With Tenet out in theaters, I thought I would take moment to look back at the films of Christopher Nolan. This is an update to the list originally made after the release of Interstellar and Dunkirk.
Nolan has now made 11 films and none of them are bad. It helps that he is very selective about his films and he has incredible personal control over all of the stories he's ever filmed. I also like that for the most part he has a strong hand in the writing of his stories.
Also, I've rewatched some of his some of the films and have rearranged the rankings a bit.
So below are all 10 of Nolan's movies ranked in order from least to greatest.
Of all Nolan's movies, this one is the one that feels the least Nolan-y. And as far as I know it is the only one that is a remake of another film. But it is still very dark and moody with some excellent performances. Pacino's guilt is so visibly felt throughout the film and Robin William's turn as a mastermind killer showed a bold choice. And the film still deals with big ideas about truth and conscience.
I caught this one on Netflix and it is a fascinating noir film about a man who becomes obsessed with following random people that he sees in public. This could have easily devolved into some kind of psycho-sexual nonsense. But he sets out early on that it about this a man who cannot connect to people who is drawn into a strange world of pulling the curtain back on people's lives. It also is the first film that shows Nolan's funky use of chronology.
This is probably the best work that Nolan has done with the camera. This is a essential filmed with a silent movie aesthetic where he wants to tell the movie purely by the visuals. It is gripping from start till finish. However, upon reflection I realized that I do not have a strong affection for this film. That doensn't mean it is bad, just that my emotional connection to the material isn't really there. This movie is fantastic as a technical piece of filmmaking, but would not be counted among my favorites
I will have my full review up later, but Tenet is a glorious film to watch with mesmerizing visuals. But, like Dunkirk, there is an emotional distance that prevents a fascinating story from becoming a great story.
7. Batman Begins
Nolan modeled this film after Richard Donner's Superman and it shows. He tells a story that is epic in its scope and takes us on Bruce Wayne's journey in a way that no other cinematic Batman has.
6. The Dark Knight Rises
Unlike many of its detractors, I think the final chapter of Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is fantastic. He does an excellent job of drawing elements from the previous movies and weaving them into a film that feels like a definitive goodbye to his story. To this day I get chills when Selina Kyle tries to get Bruce to leave with her saying that he doesn't owe anything to people of Gotham and that he already gave them everything, to which he responds: "Not everything. Not yet."
This is Nolan's most emotional movie. It is not that his other movies are cold or are not moving. But this was the first time I ever saw him reach deep and pull at the heartstrings while once again wrestling with the big ideas of life. It's biggest fault is that leans too much into sentimentality at the end, but after watching his last two films and their lack of sentiment, I've come to appreciate Interstellar a lot more.
4. The Prestige
This is a movie that will mess with your head. Even when you figure out one twist (which I did a bit too early), when the film finishes and you understand the implications of what the last 5 minutes reveals about obsession… it sticks with you long after the movie is over. I have rewatched this movie several times in the last few months and it gets better and better with repeated viewing, which alone makes it different than most movies out there.
I have seen this movie over and over and I find it fascinating every time. The layers that stack upon layers never suffocate the action through line of the story that holds you up until the very last second.
2. The Dark Knight
Arguably the greatest super hero film ever made, Nolan understood that he could make a film that transcends traditional genre walls and talk about something deep about human nature. People often play up the violent and dark nature of the Joker, but it shouldn't overlook Nolan's ultimate message which is that people are naturally decent. That is a radical message in today's cinema.
I have never seen a movie like this. The level of complexity, artistry, execution, and transcendence continues to blow me away more than a decade later. When people see this movie they rethink what movies can be. And that is why this is his best film.