Retrospective: The Chronology Of Christopher Nolan's Movies | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Retrospective: The Chronology Of Christopher Nolan's Movies

Retrospective: The Chronology Of Christopher Nolan's Movies

Born in London on 30 July 1970, Christopher Nolan is already a wunderkind in his early age when he made two short films -- TARANTELLA (1989) and LARCENY (1996) -- while he was still studying at University College London (UCL). His third short film, DOODLEBUG (1997) which starred Jeremy Theobald as a man attempting to squash a bug with a shoe in his dingy apartment, but doesn't realize he actually do worse than he thought, is a brilliant masterpiece that showcased his unique talent as a filmmaker (you can watch his short film right here). A year later, he made his feature debut with FOLLOWING and subsequently made a name for himself from becoming an indie sensation to one of the most influential and successful Hollywood filmmakers of today's generation. Even though some of his movies are met with criticism, it's hard to deny that his works are more consistent than most directors nowadays.

In conjunction with Nolan's upcoming sci-fi epic INTERSTELLAR (opens this Thursday on November 6), here is the retrospective of the remarkable director's works throughout his 14-year period directing eight feature movies:

1. FOLLOWING (1998)

Shot on a tiny budget of US$6,000, FOLLOWING marked Christopher Nolan's debut as a feature-length filmmaker. The grainy black-and-white movie, which centres on an unemployed writer (Jeremy Theobald) who loved to spend his days following random strangers just to learn about the details of their lives until he met a well-dressed thief named Cobb (Alex Haw), may look deceptively simple at the first place. But Nolan's sleight-of-hand storytelling technique where he played around with different timelines throughout the movie in a non-linear approach was brilliantly constructed with twists and turns. Although FOLLOWING was at times confusing and draggy in parts, the movie remained an astonishing debut that paid handsome tribute to hard-hitting film noir of the 1940s. All three actors -- Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw and Lucy Russell -- were all unknown, but their acting performances were surprisingly competent. Two years later, after his first movie, Nolan would reinvent his same storytelling method to a greater height in MEMENTO.

2. MEMENTO (2000)

Still the best movie that Christopher Nolan had ever directed, MEMENTO was a tour de force triumph of complex narrative structure and top-notch acting performances. The movie, which involved a former insurance investigator (Guy Pearce in one of his best roles ever) suffering from short-term memory loss and had to rely on his Polaroid camera, notes and body tattoos to investigate the murder of his wife (Jorja Fox), was particularly fascinating: the story was told in reverse order. No doubt it was one of the most unique narrative structures I've ever seen and till now, I couldn't get over the fact that the Academy Awards snubbed the well-deserved win of Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan's brilliantly-constructed screenplay and awarded the Best Original Screenplay Oscar to Julian Fellowes instead for GOSFORD PARK.

3. INSOMNIA (2002)

After his breakout success in MEMENTO, Christopher Nolan finally got his first stab at directing a major studio picture with INSOMNIA. A remake of the same Norwegian thriller which I had yet to see, INSOMNIA was widely considered as his weakest movie yet (by Nolan standard, of course). But still, this thriller was blessed with Al Pacino's impressively subdued performance as the guilt-ridden, sleepless veteran detective while Robin Williams -- who died earlier this year -- surprised me the most with his chilling performance as a serial killer and pulled off one of the best dramatic roles ever seen outside of his usual comfort zone in mainstream comedy. Even Nolan's direction, on which he took a more straightforward approach rather than his usual non-linear narrative style seen in FOLLOWING and MEMENTO, remained thought-provoking and compelling enough as a character-driven thriller instead of going for the average cop vs. killer route.


