Welcome to our very first TAXONOMIZE article, where a team of writers get together and come to a consensus list or ranking of films. For this first entry, in honor of the this week’s release of Dunkirk, Ty Rothermal and Ryan McKenna discussed and ranked the films of one of the greatest filmmakers of the 21st Century: Christopher Nolan. Check out their ranking and reviews for his films below, as well as three guest reviews from writing team member Mike Calkins and Geeks + Gamers Community members Josh Ngaruiya and Jeff Widman!
Insomnia is, by far, the most under-appreciated Christopher Nolan film. It may even be Nolan’s best-edited film when one considers moments like the scene in the fog (no spoilers) from this movie. There is a sense of uncertainty that Al Pacino’s character is feeling, and that is beautifully conveyed to the us the audience through the editing choices.
Furthermore, Nolan manages to make you feel Pacino’s guilt throughout the film, and you can see it weighing heavier and heavier as the film progresses. It is a great movie all around, and it still confuses me why it isn’t as appreciated as it could or, more importantly, should be. – Ty Rothermal
Following is Christopher Nolan’s first feature project and is an extremely low-budget noir about a young man. This character gets enjoyment by just following people around until one day he is noticed and tied up in an extensive burglary scheme by the enigmatic thief, Cobb. I describe the plot in this mini-review because this is definitely Nolan’s most unseen film and is one people need to check out in order to fully understand his filmmaking sensibilities.
This film demonstrates the early roots of Nolan’s favored non-linear storytelling, mystery-supported thrillers, and character subtlety. There is so much development in such a small package with Following and, though it pales in quality comparison in terms of acting or filmmaking to much of Nolan’s other work, it is incredibly solid and shows what a great filmmaker can do with amateur supplies.
Following begs a number of questions that keep me coming back to it as I try and peel back many of the narrative layers that are there within its rougher edges. After making his early short films, this is a break out effort and one that Criterion has graciously preserved for viewers who are looking to understand Nolan on a deeper level. – Ryan McKenna
7. The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises is not perfect, but it certainly is my favorite of the Dark Knight trilogy. Yes, I love it more than the iconic, widely-lauded smash hit The Dark Knight. Here, Nolan crafts an epic tale within the 165-minute runtime. What I love about this film is that it is about a man who must overcome the biggest problem in the way of his city’s salvation: himself. Taking place eight years after The Dark Knight, we see Bruce Wayne retired from being Batman. He’s been battered, bruised, run down, and wants no part in the hero life anymore. But, after the powerful threat, Bane, rises from out of the shadows, he knows what must be done.
I love just about everything about this film. Tom Hardy’s performance as Bane is extremely captivating. We learn quickly that he is a worthy opponent for Batman. Christian Bale delivers as always, bringing deeper layers to his great character. The supporting cast is also great, from Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, to Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and even to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. However, the real MVP of the supporting cast is Michael Caine as Alfred, who truly is the emotional center of this film. His effective delivery of Alfred’s father-like emotions for Bruce definitely made me tear up.
Wally Pfister’s cinematography is immaculate. So many shots in The Dark Knight Rises make my jaw drop. Also, Hans Zimmer delivers one of his best scores. He is just as important to this franchise as Nolan or Bale. The score, along with the action, helps to make this film feel truly epic. My only gripes are some poor editing and continuity errors, but all in all, this is the perfect end to a great trilogy. – Josh Ngaruiya
Interstellar is my second favorite film of all time at the time of writing this list but, at one point, I considered it to be my number one. I go back and forth with this in my head quite often. With that being said, this movie is a beautiful look at life and expertly shows the imperfections of humanity. It demonstrates that not every choice is better off being made with a logical mindset, but rather the importance of incorporating love into one’s decision-making. These themes are prominent throughout the entire film and pull on my heartstrings like no other movie ever has.
