It should come as no surprise to those that know me that I love Christopher Nolan; he’s among my favorite directors all time, if not my favorite. Today, is Nolan’s forty-third birthday and damn, it’s hard to believe he’s so young, but so brilliant. Since 1998, he has directed eight films. I am going to rank those eight films per my personal tastes.
8. Following (1998)
The first film he directed and was largely involved with, so as to keep it as inexpensive as possible. It’s shot in black and white with a definite noir vibe to it. Moreover, it has what would become one of the trademark themes of Nolan’s work: psychological duress. Nolan was just trying to find and establish his voice and style with this first film and it’s a laudable effort.
7. Insomnia (2002)
First off, what a wonderful cast: the almost-always great Al Pacino and the at-his-best-when-serious Robin Williams. Seriously, is there anyone more tailor-made for playing the part of an insomniac than Al Pacino? The dude always looks exhausted. Anyhow, this was one of the few unoriginal films of Nolan’s being a remake and all. That said, even though I have it at #7, I find this to be one of his most underrated and least talked about films. Once again, the film deals in the psychological and does so in a taut, intellectual way that creates well-crafted suspense.
6. Batman Begins (2005)
The first film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy is one for the ages, as it reexamines the mythos of Batman and brings him back to a far darker and more serious characterization than previously seen in cinema. In fact, as would become a commonality in the trilogy, the film feels like a real world crime film with certain grittiness rather than a straight superhero film. Bale gives a great performance, as I would expect, as the titular character. To be sure, the very creepy Cillian Murphy, as the Scarecrow, started the slew of great villains in the trilogy. Much in the same vein as Following, I feel like Nolan was just getting warmed up with his first take on Batman.
5. Memento (2000)
Well, this is getting hard. I feel dirty for placing this brilliant film at a measly fifth place. I remember when I first saw this movie with its nonlinear – in fact, backwards – series of events juxtaposed between black and white and color; I finished it, picked my jaw back up off the floor and then watched it again. It was the first time I had ever watched a film twice back-to-back; I was that blown away. And for the longest time thereafter, the film remained as my #1 film of all time. Not just my #1 Christopher Nolan film, but my #1 film ever. I guess that demonstrates just how great the rest of the films on this list are…
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I very easily could put this film at #1 on a different day. In fact, I could say that about the rest of the films on this list, as this gets increasingly more difficult to order. The last film in Nolan’s trilogy is awesome; Thomas Hardy brings his A-game with a sophisticatedly frightening Bane, but what makes this film for me is Christian Bale. I feel he finally hit his stride in utter perfection as the Batman/Bruce Wayne characters. I will always argue that he ought to have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance. Plus, the action was kick-ass, the emotion at its best in the trilogy and overall, the story was probably the strongest of the series.
3. Inception (2010)
Nolan’s original film, which he reportedly had in the works for over a decade and was able to do in-between his Batman trilogy due to its success, is imagination at the peak of what it can be when brought to bear with the scale of cinema. Add in the always-awesome Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and others, and you had the trappings of a great film. He showed that you could have a blockbuster size film that made you think and damn, he sure did with that ending, which had everyone talking and debating for months thereafter. And let’s not forget, Zimmerman provides one of the best scores ever for a blockbuster film; it’s an instant classic.
1. The Prestige (2006) and The Dark Knight (2008)
Is this soccer now? Am I allowed to have a tie? I simply cannot decide between these two brilliant films. On one hand, you had the phenomenal interplay between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige with magic, twists, intellect, suspense and emotion all thrown in together to make for one of the best films I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, you have Nolan hitting his stride and then some with The Dark Knight. For me, it’s a perfect film from start to finish and absolutely gorgeous to look at. Moreover, it’s elevated even further by one of the greatest performances in modern cinema, as Heath Ledger absolutely owns the Joker character in every sense of the word.
Fun fact: Among the films he’s directed, The Prestige is his worst reviewed film on Rottentomatoes with a 76% and The Dark Knight is his best reviewed film on Rottentomatoes with a 94%.
Bonus fun fact: There’s about $145 million in difference between TDK’s budget and The Prestige’s. And to be fair, that’s warranted, as TDK made about $895 million more dollars than the latter.
There’s just no way to decide between these films. Sorry, Christopher, on this day, your birthday, I offer you a tie for first.