The notorious debacle of Joel Schumacher's BATMAN AND ROBIN in 1997 had certainly left a huge scar not only in the Batman franchise alone, but also the comic-book genre as well. After suffering from years of limbo, Warner Bros enlisted Christopher Nolan to reboot the franchise with BATMAN BEGINS and the studio's big gamble paid off successfully. Nolan, who had no prior experience handling big-budget blockbuster franchise, proved to be a versatile filmmaker after all, especially the way he handled an origin story about Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. In fact, Nolan and co-screenwriter David S. Goyer were daring enough to put heavy emphasis on exploring the emotional and psychological depth of Bruce Wayne that turned his character more refined than any other previous incarnations in the past. BATMAN BEGINS was also an excellent acting showcase for everyone involved, notably for Christian Bale playing the best combined roles as Bruce Wayne and Batman has ever seen with his perfectly brooding and charismatic appearance. Even though the movie suffered from inconsistent action sequences, BATMAN BEGINS was a game changer for Nolan's successful blend of direction that mixed grounded realism and comic-book allusion which subsequently paved ways for many comic-book movies in the future.

5. THE PRESTIGE (2006)

From the mesmerizing voiceover narration that began with Michael Caine's role as Cutter defining "Every great magic tricks consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige" to the sneaky final twist, THE PRESTIGE was a dazzling brain teaser revolved around two rival magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) competing against each other. The plot, which adapted from Christopher Priest's novel, was a classic Nolan approach -- the sleight-of-hand direction, the non-linear narrative structure and filled with deceptive twists and turns. Viewers could get lost if they didn't pay attention throughout the movie since THE PRESTIGE was a tricky movie designed to fool and manipulate like watching a magic performance. While Nolan managed to pull off the theme about obsession and its subsequent consequences, the romance subplot which involved Alfred's (Christian Bale) estranged wife, Sarah Borden (Rebecca Hall) and his assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) was sadly undermined. THE PRESTIGE was hardly perfect by any means, but it definitely qualified as one of the best magic-themed movies ever made.


Easily the best entry in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, THE DARK KNIGHT was a rare sequel that surpassed the first movie (think SPIDER-MAN 2 or even THE GODFATHER, PART II). The movie was also a cinematic triumph in combining epic crime drama that heavily influenced from Michael Mann's HEAT (1995) and a great comic-book movie filled with memorable villain (the late Heath Ledger's impeccable Oscar-winning performance as the Joker) and much-improved action sequences (the nighttime car chase was especially worthy of a mention). Although the movie had its glaring flaws (such as the overlong boat sequence towards the finale), THE DARK KNIGHT was one of the best Nolan's movies to date.

7. INCEPTION (2010)

A pet project that took Christopher Nolan nearly eight years to devise his whole screenplay after first pitching his concept to Warner Bros in 2002, INCEPTION was an intriguing puzzle movie revolved around the world of dreamscape. Despite the complexity of the plot that might leave many viewers scratching their heads, INCEPTION was the kind of movie which required full attention to appreciate Nolan's labyrinthine approach. The "dream-within-a-dream" concept was brilliantly executed in such a compelling manner, while Nolan continued to evolve himself as a visionary filmmaker who knew how to command viewers' attention with his remarkable visual achievement. Memorable scenes such as Ariadne (Ellen Page) imagining a busy cityscape folding in half and the engaging fight sequence between Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a villain in the rotating 360-degree hotel corridor were especially best seen on the big screen. And beneath all the brainy screenplay and rousing spectacle, INCEPTION was also benefited from Leonardo Di Caprio's emotionally-penetrating performance as a seasoned thief and dream expert Dom Cobb, as well as the rest of the superb ensemble cast. This was a rare masterpiece that proved a summer blockbuster could be both intelligent and entertaining at the same time.


After the phenomenal success of THE DARK KNIGHT, many people have wondered how Christopher Nolan was going to top his own sequel in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. However, this third and final entry in Nolan's Batman trilogy proved that he could achieve the impossible feat by breaking the jinx of a third movie slump for a popular franchise in terms of creativity (movies like X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and SPIDER-MAN 3 quickly came to mind). While THE DARK KNIGHT RISES didn't exactly scaled the same height with THE DARK KNIGHT, this third movie remained a thought-provoking and spectacular epic that combined Nolan's skilled direction of mixing intensely personal drama and crowd-pleasing blockbuster approach. But the biggest surprise of all was the fact that Nolan made a bold decision to use Bane as the main antagonist. Still, with the help of Tom Hardy, the acclaimed actor managed to make one of the least-popular villains in the Batman universe and turned Bane into a memorable and iconic character of his own.

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