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The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

5

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The arguably cynical, borderline-nihilistic qualities of the second and third entries in Nolan’s Batman films have always felt like an appropriate reflection of the times in which they were made—a quality that makes the dark events surrounding this film’s release all the more devastating. There’s a messiness to The Dark Knight Rises that befits the social tumult of Gotham, and the film is less of an action epic than it is a character melodrama, broadly invoking everything from the crimes of the state to the Occupy movement to nuclear annihilation and the responsibilities of a rising generation. But for Nolan’s continued ineptitude with many of his intended grace notes, this might have seen his Batman trilogy end on a high-water mark. Such as it is, it’s the film we needed, if hardly the one we deserved. Humanick

The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

4

The Prestige (2006)

If any of Christopher Nolan’s films constitute a personal thesis statement, it’s The Prestige. Propelled by the ongoing rivalry between two magicians following the tragic conclusion of a failed trick, the film speaks to the intangible nature of the self well before introducing a period sci-fi element courtesy one Nicholas Tesla, but it’s the implicit scrutiny of the recipe for creating magic—a thinly veiled stand-in for Nolan’s own cinematic ambitions—that gives this quicksilver film its lifeblood. It remains Nolan’s most effective sleight of hand to date, even if the way he avoids his big reveals (not unlike film critics hopping around plot points in fear of spoiler police) makes it obvious what they are to us, if not the characters. Humanick

The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

3

The Dark Knight (2008)

If a film were purely the effect of its opening and closing shots, then The Dark Knight would be a masterpiece. A dreamlike dive into darkness marks the opening of this exploration of our culture of fear, with light eclipsing said darkness at the end. The death of a great young talent—centerpiece performer Heath Ledger as the Joker—inevitably overshadows, and even enriches the proceedings, but Nolan’s ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist is also chief among this stirring, if flawed, superhero crime saga. For every moment of mythic frisson, there’s one where the characters themselves seem to be play-acting, with the bit parts especially threating, with unsettling frequency, to break the spell. Those minor kinks are, to these eyes, relatively easily swept under the rug, even if it’s only because Hans Zimmer all but squashes them out of existence. Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t the best film of its genre that year, or even that month (that would be Guillermo del Toro’s unsung Hellboy II: The Golden Army), but we’re still better for having it. Humanick

The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

2

Memento (2000)

In hindsight, Nolan’s breakout film isn’t quite the mind-blower it was once billed as, an initially hyperbolic reaction indicative of the growing, Internet-enabled hivemind that’s made serious discussion of any popular film a finer and finer line to walk in the years following (a trend encapsulated, fittingly, by the user comments brouhaha at Rotten Tomatoes preceding the theatrical release of the #5 film on this list). Memento is many things, though, among them the most playful and purposeful of Nolan’s stylistic exercises, and a heartbreaking portrait of a man psychologically impaired to the point of being literally unable to move on from a tragedy that would haunt any of us: In short, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is unable to make new short-term memories, and requires a bit of a refresher roughly every three to five minutes, all while hunting for who he believes is his wife’s killer. In a film of dazzling technique, a staggering blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cut is enough to speak to the demons we’re only intermittently able to recognize, let alone expel, and a landmark moment in popular film culture achieved fleeting yet profound insight into the human condition. Humanick

The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

1

Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar knowingly follows in the footsteps of greatness, its indebtedness to the most obvious of its inspirations, 2001: A Space Odyssey, evident in everything from a sidekick robot that suggests a wisecracking monolith to the galactic light show glimpsed beyond the gateway of a conveniently placed wormhole. Set in the not-too-distant future, in which a global crisis has resulted in a perpetual dustbowl, limited food supplies, and a dwindling population, the film is almost impossibly earnest in its suggestion that the greed and rising world population of the 20th century may have already sown the seeds of our extinction. Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper is the unexpected key to a secret NASA mission to search for habitable worlds elsewhere, a job that will require leaving his family behind, possibly for good. This film’s proclivity toward verbose exposition is in keeping with Nolan’s larger body of work, but there’s greater need for it this time around (not just for the audience’s sake, but the characters, who must reckon with the theory of relativity, among other life-and-death issues, in confounding ways). For all of its gargantuan ambitions and cinematic throwbacks (to celluloid, to physical sets, to rear projection), it’s even more compelling for ultimately boiling down to some basic archetypes about mortality, love, and sacrifice. Hans Zimmer’s funereal score heightens the notion that we’re accompanying these travelers on a great pilgrimage—a destination which sees an artist taking a significant step forward (not quite akin to setting foot on a new world, but close). Interstellar doesn’t match the greatness of its key influences, but it earns more than the right to be mentioned in the same breath. Humanick

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