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The Prestige (#110 of 7)

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
 

SXSW 2013: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and V/H/S/2

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SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>

Another opening-night gala screening, another crapshoot. Two years ago, South by Southwest gave the red-carpet treatment of Duncan Jones’s entertaining time-travel thriller Source Code, but last year Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s irritatingly snarky horror-genre deconstruction The Cabin in the Woods got the top honor, and now this year we have The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which, in spite of a nasty concluding punchline, can’t even claim the kind of cleverly subversive comic gusto The Cabin in the Woods has in abundance—for better and for worse.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

The first wave of guilds—directors, producers, and actors—all supplicated down on their knees for The King’s Speech, all in near-simultaneity with the announcement of the film’s dozen Oscar nominations. If the impact of that sea change has had some Oscar bloggers stepping off of observation decks and into the paths of oncoming trains, a few of the more insular guilds have started to show signs that they’re not interested in laying down for another Weinstein sweep, and have taken the competition into their own hands—quite literally.

The Art Directors’ Guild couldn’t quite manage to sidestep The King’s Speech’s gimme in the category for best “period film” (presumably referring to a big blot of discharge Carrie White’s mother warned her about), but at the same time gave Inception a rather unexpected leg up. Now, the American Society of Cinematographers have continued momentum for poor little non-nominated Christopher Nolan’s epic and its chances in the tech categories by handing Inception the ASC award. Their slate of nominees aligned five-for-five with Oscar’s, so this marks one of the most high profile guild snubs for The King’s Speech to date.

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.

Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Art Direction

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Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Art Direction
Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Art Direction

We’ve noticed a certain trend among “professional” Oscar prognosticators—first and foremost among them Dave Karger—in dealing with the question of Dreamgirls. Is it the over-nominated Oscar behemoth that, according to its snub for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, no one loves? Or does its absence in the top few categories signal a groundswell of sympathetic support for the poor helpless lil’ would-be frontrunner? You don’t find too many taking the middle ground. It’s basically either a clean sweep of its six categories (or close enough, at any rate), or a near-shutout. Maybe we’re biased, but we’d like to think it’s the latter (though we’re already starting to feel a tad nervous about our prediction of Djimon Hounsou defeating Eddie Murphy). Even if it turns out we badly misjudged the deflated Dreamgirls juggernaut and it does end up cleaning house (as all those second-place percentage spreads would suggest we’re afraid of), we still think Art Direction will be the one most likely to buck the trend. Simply, the movie’s sets look like they were made from construction paper “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf,” to borrow from Ntozake Shange. At least Pan’s Labyrinth’s paper-mâché falls into place with the protagonist’s fantasy dreamworld. The votes for veracity will fall The Good Shepherd’s way, but recent guild award results suggest this is Pan’s Labyrinth to lose.

Will Win: Pan’s Labyrinth

Should Win: Pan’s Labyrinth

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

It would seem that this year’s cinematography nominees were picked by aliens—certainly not by the same people who voted for Memoirs of a Geisha last year (no offense to Dion Beebe, who surely deserved a nomination this year): not a single Best Picture nominee in the lot, and all mostly uncompromised examples of purposeful cinematographic beauty. Without nominations from the American Society of Cinematographers, Pan’s Labyrinth appears to be out of the running. Ditto The Prestige, which has been hounded for most of the Oscar season by the year’s other magician movie, The Illusionist, whose score (by Philip Glass) and cinematography (by Dick Pope) has caught the attention of several critics groups in the past few months. As for the film’s chances, Oscar history tells us that She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, way back in 1950, was the last film to win this award without being nominated in any other category. Sucks for Pope and the great Vilmos Zsigmond, whose nomination for The Black Dahlia was Oscar’s most pleasant surprise this year. That leaves Emmanuel Lubezki, who appears to have garnered more favor for his phantasmagoric contributions to Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men than he did last year for Terrence Malick’s The New World. No one in this category deserves this award more, something Salma Hayek is sure to make known should she be asked to read the name of the winner.

Will Win: Children of Men

Should Win: Children of Men

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen, & The Prestige

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Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen, & The Prestige
Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen, & The Prestige

Editors’ note: This is the debut appearance of a new Monday feature, the appropriately titled “Navel Gazing,” wherein House contributors Sean Burns and Andrew Dignan kick around a few recent releases. Feel free to join them in the comments section.

Andrew Dignan: I finally got a chance to see Flags of Our Fathers this weekend, after spending much of the past two weeks dreading it. Somewhere along the way, the film developed the reputation of a dull non-starter that, in a development I know both you and I despise, was deemed “out of the Oscar race” and thus somehow not worthy of serious discussion. So it was with some amount of surprise that I enjoyed the film quite a bit, with special note to the film’s structure which telescopes the timeline of the battle of Iwo Jima with the war bonds drive that found the film’s reluctant heroes rehashing and often trivializing the trauma of what they’d been through in order to package and sell a palatable version of war to the American public. And Clint Eastwood, that sly dog, seems to be grudgingly receptive towards the idea that such things are a necessary evil.

The film would seem to be mining the same bedrock of demystifying our heroes—and with the depiction of Ira Hayes, the way real violence eats at a man’s soul—that Eastwood’s been exploring as an artist for nearly 50 years. Acknowledging that the film is far from perfect (the last 20 minutes gave me something of a protracted, Lord of the Rings-type unease), why is it you think so many people have railed against it, and seem to so pleased to be perpetrating the belief that the film is both a financial and critical failure? Is this a Munich-type situation, where a handful of net-journalists with an agenda are trying to write history—a Paul Haggis backlash as a result of his last two films cleaning up at the Academy Awards? Or have some people simply grown tired of the themes and rhythms that Eastwood chooses to put onscreen? And more importantly, where do you see the film being ranked in his canon?