There’s an engimatic quality to the role of Christopher Nolan in the current filmmaking landscape, and one that stands apart from the fact that his films so often court ambiguity with explicit intent. From the Russian-nesting-doll antics of Inception to the magicians-as-filmmakers commentary of The Prestige, Nolan’s ambition within the realm of big-budget, broad audience spectacle is comparable to the likes of few. Among those, James Cameron comes to mind, and now Nolan joins the Avatar director with his own film about interplanetary travel, the logical next step for a filmmaker so concerned with world-building, literal and otherwise. Looking back at his work thus far, what emerges—apart from his obsession with identity, reality, community, and obsession itself—is an artist who, heedless of his own shortcomings, is intent on challenging himself, a quality that salvages and even inverts a great many of his otherwise pedestrian choices. One suspects that this is an artist still in his pupa stage, and one is also fearful that the near-unanimous praise heaped upon his work since his breakout hit, Memento, will only serve to keep him there. Interstellar is about, among other things, the next steps of mankind, but of even greater intrigue is what kind of evolution it will represent for a significant filmmaker who has been too-frequently pigeonholed by fans and detractors alike.
Memento (#1–10 of 4)
The Academy hasn’t exactly warmed to Wes Anderson, and it’s conceivable that they never truly will. It’s rare for such a popular, critically lauded, and artistically accomplished auteur to never cross over Oscar’s Picture/Director borderline, but Anderson may just spend his career being the anomaly, his whimsy always relegating him to the quirk-filled realm of Original Screenplay. His first nomination, in 2002, was in that very category, which pitted his now-classic script for The Royal Tenenbaums against the likes of Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and Christopher Nolan (Memento). His latest, Moonrise Kingdom, is the first work since to give him a real chance of returning to the race, as it’s his most technically accomplished, touching, and accessible follow-up. Telling a tale of childhood love that’s amenable to his Peter-Pan sensibilities, Moonrise Kingdom is a fine transition piece to follow Fantastic Mr. Fox, which cracked the animation field in 2009, yielding Anderson’s only other Oscar nod. The afterglow of that stop-motion gem’s citation can only work in the writer/director’s favor, ditto his new film’s massive praise and solid theatrical showing. A screenplay nom seems inevitable, but will the love end there?
“The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds.” —The Joker
Christopher Nolan is an artist. Just what kind of artist, and how much we should praise him for it, is another matter. No matter what anyone may say, he is no Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick’s films, despite their objectivity and reputation for coldness, were studies of characters. Nolan’s films, by contrast, are studies of plot. Indeed, you could say he’s an artist of plot.
This is both his great strength and great weakness. There is much to be frustrated about with his oeuvre: his incoherent action sequences, the endless Hans Zimmer percussion compositions, and his apparent inability to not kill his female characters. But there is no denying the extreme popularity of his films, both in box office grosses and the passion of fans. Indeed, the intense love of Nolan on the Internet is something both frightening and fascinating. Jim Emerson gives the summary of the brouhaha over Nolan’s latest film, Inception (see also Dennis Cozzalio and Roger Ebert). Essentially, a vocal group of fans believes it is wrong and ridiculous to suspect that Nolan is anything less than a genius.
Ed Howard: David Lynch is a filmmaker who has haunted my mind since the first moment I saw one of his films. This is especially true of Mulholland Drive I vividly remember my confused, stunned reactions the first time I saw this film. It was in the afternoon, and when I stumbled outside afterward, into bright daylight, everything looked strange, somehow subtly changed. I’d spent over two hours in Lynch’s world, and in the time I’d been lost there it was as though the real world had been infected with Lynch’s unsettling aesthetic. It was a unique experience. I can’t remember another film that shook me up and destabilized me so thoroughly, and I’ve returned to it, and to Lynch’s work in general, compulsively ever since.