Ranking Christopher Nolan Movies

I’m two weeks late with this, but after going to see Dunkirk and catching up on a few more, I have now seen all of Christopher Nolan’s films. You know what that means…

  1. The Dark Knight: I mean, if you still think I need to openly praise this film, you haven’t been paying attention.
  2. Inception: I believe this film represents the pinnacle of Nolan translating one of his patented big ideas into a coherent story. Diving into the world of dreams and incorporating a heist element sounds ridiculous, but Nolan executes it to near-perfection and still explores the human emotion hidden within. Plus, it spawned the technically incorrect idea that anything with the word “ception” after it meant that there were layers upon layers of said thing (i.e. box-ception).
  3. Memento: I still remember the first time I saw Memento; I was absolutely blown away by the nonlinear storytelling that took what Tarantino started and elevated it to new heights. There’s no glamour or in-your-face style with the film either; small-name actors, a modest budget, and a “simple” story of a man trying to find his wife’s murderer combine to make one of the best films of the 21st century. It’s still on Netflix, so please go watch it if you haven’t already (even if you have, there is immense replay value).
  4. Dunkirk: If the general public thought Nolan had lost his edge after some recent missteps, he certainly came roaring back with a completely unconventional war film. Dunkirk immerses you in the chaos of the evacuation and places you right next to the other soldiers on the beach. It’s a visually stunning masterpiece that doesn’t glorify the subject matter in the slightest. Major props go to Nolan for venturing outside his wheelhouse and also coaxing a solid performance out of Harry Styles.
  5. The Prestige: My sister was the first one to highly recommend this film and I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan after the initial viewing. However, the second time around proved much more successful; I began to appreciate the layers that Nolan constructed into a story about two competing magicians. The obsessive nature within each one to perfect the other’s trick makes for strangely compelling material that translates to modern times quite well. Of course, with Nolan’s filmography, it’s a shame that a great film like The Prestige gets buried at #5, but I have only myself to blame for this impossible situation.
  6. Insomnia: This was the last Nolan film I had to watch on the list and it pleasantly surprised me. The thrilling murder mystery has been done well by other directors, particularly Fincher with Seven, Zodiac, and Gone Girl, so I was interested to see Nolan’s take on it. Insomnia is also the only film Nolan hasn’t officially been credited with writing and it was refreshing to see him interpret someone else’s work for a change (now if only he could team up with Sorkin). Incoming spoiler: I love how the film doesn’t wait until the end to reveal who the killer is; instead it plays with your expectations and raises questions about who’s really at fault. I had never seen Robin Williams pull off dramatic work like this and it may also be Pacino’s last decent film to the best of my knowledge. Well worth your time.
  7. Batman Begins: I should probably revisit this one because I barely remember anything about it, but for now, the best word I can think of is “fine.” It’s a fine origin story after years of wondering if Batman would ever recover from the late 90’s disaster. But it doesn’t hold a candle to The Dark Knight in the slightest (although people who just want to be different say otherwise). The one saving grace for Batman Begins is the fact that it essentially kicked off the darker and grittier tone that subsequent filmmakers used to retell age-old stories.
  8. Following: A genius is born. While I’m guessing most people haven’t seen Nolan’s feature debut, the genesis (or should I say inception) of his penchant for big ideas started right here. What initially seems to be a simple story about a man who follows strangers around slowly turns into a twisted crime drama complete with the now-classic Nolan twist. However, it’s quite clear that he has gone on to make infinitely better movies than Following, hence the low ranking.
  9. The Dark Knight Rises: For all his incoherence, Tom Hardy turns in a great performance as Bane. Sadly, almost everything else is crammed into a nearly three-hour movie that reeks of studio interference. I might be wrong about that last part, but after the career Nolan’s had, why would you insist on teasing Robin if this is definitely the end of the trilogy? Other misfires include Bruce Wayne miraculously escaping the cave and transporting back to Gotham, Marion Cotillard’s terrible death scene, and the ending shot of Wayne and Selina Kyle fulfilling Alfred’s vision from earlier. We all know Nolan’s better than this, but we see what can happen when he’s rushed or plays fast and loose with the pacing.
  10. Interstellar: Usually when Nolan aims high, he hits the target. But with Interstellar, he wildly missed the mark. Granted, the visuals are groundbreaking and there are one or two truly poignant scenes (I’ve previously referred to the gut-wrenching scene of McConaughey watching his kids grow up on tape). But the message of love as the overpowering force that transcends space and time is wildly jarring and overwhelmingly sappy. While Nolan certainly went for it, and you can applaud the attempt, it doesn’t compare to his more relevant stories about morality and identity. I feel like if the movie had ended with McConaughey desperately peering out of the bookshelf at his daughter, we wouldn’t have complained as much. But then it nearly undercuts that same message of love by having Murph tell her father to leave and go find Anne Hathaway. It’s a divisive movie for sure, but with most of Nolan’s previous work receiving near-universal critical acclaim, it deserves its place at the bottom.
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