Dunkirk

Dunkirk. It is tremendous. Couldn’t look away for even a sliver of a moment. Out of all of Christopher Nolan movies I’ve seen, I’d rank this at the top. One thing that did him a favor is that the dialogue is so minimal. A trim, direct story so he can focus on the construction. I love the layered stories – the boat scenes being my favorites – that are racing to meet at the end, which we know with hindsight is only a beginning.

I haven’t updated my Christopher Nolan power rankings in a while, so…

  1. Dunkirk
  2. Interstellar
  3. Memento
  4. The Prestige
  5. The Dark Knight
  6. The Dark Knight Rises
  7. Batman Begins
  8. Insomnia
  9. Following
  10. Inception

That feels right for now.

Interstellar

Interstellar. First time I’d seen anything on IMAX. Lives up to the format. It’s one of the best Nolan films since The Dark Knight, probably. But it’s very Nolan: he can direct the crap out of some spectacular action/space sequences, but it rarely moves me. (The truck/rocket scene above in the above screencap is a glorious exception). And it could use some trimming. I have to give him credit for directing original material though, and working with smart ideas. No one is doing crazy stuff at that level like he is. Maybe my second favorite after Memento? I need to re-visit The Dark Knight and The Prestige to see where it fits in.

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight). I really, really liked this dissection, by Jim Emerson, of a chase scene in The Dark Knight. I think the scene still communicates on a sequence-of-events level – chase goes underground, trucks smashes car, weapons are fired, Batmobile rams a dump truck – but there are definitely ways the editing makes it less spatially coherent or viscerally “real”. You can set aside whether that makes the scene good or bad, or whether it undermines or supports whatever Nolan’s intentions were. It’s still a nice primer and breakdown of how they communicate narrative through the frame, and how ignoring or adhering to visual conventions affects how you understand what you see.

The Prestige

The Prestige. Themes: obsession, sacrifice, craft, identity, showmanship, revenge, deceit, science as magic, etc. It’s a little mechanical and maybe overstuffed, but always interesting. Hugh Jackman is excellent. I expect viewers would either love or hate the ending, in which the inevitable is delayed while the story is re-told and all is explained. I kinda hate that, but I should have expected as much. I guess that’s Nolan’s own prestige moment? I get really annoyed when you watch a movie and then, near the end, the movie tells you about the story that happened that you didn’t know about. (Yeah, I know I complained about this recently.) Good twists are fine, but they always make me wonder how you could tell the same story in an engaging way while sharing more details with the audience up front. Isn’t it also fun when we know something the other characters don’t?

I’ve now seen all of Christopher Nolan’s feature-length movies. Here’s how they stack up for me right now:

  1. Memento (with a commanding lead)
  2. Batman Begins (I’d like to re-watch this soon)
  3. The Prestige
  4. Following (tied for third?)
  5. The Dark Knight
  6. Insomnia
  7. Inception

Insomnia

Insomnia. Starts well, but I’d tighten it up a bit. I’d rank this is my 4th favorite Christopher Nolan movie. We need more old, aching heroes. I love seeing old man Pacino tired and cranky, running around trying to not to screw up even more. Kind of like a Harrison Ford hero. My biggest struggle with the movie? Hilary Swank has too much natural toughness and smarts for the role here. I don’t buy her as the aww-shucks/awestruck/wet-behind-the-ears type. Apparently this is a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film.

Following

Following. Christopher Nolan’s first feature film set the trend for his later puzzle-piece, time-shifted narratives. Solid, modern noir. I like seeing early work like this without fancy production, pristine private sets, celebrity talent. My rankings of Nolan movies I’ve seen:

  1. Memento
  2. Batman Begins
  3. Following
  4. The Dark Knight
  5. Inception

Yeah, after his last two I mostly lost interest in Nolan’s work. This one was good enough to get me curious about Insomnia and The Prestige, though. I’ve also done rankings for Hitchcock, Eastwood, Malick, Wes Anderson, and David Fincher, etc.

Inception

Inception. This is a good movie. Worth seeing? Sure. Superlative? No. Interesting ideas and there’s enough ambiguity to puzzle over ‘til the End of Days. Five Ways of Looking at Inception is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The trouble was that I didn’t care much. My first reaction was “Inception: all muscle and nerves, no heart. Interesting but probably at least 48 minutes too long.” It kinda reminded me of the situation where a writer has an awesome essay and then later writes a book on the same topic. This movie was a book where an essay (i.e. short film) might have been a tighter, more engaging experience.

Other assorted observations:

  • I think the dark, corporate angle is legit. The idea of executive-level extraction-resistance training is a nice scifi hypothetical.
  • I liked the idea of different levels of dreams operating at different time-speeds. Pretty cool.
  • Lots of explanatory dialogue…
  • Mediocre score.
  • I’d like to see more movies where not everyone is wealthy and skilled.
  • I’d like to see action movies with fewer hordes of incompetent gunmen.
  • Ski chase. Dead wife reappearing. Zero-gravity fights. Old man dying in a minimalist room. I don’t think this is a bad thing, btw.