THE RANKING: CHRISTOPHER NOLAN
Four Empire writers definitively rank Christopher Nolan’s filmography
A new regular, with Empire arguing about which Chris Nolan film is the best. Alan Partridge won’t like the answer.
Chris: When did we first discover
Dan: I’m an early adopter. I was in with Memento. I saw Following later.
Jonathan: When everyone else came to Christopher Nolan, then, so just an adopter.
Dan: For a lot of people, it wasn’t until Batman Begins.
Chris: I started with Dunkirk and worked backwards to Memento.
Dan: Immediately I was hugely impressed with the way he assumed his audience was intelligent. I was flattered. He doesn’t pander. He doesn’t talk down. He lets you keep up with him. Memento, you just had to sit up and pay attention throughout that film. Fast forward a few years and he’s doing the same thing, but in blockbusters.
James: It’s lean-forward filmmaking. He has no interest in catering to the lowest common denominator. He wants everyone to aspire to the level he operates on.
Chris: But the best Chris Nolan film is The Dark Knight, right?
Jonathan: It’s quite good. The best one is clearly, clearly, clearly Inception.
James: You know how much it upsets me to agree with Jonny on anything. On this particular occasion he is correct. He has incepted me. Inception is—
Chris: It’s not even the best Chris
Nolan film starring Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy.
James: Shut up. It’s almost perfect. It’s the most magnificent film. The layers, the intelligence, the nuances — it’s extraordinary. And then you have the performances, the effects, the visuals, which are all groundbreaking. Jonathan: He does diverging timelines so much better in Inception than he does in Dunkirk. Chris: Nolan often gets criticised for being quite cold and sterile as a filmmaker. The strand about Leo’s dead wife didn’t click with me. I didn’t feel there was real heart there.
James: There is a clinical coolness to Inception, but any sense that he’s a replicant and not a human is undone by Interstellar, which has so much heart to it. Dan: Both have at the heart of the story a father who is far away from his kids and feeling really bad about it.
Chris: Is that perhaps down to a filmmaker’s guilt?
Dan: Possibly. Going off on long film shoots and not seeing as much of his children is something that must seep into the films.
James: In Interstellar that comes across much more. It’s raw and completely unrestrained. The recording Matthew Mcconaughey views when he comes back from the planet is just devastating.
Chris: For me, when he strives for real emotion he falls slightly short, which is why Dunkirk fascinated me. It’s the only Chris Nolan film that has properly moved me and I don’t think he strives for it.
Dan: I get frustrated by people churning out that it’s watchmaker cinema, and he’s got no heart. Look at Memento — there’s a heartbreaking scene in that where Guy Pearce tricks himself into thinking everything’s fine by putting things out that belong to his dead wife, and hiring a prostitute to do the routine his wife did, so when he wakes up in bed, just for a few moments he thinks everything is fine. It encapsulates everything great he does. Chris: Are we all putting Following at the bottom of the list? Dan: No-one would disagree that it should be tenth on this list. But this is another thing about Nolan. None of these films are bad.
James: Well, I would say Interstellar is a Marmite movie. It is a flawed film in
a way Inception isn’t.
Chris: Can we get back to The Dark Knight, then?
Dan: It has not defined what superhero cinema has become, which really surprises me. What it did do is take superhero cinema seriously, and make Batman a crime thriller.
Jonathan: That’s because technically he’s not a superhero, he doesn’t have powers, so you can have a more realistic take. All of it has a grounding in reality. Even Iron Man doesn’t really have that.
James: The Dark Knight is a crime thriller, rather than a pure superhero movie. The heist sequence is magnificent. And Heath Ledger’s Joker is a sight to behold. Without him, where does it stand?
Chris: It’s also got amazing set-pieces.
And actual twists. Nolan is one of the few filmmakers, and he hasn’t been tarnished with this in the way Shyamalan has, who is brilliant at twists. The twist in Batman Begins, when Liam Neeson reveals himself as Ra’s Al Ghul, I did not see coming. For that to happen in a major blockbuster is rare. The Dark Knight has several — “Gordon’s alive!” Memento and The Prestige are built on twists.
Dan: I love The Prestige. It annoyed some people. A lot of people thought it was a cheat because it’s a film about stage magicians and a secret, and then the
Hugh Jackman side of the story is science-fiction. It was always a sciencefiction film, Nolan just didn’t tell us.
Chris: We haven’t really talked Interstellar. James: I famously gave it five stars.
Chris: ‘Famously’. Yeah, I had to stop people talking about it on the tube this morning.
Jonathan: It’s so obvious who’s moving the books that it takes away any drama. It’s patently clear that it’s Mcconaughey in the future.
James: Never crossed my mind. It’s about what you accept as the rules. It never occurred to me that time travel was going to be a part of the narrative. Chris: I was hoping that he was really going to push the envelope visually, and instead we get a rock planet, a water planet and an ice planet.
James: What are you talking about?
Dan: It’s a beautiful film!
Jonathan: That water planet is great. Chris: It’s no Pandora, is it?
Dan: That’s the best reason to watch Interstellar, that it’s visually amazing. His films continue to have a visual identity and richness to them that marks them out from everything else out there.
Chris: Enough squabbling. Let’s vote!
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