Christopher Nolan is arguably the most exciting director working in Hollywood today. Combining blockbuster ideas with art house sensibilities, his relatively short career so far has seen him create one of the best films of the 2000s and the 2010s (to date), finally given an iconic superhero three films worthy of its name, and catapult stars like Christian Bale and Joseph Gordon-Levitt into the elite of the acting profession. Not to mention that, despite vain attempts at nitpicking in some circles, Nolan has not made a bad – or even average – film yet.
8. Insomnia (2002)
The ‘worst film’ only because it is ordinary compared to the others. Al Pacino suitably mumbles his way through investigating the murder of a young girl, battling the beautiful yet unforgiving Alaskan landscape, and dealing with the guilt of accidentally killing his untrustworthy partner. Insomnia plays out like a 9pm ITV crime drama, except this is really good.
7. Following (1998)
Made on less money than what a footballer earns per day, Following is the foundation of Nolan’s brand of mind-bending cinema. A young man (Jeremy Theobold) stalks people to get inspiration for a novel until he is confronted by one of his subjects, Cobb (Alex Haw). What follows is a story of murder, robbery, introspection, and about a bazillion twists. This black and white film is admirable for stuffing three-hours of plot into its sixty-nine minute runtime without the story suffering.
6. The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige is perhaps the oddest film on the list. Two warring magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale), driven by their egos, first attempt bloodshed on each other before playing around with scientific and supernatural forces in the quest of being ‘the best’. The film refuses to let go of your attention throughout its two and a half hour runtime, even if the perplexing ending induces more disappointment than wonderment. And to think, none of this would have happened if Bale’s character knew how to properly tie a rope.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger’s film in more ways than one. His creepy, slimy performance as The Joker, while it would not have won awards if the circumstances were different due to the ‘superhero film’ tag, is iconic and deserves the accolades. Yet this is the red-headed stepchild; a film of pure chaos that is disconnected from everything else in the trilogy because of Ledger’s untimely death. The Dark Knight is great despite that boat scene, followed by the unsatisfying, end-of-part-one confrontation between Batman and The Joker they could not possibly conclude in Rises.
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The self-proclaimed war film wraps the Batman trilogy up with aplomb. Nolan’s amassed cast give incredible performances, from Christian Bale’s old and broken down Batman, to Anne Hathaway’s seductive Catwoman, and Tom Hardy’s downright scary Bane. But Michael Caine’s Alfred shines through the most, anchoring three hours of intense action with the darkness and mourning he threatened would come throughout Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. When your misty-eyes are not blocking the view, you can see how Rises lives up to the ludicrous amount of hype and assures the series goes down as one of the better trilogies in film history.
3. Batman Begins (2005)
A biographical film that happens to be about Batman. This is the antithesis of the Transformers/Iron Man format of: unquestionable good guy farts about with unquestionable bad guy until their pay-per-view cage match style showdown. Batman is the first on-screen superhero whose weaknesses are not skin-deep. He is driven by an uncontrollable streak of selfishness and hatred, and is only kept from going off the rails (literally at one point) by the people guiding him, good and bad. It makes for a complex and captivating character study; a far cry from George Clooney and his rubber nipple suit.
2. Memento (2000)
Is this one of the best films of the 2000s? Given how well Memento works played forwards/backwards as it does backwards/forwards, the case is very strong. Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a sufferer of anterograde amnesia who figures out and kills the man he believes raped and murdered his wife. This is a ‘whydunnit’ neo-noir, recounting various people, Polaroids, and tattoos that brought him to this moment. While the amount of overlapping footage may risk this becoming a dogged, repetitive film, Nolan is masterful in creating a structure which makes the audience forget enough short-term details, like Shelby, that they require repeat viewings to put the dots together.
1. Inception (2010)
With Inception, Christopher Nolan proved you can make a $160 million art house film and earn back a substantial profit. It proved that cinemagoers are not just content with lapping up the latest batch of Pirates of the Caribbean swill. And while the intelligence required to ‘get’ this blockbuster has been overstated, those who did leave the cinema confused were willing to see it again to search for answers. Inception’s heart though is not the high-concept dreams within dreams; it is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s guilt over his dead wife. He goes inside his infiltrating memories, through the symbolic lifts and ocean waves, to find a way to forgive himself for his actions. It makes for a deeply affecting story. Then again, you can achieve a deeply affecting story on a $1.6 million budget too. Give the audience a great story and relatable characters, and they will still come in their droves. If only Hollywood stopped hiding behind their dumb explosions and realised this.