Christopher Nolan has become one of the most critically acclaimed directors not only in modern cinema, but in film history. Despite not quite receiving the same commercial fame as directors such as Spielberg – perhaps due to the lack of lucrative characters such as sharks, aliens and dinosaurs in his features – the British film-maker is without a doubt in the top tier of screen auteurs, but in the grand scheme of things, his career has hardly started.
With only ten cinematic releases under his belt, Nolan has got a long and undoubtedly increasingly successful career ahead of him, yet here are his 5 most impressive works to date…
5. Insomnia (2002)
Nolan’s third film, Insomnia is a tale of guilt, deception, and tragedy. Starring Al Pacino as homicide detective Dormer and Martin Donovan as his partner, Eckhart, the film follows the pair’s investigation into the murder of a teenage girl in a remote Alaskan town where the sun never sets. Not your typical Nolan movie, Insomnia is void of fantasy or head scratching twists. Instead, the film’s true power lies in the relationship between Al Pacino’s protagonist and Robin Williams’ crime writer-cum-serial killer.
4. Dunkirk (2017)
Currently showing in cinemas, Dunkirk slides effortlessly into the director’s top 5. It is a gripping and visually remarkable depiction of the Miracle of Dunkirk in World War II. Nolan regulars Tom Hardy and Cilian Murphy are joined by Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh in a cast which is surprisingly side-lined by a stunning performance from debutant Fionn Whitehead as the film’s ‘hero’: Tommy.
You will find your heart racing as Hardy’s spitfire pilot fends off Nazi bombers, and Allied troops duck for cover under fire from incoming shells from the skies. Possibly the best looking and sounding Nolan film to date, even if the Best Picture award at the 2018 Academy Awards eludes Dunkirk, it will surely claim Best Cinematography and Sound.
3. The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige is spearheaded by a fantastic cast of Hugh Jackman, Nolan’s then-newly-chosen Batman Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine, not to mention the late David Bowie. It marked Nolan’s true emergence onto the Hollywood scene.
Stripped down, it is a story of two rival magicians caught in a vicious rivalry, willing to do anything to best the other, resulting in terrible and sometimes fatal consequences. Possessing probably the biggest of Nolan’s cinematic twists, The Prestige is truly spectacular, and is one of those films that seems to get better every time you watch it.
2. Inception (2010)
Inception’s lead is Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays a corporate spy. His role as ‘extractor’ involves entering people’s dreams and discovering information for his clients. However, when offered the opportunity to leave this life behind him, he must find a way to achieve ‘inception’ – the planting of an idea in someone’s mind through a dream, in a way which will lead the subject to believe the idea is their own. How Nolan came up with the idea for this film I will never know.
Doubtlessly one of the most truly original films ever made, Inception is a cinematic masterpiece. It proved that a film can have a colossal budget yet still essentially have the values and artistic creativity as an independent production. Not only this, but just because a movie has long action set pieces in, it does not mean it has to be brainless and purely for eye candy. Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, take note.
1. Memento (2000)
It really was too close to call between Memento and Inception, but the former just about clinched it. A very minimal cast is led by Guy Pearce’s Leonard, who, due to an accident, has severe ‘anterograde amnesia’ – the inability to create new memories. In order to get through his days, he relies on tattoos and hastily annotated polaroids to help him keep track of his actions, yet amongst the wrong crowd, his system could become dangerously unreliable. However, it is Nolan’s complete reshaping of traditional film narrative which makes Memento one of a kind.
Momento is often mistakenly described as Nolan’s debut film – his 1998 crime drama Following was in fact his first cinematic release. It alternates between colour scenes at the end, and black and white scenes at the beginning of the film’s narrative arc, resulting in the film’s climax occurring in the middle of the story’s chronological events. If you think this description is confusing enough, wait until you start watching the movie. However, akin to Inception, once you’ve got your head round the concept, Memento is an absolutely fantastic film – a gem which Nolan has yet to top.