As the days grow ever-so closer to the arrival of The Dark Knight Rises; arguably the most anticipated film of this decade, let alone year, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to rate every picture in Christopher Nolan's back catalogue. Early word from the US and now the UK regarding TDKR has been incredibly positive - pretty much 5 stars across the board bar one or two 4 star verdicts so everything on that front is dandy. Anyway, onto the list.
Perhaps unbeknown by some, Following was not just Nolan's début feature, but also the DNA for his later work Inception. Characters share names, intrinsic ideas are presented and although clearly on a much smaller scale, themes and processes are mirrored. Following is a perfect example of brains meeting high-art; it offers the intuition and imagination of a complex novella aided with controlled craftsmanship. Sure it's not a dizzying spectacle, it's an art-house movie, but it's a fine starting point for Nolan's career.
Featuring a searing performance from Guy Pearce and a plot so complicated and delicately formulated, Memento was the movie that made audiences pay attention to Nolan. This reversal art-house crime thriller carries untold aces up it's tattooed sleeves making it often head-scratching, emotionally engaging and constantly surprising. Memento is directed with sheer precision, scored with true beauty and handled by weighted and believable screen portrayals. It may be Nolan's last true art movie but it's a masterpiece in whatever genre spectators choose to place it in.
To call Insomnia a bad film would be an appalling lie, it's actually a very good and competent feature but it's arguably the weakest entry in Nolan's Hollywood filmography ballot. This lingering and unsettled murder mystery is a cold and calculated affair but it lacks the experimentation and freedom we have become used to with Nolan's direction - perhaps this is due to the screenplay which is adapted from a 1997 novel. Insomnia is an engrossing and often disturbing drama captured with visceral, chilly beauty and performed with sheer dominance by Robin Williams, Al Pacino and Hilary Swank but underneath it all, the film never really feels like Nolan's; it lacks his signature stamp and consequently has difficulty adding to anything he's already achieved.
Batman Begins (2005)
Taking hold of a franchise that was fundamentally murdered by it's previous outings (go fuck yourself Batman and Robin) was an extremely brave and audacious thing for a director to do, particularly one famed for playing with the audience's intelligence and interest. Nolan's first outing for Bruce Wayne/Batman put any issues or doubts to bed within the opening 15 minutes; this was not the Batman people were used to - the cheesy dialogue had gone, the cartoon-style action striped, the painful over-acting obliterated, Nolan's Batman really had begun and had been reborn in the ashes of it's past.
Batman Begins is a bleak, claustrophobic and menacing crime caper tied up in a superhero narrative. It has the brains of his art-house works, the visual flair expected of a Hollywood blockbuster and a screenplay as engrossing and believable like a high-brow cop picture. Christian Bale's Batman is a gruff, no-nonsense type grounded by society and reality and he thrives in the misty, unsettled playground that is Gotham City. Batman Begins is an incredible film, no question.
The Prestige (2006)
Nolan's next move was a go at a period mystery set in Nineteenth Century London and he decided to keep Christian Bale in front of his camera - good move. The Prestige is an impossibly twisty picture that plays out like an illusion; a rather fitting exposition for a film about magic. Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine all provide fantastic performances in this glossy, showy affair that still retains the signature intelligence we expect from Nolan and the complimenting pitch-perfect direction. The film looks the part; the sets, costume design, décor and lighting are undeniably sumptuous and aid the transportation back in time tremendously. The Prestige is a fantastic movie and another tick on Nolan's check-list.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Without a doubt, the film that defined comic books movies and showed audiences that they are not just for kids and geeks. The Dark Knight is an blackened, bruised and filthy Film Noir laden with plot-twists, untrustworthy characters and simply dazzling set pieces. It's a bold and beautiful crime epic that happens to be within the world of Batman - it's tones and themes are adult, it's political and social commentaries are frighteningly accurate and Nolan's ability to shift between genre and filmic processes makes for constantly exciting and riveting viewing.
Most will recall the late Heath Ledger's incredible performance as The Joker when thinking of The Dark Knight but the film has so much more to offer than that single performance. Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent/Two-Face is a revelation and Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon provides some of the film's most profoundly moving and compelling moments. Nolan's direction is simply astonishing here, as is Hans Zimmer's score and Wally Pfister's moon-soaked cinematography. The Dark Knight is a cultural, cinematic and metaphoric phenomena that will continue to dazzle and mind-blow audiences for years to come. Comic book movies don't get better than this.
By now on our tour through Nolan's previous films, we know that he can get great performances out of his actors and there is simply no better example of this than Inception which has the best use of an ensemble cast for years and years. Every single character has a point, a focus and a motive; every single detail is rendered and displayed with sheer velocity and presence. This is an incredible actor's film no doubt, but that is just one tiny portion of the cinematic labyrinth Nolan invites you into.
Inception is Nolan's most personal work; it's a film he wanted to make for many years and only because of the wild success of The Dark Knight was his dream (excuse the pun) made a reality. If there is one thing this movie proves it's that Hollywood doesn't have to be stupid, that audiences enjoy being challenged and stimulated by their cinema trips, that story, character and style are things that can be handled and distributed equally. For my money, Inception is Nolan's true masterpiece; it's the film that presents him as a filmmaker, as an auteur and as a man. It offers the passion, dedication and focus that he has worked into his career and screens it all with such beauty, intelligence and power.
In my opinion, there has yet to have been a better film released since Inception arrived two years ago - it's a Hollywood landmark, a cinematic milestone and a quintessentially perfect film. It's one of my all-time favourite features.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
It's going to be amazing isn't it?