Four Em­pire writ­ers defini­tively rank Christo­pher Nolan’s fil­mog­ra­phy

Empire (Australasia) - - Contents -

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

Chris Nolan?

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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