Each new Christopher Nolan film appears to push him higher and higher amongst Hollywood elites.
The ascent continues.
His most recent movie, a harrowing tale of survival during the British evacuation of Dunkirk, France in 1940, received critical acclaim and won last weekend’s box office.
It is Nolan’s first film since 2014’s “Interstellar,” which took in nearly $700 million at the box office and featured A-listers like Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine.
Needless to say, Nolan’s win streak continues with “Dunkirk,” similarly fronted by a top-notch ensemble cast (Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles and Cillian Murphy).
Early predictions put Nolan in the Best Directors category at next year’s Oscars, along with the film itself entering for Best Picture — typically a rare feat for a midsummer release. Remember, awards-season darlings typically emerge in November and December.
However, if anyone has enough staying power, it’s Nolan. The director, who is turning 47 this weekend, frequently grapples with difficult existential questions and themes in his films. Somehow, these threads show up in thrilling fashion — typically in dark, fast-paced settings.
So, as fans celebrate his birthday and the resonance of “Dunkirk,” let’s rank Nolan’s films:
1. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Often considered the best superhero movie of all time, Nolan’s 2008 film featuring the late Heath Ledger (in an Oscar-winning performance) took in over $1 billion at the box office. Ledger’s Joker is unique, memorable and wholly convincing. Outside of him, though, Christian Bale’s Batman is perfectly flawed, but not as overtly grumpy as Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne (which deserves credit, too). Nevertheless, “The Dark Knight” will enter film canon as one of the best movies of the early 21st century.
2. “Inception” (2010)
Seven years after its release, there are still people who get lost in the labyrinthine maze that is “Inception,” which bends and skews time — and sends in dream stealers to alter the path of those in the dream state. Confusing? Well, just enough for the film to earn over $825 million at the box office. Just think, that is a stellar feat for a film that is not a sequel or reboot. Leonardo DiCaprio channels “Dom” Cobb perfectly, while audiences get truly introduced to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. The rest of the cast is equally as “stellar.” Speaking of which…
3. “Interstellar” (2014)
The epic sci-fi film has to enter near the top of this list if only for the impressive scope and forethought. The Nolan brothers showed extreme writing chops with “Interstellar,” which like “Inception,” can be difficult, conceptually. But the impressive pace, beautiful frames and believable acting make the movie one which should certainly be screened by any sci-fi fan — just be willing to set aside nearly three hours.
4. “Dunkirk” (2017)
We’ve already described the movie’s strong suits — from Sir Kenneth Branagh to Hardy (who, unsurprisingly, has his face covered again) to Hoyte van Hoytema’s potentially award-winning cinematography. It’s a winning equation for Nolan, who delved into reality (albeit historical) for the first time in quite a while.
5. “The Prestige” (2006)
Nolan’s 1890s-set mystery thriller again features Bale, along with Hugh Jackman, Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson and, surprisingly, David Bowie. Also, Cesar/Supreme Leader Snoke, Andy Serkis, appears in the film! What’s more, the cinematography from Wally Pfister is astounding. If you adore the “Penny Dreadful”-type story/tone, sans the literary monsters, then “The Prestige” is a must-see. The story deals with rival magicians who look to one-up each other. It’s difficult to place “Prestige” in the middle of the pack, as it deserves better, but it’s hard to compare to the monstrous production values in Nolan’s blockbusters.
6. “Memento” (2000)
“Memento” is such a unique film — it also helped Nolan get noticed in the industry. It also introduces moviegoers to the director’s incomparable writing and directing style. Everything tampers with time, or questions the very notion of it. “Memento,” led by Guy Pearce and featuring Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano, has two timelines — one in color and the other in black and white. Pearce stars as a man with short-term memory loss who tries to find the people responsible for attacking him and killing his wife.
7. “Insomnia” (2002)
“Insomnia” pits two screen giants against one another: Al Pacino and Robin Williams (in a serious role). It’s a remake of a Norwegian film which was released five years prior, but Nolan’s take is certainly commendable. The story also grapples with Detective Will Dormer’s (Pacino) orientation to time and memory as he tries to find a killer in an illuminated Alaskan setting. Williams’ complex and haunting character is superb — and the success translated to the box office ($113.7 million off a $47 million budget).
8. “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
It’s almost a crime to place this movie so low, considering its overwhelming success and subtle moments of perfection (think of that end sequence!). So, to be clear, “The Dark Knight Rises” is still a terrific movie. It’s the final crusade for Bale’s Batman, as he’s pitted against, perhaps, his toughest opponent yet, Bane (Hardy). He’s also joined by a promiscuous Selina Kyle/Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway. Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth takes the trophy here, though, with a fantastic supporting role.
9. “Batman Begins” (2005)
“Batman Begins” was Nolan’s first foray into the superhero realm, and the darkness and depth he brings is certainly worth note. “Batman Begins” stars Caine and Liam Neeson (as Ra’s al Ghul), along with Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (she’s replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in “The Dark Knight”). Parts of this film still resonate today — particularly a conflagration and Batman’s cave-centered origin. This installment hauled in nearly $375 million at the box office.
10. “Following” (1998)
The neo-noir crime drama is Nolan’s relatively unknown project, for it came long before he was practically granted creative freedom with Warner Bros. Nevertheless, the film, about a young man who follows strangers and enters London’s underground, received positive reviews from critics. The film was made with remarkably little resources and also featured Nolan’s uncle, John, as “The Policeman.” The Nolan brothers’ uncle, now 79, who appeared in 27 episodes of the in-family “Person of Interest,” has also shown up in many other Nolan films (even “Dunkirk!”).
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