christopher Nolan isn’t much to be ashamed about. The Prestige was a fine film, but there were a few issues with it for me:

  • A side plot about Nikola Tesla, while ambitious, seemed a little forced. Kudos for casting David Bowie, however.
  • There were really no likeable characters for me. No one to root for. Everyone to root against. Just a couple of petty magicians driven by ego, fame and fortune.
  • Magic fatigue – it had the misfortune of opening the same year as The Illusionist, which I found to be far more enjoyable.

7. Interstellar (RT – 73%; IMDB – 8.9; Meta – 74)
General plot: A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity.

Things I liked: Compelling storyline – notion of Earth eating itself into oblivion resonates without feeling too preachy. The excruciating attempt to be as scientifically accurate as possible with the theory of relativity. Space effects that rival those of Gravity. Strong performance by Mackenzie Foy, rivaling that of Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. 2001: A Space Odyssey feel. Really enjoyed TARS. Good Nolan-esque twist.

Things I didn’t like:  Dragged in places. Tried to take on too many sub-plots at once. Was a bit long at 169 minutes, but didn’t feel that way. However, felt too short to cover the intricacies of the science and physics of relativity, black holes, etc. Biggest gripe, however? Way too cheerful of an ending for the subject matter and the sheer improbability of all the events that transpired before the ending, not to mention the ending itself made “suspending disbelief” a little difficult. I actually rolled my eyes at the end.

6. Insomnia (RT – 92%; IMDB – 7.2; Meta – 78)
General plot: Two Los Angeles homicide detectives are dispatched to a northern town where the sun doesn’t set to investigate the methodical murder of a local teen.

Things I liked: Again, impeccable casting with Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hillary Swank. Williams does a really good job with creepy murder-y types (similarly to One Hour Photo). Nolan is great at building suspense, and the notion of not being able to sleep because of the seemingly endless daylight in Alaska really adds to the overall madness of the story. Loved the cinematography and overall setting of Alaska.

Things I didn’t like: Not a whole lot to dislike. Perhaps a little slow in parts, but never plodding.

5. Memento (RT – 92%; IMDB – 8.5; Meta – 80)
General plot: A man creates a strange system to help him remember things; so he can hunt for the murderer of his wife without his short-term memory loss being an obstacle.

Things I liked: It’s hard to tell if the consistently good acting performances in Nolan films is a result of casting, the actors or Nolan’s direction. Probably a combination of the three. But Guy Pearce and Matrix alums Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano carry this circular story. Tense and gripping.

Things I didn’t like: Was a bit jarring at times, due to the time sequencing. While you felt like a man who was truly afflicted by a short term memory disorder, it wasn’t always good for keeping up with the continuity. But when you watch it a few times, the pieces fall in a little better and the movie gets stronger each time.

4. Batman Begins (RT – 85%; IMDB – 8.3; Meta – 70)
General plot: After training with his mentor, Batman begins his war on crime to free the crime-ridden Gotham City from corruption that the Scarecrow and the League of Shadows have cast upon it.

Disclaimer: I’m a superhero geek. That’s why the Nolan Batman trilogy rates so high for me, even if the overall critic scores don’t line up.

Things I liked: Restored credibility to the Batman franchise (and honestly, DC Comics). Recaptured the darkness that makes the Batman folklore so much more gripping than most in the superhero genre. Brought a breath of fresh air to the Batman origin story. Didn’t start out with the obvious Joker villain, but instead brought previously unseen-in-movies villains in Scarecrow and R’as al Ghul. Loved the back story of how Batman *really* became Batman (not just parents being killed/seeing some bats) via training with the League of Shadows.

Things I didn’t like: Was not a huge fan of Gary Oldman as Gordon, but thought he did a passable job and ultimately grew on me.

3. The Dark Knight (RT – 94%; IMDB – 9.0; Meta – 82)
General plot: When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the caped crusader must come to terms with one of the greatest psychological tests of his ability to fight injustice.

Things I liked: One of the strongest opening scenes I’ve witnessed in a film. Heath Ledger was impeccable as the Joker; best portrayal of the character to date. Great screenwriting. Really captures the essence of just how corrupt Gotham City really is. Awesome stunt work.

Things I didn’t like:  I’m in the minority with this one; I found it to be the 2nd best of the trilogy. In fact, I kind of felt like the movie was a bit over-hyped simply because of the Joker. I wasn’t a huge fan of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face; felt he was a bit flat. Also, liked Katie Holmes as Rachel better than Maggie Gyllenhall. Departure from the League of Shadows storyline.

2. The Dark Knight Rises (RT – 88%; IMDB – 8.6; Meta – 78)
General plot: When Bane, a former member of the League of Shadows, plans to continue the work of Ra’s al Ghul, the Dark Knight is forced to return after an eight year absence to stop him.

Things I liked: The grittiest one in the trilogy, IMO. Bruce Wayne is older, beaten up, nearly broken. Batman is proven mortal. Tom Hardy‘s Bane as a villain is just as strong as the Joker, but not as well known, and is portrayed WAY better than the Joel Schumacher atrocity Batman & Robin. Anne Hathaway makes a great Catwoman and Marion Cotillard was outstanding as Talia al Ghul. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great as Blake. Pulled off what other films try but fail at – bringing multiple villains into a movie but not feeling forced. I think what I liked best was how honest and accurate the Knightfall: Broken Bat storyline was while fitting into the overall storyline from the first film.

Things I didn’t like:  Like most, I didn’t like the “wink” ending. Would have preferred there to be some question as to what happened to Bruce Wayne in a more subtle fashion. Also didn’t like the Robin tease without any real follow through.

1. Inception (RT – 86%; IMDB – 8.8; Meta – 74)
General plot: A thief who steals corporate secrets through use of dream-sharing technology is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO.

Things I liked: Really enjoyed the concept of being able to transport into the mind to plant ideas and the dangers that presents. The notion of a totem as the anchor into reality was also brilliant. Ended exactly how I want most movies to end – with a question, rather than a statement. Great visuals, superb acting. Long at 148 minutes, but never felt long.

Things I didn’t like:  Was very “big” – needed a few viewings to really “get it.” But other than that, I enjoyed it more than everything else Nolan has done thus far.

That’s my list. What do you rank Nolan’s films?

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