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Insomnia (#110 of 3)

The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

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The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked
The Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

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. To wit, his latest film, Dunkirk, employs the kind of chronology-bending antics that epitomize Memento and Inception. Rob Humanick
 

Film Comment Selects 2014: Felony Review

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Film Comment Selects 2014: <em>Felony</em> Review
Film Comment Selects 2014: <em>Felony</em> Review

Felony kicks off with an opening that misleadingly primes you for a bit of traditional cops-and-robbers moral relativism. Driving home drunk from an all-night party, police officer Malcolm Toohey (screenwriter Joel Edgerton) accidentally side-swipes a child with his car and desperately covers it up with a story that’s obviously problematic, though Detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson) is just as clearly and pointedly disinterested in implicating a colleague in a crime that could eventually become manslaughter. Interfering with the cover-up, though, is Detective Jim Melick (Jai Courtney), a metaphoric boy scout who believes in the ideals of the system, though his rigorous sense of decorum doesn’t extend to not hitting on the boy’s mother (Sarah Roberts) while she’s standing over her comatose child’s hospitalized body.

One can reasonably assume, then, that Felony is going to be a procedural that examines the cost of honoring the democratic riddles of law enforcement in the tradition of Insomnia (either version), or many of Sidney Lumet’s films—and it’s at this point that Edgerton and director Matthew Saville spring their one legitimate surprise. Obviously the quasi-bad guy, Summer is a dangerous man intelligent enough to rationalize and commit any act he deems necessary for self-preservation, and the filmmakers accept his privileged bullshit at face value. In the film’s best and retrospectively most troubling moment, Summer utters a line that’s a real masterpiece of fascism disguised as empathetic ambiguity: “Prison is for pricks that don’t have their punishment here.” Summer’s pointing a finger to his head, of course.

Christopher Nolan: What Are We Watching, Exactly?

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Christopher Nolan: What Are We Watching, Exactly?
Christopher Nolan: What Are We Watching, Exactly?

“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.