Let’s make one thing clear: Christopher Nolan does not have a lackluster film to his name. While some are certainly better than others, his movies are all shades of good, great, and unforgettable. With the recent deployment of Dunkirk, Nolan has just reached double digits with his feature-length filmography. His distinguished career began nearly 20 years ago with Following, the 110-minute black and white caper that gave him entree into Hollywood.
From Memento to Batman Begins, The Prestige to Interstellar, Nolan traverses a panoply of worlds while adhering to similar narrative themes, cinematic rules, and creative structures. Whether in Gotham, a wormhole, or a dream within a dream, each of his films centers on men with albatrosses hung about their necks, forced to encounter their worst nightmares on the road to liberation.
Including Dunkirk, here are each of Christopher Nolan’s films ranked in order:
10. The Dark Knight Rises
If the film before it never existed, The Dark Knight Rises would be a superhero favorite. Like Return of the Jedi, Nolan’s Batman finale still delivers iconic moments while the larger tapestry falls short of ultimate glory. Though The Dark Knight dressed an existential heist movie in superhero drag, Rises resorts to a ticking-bomb plot that abandons the subtlety of the first two films.
While it retained the signature scope and style of a Nolan flick, Rises ultimately feels more made-by-committee than designed-by-auteur. Who thought audiences wanted their “silent guardian, watchful protector” to return with cartilage deficiency and a sorry attitude? The personal touches in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are eschewed for broad strokes, brash action, and a conclusion that feels more inevitable than earned. Despite all of that, The Dark Knight Rises remains leagues above the army of superhero flicks on the market.
With the success of Memento, Nolan won his golden ticket to cement his status in Hollywood. Thanks to the support of Steven Soderbergh, Nolan took the director’s chair for Insomnia, a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film.
Thanks to an all-star cast of Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank, Nolan had the firepower to bring the crime drama to life. Though Nolan wrote the final draft of the film, he never received full credit for his work. It’s an appropriate twist of fate, however, as Insomnia has few of the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from Nolan. It’s a remake, after all, and though he handles the job with aplomb, it feels more like an inherited project than an original one. Regardless, it's an air-tight and menacing film that features an iconic character in Pacino’s sleepless and guilty detective. Though removed from Nolan’s more personal work, it’s easy to see why Insomnia put him in the running for Batman Begins.
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