Look man. Summer is over. The kids are going back to packed, non-socially distanced classrooms. And finally, finally… it looks like the movies are coming back. Hell, I might even start writing about them again.
While it would be wrong to label Tenet any sort of triumph over the evils we face in this virus-ravaged, mask/science-denying, systemically racist world we’ve found ourselves undeniably trapped in, it is the first major new movie we’ve seen almost six months. The latest work of Christopher Nolan, one of the few directors left whose name alone is a box office draw, the theatrical release of Tenet may one day come to be seen as a turning point in how we live in our new, quarantined status quo. It may come to represent something more than just a movie . It could become something else entirely. There is a moment—
It is with the as-wide-as-it’s-going-to-get release of Tenet that I spark the engine, stoke the flames, and reignite the fire of this once great movie blog with… well, a ranked listicle. So without further ado, here’s my GOO Reviews list of Christopher Nolan movies from worst to best.
The first and only work-for-hire piece of Nolan’s directorial career, Insomnia feels like… a work-for-hire piece. Unlike all of his other feature-length works, Nolan holds neither a production or writing credit in the movie. He’s just the director of Insomnia. And it’s fine. Its star Al Pacino is good, not great, the story moves but it never really MOVES, and it’s, all-in-all, probably a little bit worse than the 1997 Norwegian version it’s based on. That one has nudity.
Batman Begins is a pretty good movie. But it really bugs me sometimes. It’s impressive as a dark reimagining of Batman as a movie property, it’s engaging as a realistic take on what Batman might be, and it’s easy to watch, but there are times it just feels kind of clumsy and certainly not as sure of itself as the Nolan Batman movies to follow. Read our Dark Knight retrospective >>
I like Interstellar quite a bit even if I don’t love where it ends up. I like the spirit of Interstellar, I like the hard science of it, and I like a lot, though not all of the sentimentality of it. It’s probably Nolan’s sloppiest movie though and kind of all over the place in terms of having a real, salient point. “Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends time and space”? Come on! What about hate? Or fear? Or any other emotion?
I mean, come on! Read our review >>
In storytelling and craft, in terms of pure filmmaking, Dunkirk is an absolute triumph. There’s not a thing I would change about it and I am often in awe of it when I think back on my first experience seeing it in theatres, but it’s the one Nolan movie that most leaves me behind simply because I’m not as invested in its subject matter as I am in what his other movies are about, and, other than Insomnia, it’s the Nolan movie I’ll likely have re-watched the least by the time I reach my life’s end. Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty grim way to think about it. Read our review >>
This is the turning point in this listicle, where I really have no issues or qualms about the Nolan movie in question. Memento is stunning and its narrative is an exceptional example of how exacting his movies are at their best. I mean, it’s a murder mystery about a man with no short-term memory told backwards. Any one of those things is a challenge, but all in one movie? And it’s his FIRST feature-length movie? That’s just too much. But I don’t like watching it as much as I do the movies to follow.
The Dark Knight Rises
Y’know what? Screw you! Screw all of you! Screw all of you for not liking The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight Rises is great. It might have holes in its plot and literal outcomes, but it’s a satisfying conclusion that makes the entire Dark Knight trilogy a piece of its own and it’s so good in selling its point about what superheroism can be in the real world that I never once fall out of love while watching it. Unlike that stupid Interstellar. Read our Dark Knight retrospective >>
The Prestige feels like a movie that’s constantly screwing with you. And that’s a good thing. Headlined by very different performances from the flamboyant Hugh Jackman and darkly brooding Christian Bale in their magical duel of ideals, you never quite know where The Prestige is going precisely because it plays with so many of our accepted conventions of storytelling and logic.
While Inception clearly marks the point in Christopher Nolan’s work where the director is really asking us as an audience to come along with him down the rabbit hole of far-out ideas, it’s a trip I’ll gladly take every time. It’s astonishing action is topped by its heady, dream-within-a-dream adventure, and even though it doesn’t always make sense or add up to a firm grounding and it’s really nowhere near as smart as it would like you to think it is, it’s laced with a heavy dose of emotionality and meaning, and it’s score is just stellar. I mean:
The Dark Knight
In some ways it almost feels reductive to express Nolan’s greatest film as merely a work of comicbook-based fiction, but, as a whole, I think The Dark Knight elevates both Batman as a comicbook property and Nolan as a filmmaker. Its performances are astounding, its direction is impeccable, its themes are meaningful, its meanings are deeply affecting, and, in the end, it simultaneously redefines and restores what we understand of the Batman mythos.
The subject of Christopher Nolan is one that can go any number of ways if only because the director, probably the biggest of our current age, makes big, bold decisions in forming the movies that he wants to make and that he wants us to see. Where one might appreciate the outsized bombast of his presentation and the sheer audacity of his ideas, another may decry his movies for being overly clinical, hard to understand, self-indulgent… and sometimes a little hard to hear.
What ultimately brings me back to his movies and what will continue to compel me to see them as soon as possible is the deep well of emotion at the deepest parts of the core of his works. Sometimes Nolan’s movies are thematically resonant and sometimes his movies wear their themes like badges on an overly complex coat covered in ideas that never quite coalesce, but they’re always ambitious, and I’ve always found a warmth at their centre that manages to shine through no matter how cold they might come across as at first.
Like Inception, all of Nolan’s movies are dream-like in their own way, their attributes and best qualities not always something easily communicated even when they contain dialogue very literally spelling out what’s happening (Cobb: “You create the world of the dream. You bring the subject into that dream and they fill it with their subconscious.” Ariadne: “Then you break in and steal it.”). And they always have ideas that stick, right in there somewhere, because of how fully formed they are even if not fully understood.
Oh, and I should have our Tenet review up next week. Or maybe the week after that. Or… maybe never. We’ll see if never ever comes.