We are a little less than three months away from a new Christopher Nolan movie. Well, that is unless the current global pandemic has its way. But let’s think positive. “Tenet” will be Nolan’s 11th feature film and easily my most anticipated movie of the year. Readers of this site probably know he is near the top when it comes to my favorite filmmakers. In fact (and this is a little crazy) his last FIVE MOVIES ended up being my favorite film for the year they came out!
So with “Tenet” (hopefully) only a few weeks away, I thought what better time than now to rank the ten movies Nolan has given us so far. Now it should be said, I don’t think Christopher Nolan has made a bad film. I like them all. But such is the nature of ranking so here we go.
#10 – “Following” Christopher Nolan’s debut film is still a movie many people don’t know anything about. The low budget crime thriller was made for a tiny $6,000 and has a lean 69 minute running time. “Following” is dripping with noir flavor and sports a crafty structure, something Nolan would employ in several of his later films. And shooting on black-and-white 16mm film stock was a great choice. Despite its many limitations, “Following” remains a great introduction to a phenomenal young filmmaker.
#9 – “Insomnia” This is one of the more unique films on Christopher Nolan’s resume. “Insomnia” is a movie that doesn’t tinker with time or have mind-bending special effects. It’s very much a riveting crime thriller driven by its characters, great direction, and a wonderful script. “Insomnia” has the distinct honor of being Nolan’s only film that he didn’t write or co-write. But you see his fingerprints all over the place. Still, despite great performances from big names like Al Pacino and Robin Williams, “Insomnia” is probably the mainstream Nolan film that gets overlooked the most.
#8 – “The Prestige” Think about it, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale playing dueling magicians in the late 1800’s. Then throw in David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. How can you not love that? Nolan’s period thriller features a fascinating script with as much sleight of hand as the illusionists use themselves. I’ve always loved “The Prestige” and it’s one of those movies that seems to get better with each fresh viewing. Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, and Andy Serkis are icing on the cake.
#7 – “Batman Begins” Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy kicked off with the appropriately titled “Batman Begins”. It was a genre film that immediately showed Nolan had something original up his sleeve. It’s dark, moody, and takes a more realistic approach. It was a gutsy movie simply because of its willingness to put much of its focus on Bruce Wayne and the psychology behind Batman. Ultimately Nolan took a familiar origin story and injected it with humanity and pathos all while capturing the essential superhero elements you look for in these movies.
#6 – “Memento” Christopher Nolan and Guy Pearce – one of my favorite filmmakers and one of my favorite actors. Any hesitations about either of these great talents should have died with “Memento”, a gripping neo-noir thriller that features one of Nolan’s most innovative story structures to date. It challenges viewers to stay locked in, leaving clues for us to ponder and puzzle pieces to fit together. It’s a masterclass in non-linear storytelling and the film is blessed with a game lead actor in Pearce who pulls it off brilliantly.
#5 – “The Dark Knight Rises” Nolan’s third and final installment to his Dark Knight trilogy is probably the most divisive, but I love its sprawling story, amazing set pieces, and perfect ending. Sure, Tom Hardy’s Bane isn’t nearly the villain as Ledger’s iconic Joker, but comparing the two is a bit unfair. Hardy brings a much different type of menace and it’s very effective. Nolan’s signatures can be seen from start to finish and the final ten minutes are some of the best in the entire trilogy.
#4 – “Interstellar” I still contend that Nolan’s ninth film “Interstellar” is his most underrated. There were several critics who criticized its length, its sentimentality, even the science behind its story. I still find it to be an audacious and thought-provoking experience with perhaps the strongest emotional pull of any Nolan movie. As the director himself said, it’s essentially a movie about human nature influenced by numerous sci-fi classics. Most of all it’s a unique slice of science-fiction, personal and spectacular.
#3 – “Dunkirk” The idea of Christopher Nolan doing a World War II film was exciting. The results turned out to be utterly mind-blowing. “Dunkirk” tells an inspirational true story of heroism and sacrifice within the structure of one of Nolan’s favorite devices – time. The story is told from three perspectives: land, sea, and air while focusing more on immersing the audience in the experience rather than spelling it out through dialogue. The performances are superb, the cinematography sublime, and the emotional punch at the end gets me every time.
#2 – “The Dark Knight” Leave it to Nolan to give us the best superhero movie ever made. Sure that’s a debatable claim, but for me it’s an easy case to make. “The Dark Knight” has everything you want from a superhero movie but it isn’t limited by its genre. It’s also a crime thriller and a neo-noir among other things. And of course there is Heath Ledger as the Joker, a truly unforgettable performance that sees him taking a well-known villain and giving a mesmerizing and fresh interpretation. It’s a key ingredient this visionary masterpiece.
#1 – “Inception” As much as I love the other films on this list, my favorite Christopher Nolan movie was never in question. “Inception” is firmly planted as one of my favorite movies of all-time. It’s essentially a heist film set within the subconscious, unfolding through a meticulously detailed narrative. It’s a film that highlights all of the things that make Nolan such a fascinating filmmaker. An incredible mix of visual and sound. A fascinating, mind-bending story. A cool genre blend anchored by a superb cast. For my money, it is his very best movie.
So now you have my rankings. What is your favorite Nolan movie? How would your list look? Let me know in the comments section below.￼