This is the birthplace of Nolan’s cinematic philosophy. Clocking in at just over 70 minutes, Following has all the attributes of a Nolan movie. From the pulsating soundtrack to the claustrophobic close-ups, the multiple plot twists and the endangered protagonist, it’s like a workshop inside young Nolan’s imagination. The main villain’s alias is named “Cobb,” for goodness sake.
In order to make the movie, Nolan and his then-girlfriend, Emma Thomas, filmed every weekend for a year. On a budget of $7,000 taken from his own salary, Nolan wrote, filmed, and even edited the feature. Thanks to his multidisciplinary involvement, the film works on every level. Like a modern Double Indemnity, it’s taut, engrossing, and perhaps the cruelest story Nolan has written.
Nolan has many strengths, but his ability to immerse audiences in his protagonist’s perspective is unprecedented. Memento is the embodiment of Nolan’s narrative and visual flair. On paper, the plot is so labyrinthine and layered that it almost shouldn’t be filmable. Because the story was born of Chris and his broth Jonathan Nolan’s dual expertise and imagination, however, the ambitious plot unfolds effortlessly.
A structural feat, Memento is built to juggle two timelines. For first-time viewers, the effect is utterly disorientating until the final scene mercifully unites both narratives. This sense of confusion is by Nolan’s design, of course, and has the effect of putting the audience in the shoes of the amnesiac Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce). Memento is mind-bending, maddening, and worth every second of the ride.
6. Batman Begins
After Joel Schumacher laid waste to the franchise, Batman was dead to moviegoers. For Warner Bros. to get the Dark Knight back on his feet, they needed a rare talent to bring a fresh perspective to the rebuild the bat. Though he had just three films under his belt, Christopher Nolan became the frontrunner to make Batman Begins.
The studio bet wisely. In an unexpected take on the Detective Comics character, Nolan stripped away the nippled suits and bat credits cards in favor of something more “relatable” (the director thinks the word “realism” is used too arbitrarily). With Batman Begins, Nolan justified the countless comic tropes that had filled Gotham. He made Bruce Wayne not just build the Batman but earn the right to become him. He gave Ra’s Al Ghul a philosophical fire as much as a will to fight. He made Gotham less of a proscenium and more of a living, breathing city. Alongside Hans Zimmer’s evocative score, the end result was a believable Batman that paved the way for an equally unbelievable sequel.
5. The Prestige
“Are you watching closely?” With the opening line of his fifth film, Nolan dares his audience to keep up. The Prestige may be an adaptation of the eponymous Christopher Priest novel, but it has Nolan’s DNA all over it. Even the original author admitted that as he watched the movie, he was thinking, “'God, I like that, and 'Oh, I wish I’d thought of that.'”
Using Michael Caine’s voice-over monologue at the film’s start, Nolan sublimates the structure of the film through the format of a magic trick: the pledge, the turn, and of course, the prestige. The rivalry between Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) proves so vicious, however, that the secrets to the film sneak right past us. It’s a haunting movie and a love letter to fin de siècle London, where it appears Mr. Nolan would be quite well adjusted.