I cried multiple times throughout this movie, especially in the scene where Coop (Matthew McConaughey) says goodbye to his daughter and then leaves on his journey to try and save humanity. Christopher Nolan proves once again how great a filmmaker he is by taking on such a project that is so versatile and making a near three-hour run time feel like nothing at all. I understand that there are flaws here, but what film is without flaw? I agree with most of the issues people have with Interstellar, but the degree that they affect my experience is significantly smaller than most. Interstellar is truly something special. – TR
5. Batman Begins
Batman Begins kicked off what many see as one of the greatest trilogies of all time in brilliant fashion and brought the superhero genre to new heights that would create the environment necessary to get the great comic book media we see today. Nolan intelligently developed a real story about a person and proved that a deeply grounded film about a guy who dresses up as a bat could not only work, but could also be great.
The most fascinating thing about this movie is how philosophically challenging it is. That would be a theme throughout The Dark Knight trilogy, but this film most effectively developed a real philosophical battle for viewers between hero and villain. The League of Shadows has an aim that you’re never meant to agree with but is very easy to understand and relate to. Similarly, the development and steady characterization of Bruce Wayne/Batman brings him down to a level that the audience can invest in fully.
Batman Begins is not the best of its trilogy, but what it meant for superhero filmmaking cannot be understated. Further, it is not a stretch to call this the greatest telling of an origin story in superhero cinema. It has so much depth of character coupled with really thoughtful storytelling that elevated it to another level. This is a film for which Nolan deserves more credit that he gets and is a genuine staple in his remarkable filmography. – RM
4. The Prestige
“Are you watching closely?” Christopher Nolan’s film exploring the intense rivalry between a pair of magicians may truly be his most spectacular demonstration of storytelling aptitude. This movie brings together the best writing and performances in any Nolan release. In every way, The Prestige makes a genuine mark as a great piece of cinema and will forever be something that people revisit time and time again.
The firm roots set down by this movie are done through writing. Christopher Nolan’s writing partnership with his brother Jonathan is never stronger than what we get to see here. The complete and utter brilliance of paralleling the audience’s experience with the film with the three-element structure of a magic trick is awesome in the true sense of that word. Viewers leave with mouths agape at the incredible story told on screen. The final shot of The Prestige will sit with you for years, and it could never achieve that if the writing wasn’t this sharp.
The writing is absolutely elevated by the greatest performances we’ve ever seen in a Nolan film. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play the rival magicians and both deliver career-highlight performances that would be career best for lesser actors. In addition, the supporting cast is like no other. Michael Caine is amazing as usual. Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson lay it all on the line for this movie. Even Andy Serkis and the legendary David Bowie play crucial and fantastic parts. This is one of Nolan’s most actor-dependent films, and the actors bring it to stratospheric heights. By bringing his usual, excellent filmmaking to bear with amazing writing and acting, Nolan’s The Prestige is one for the ages. It is a must see in every sense of that phrase. – RM
Anterograde amnesia is a neurological struggle to create new memories after a traumatic event that caused said amnesia. Before Memento, we non-scientists were unaware what this ailment was. According to figures in the neuroscience community, Memento contains the most accurate depiction of the impairment in film history. This attention to detail is one of many reasons Memento deserves to be talked about as one of Christopher Nolan’s best.
Another reason for its importance lies in the unconventional narrative structure that unravels a complex story in reverse. While some regard this technique as a gimmick, it is a necessary illustration of not only how Leonard (Guy Pearce) lives his daily life, but also how little he and the audience can trust his mind. Diving vaguely into spoilers, the Leonard at the end of Memento just had his innocence ripped away from him by Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), setting in motion everything the doe-eyed Leonard experiences – the Leonard we meet at the beginning of the film. His brain is in such disrepair that he is practically more than one person at a time, and even he cannot trust himself.
Not only does Leonard’s handicap create complexity, but he is also our narrator, guiding us through this initially-confusing ride. The unreliable narrator is an underappreciated, underutilized plot device in my opinion, and it is used to perfection in Memento. Because of this, we’re given no answers about Sammy Jankis or the illustrious John G; only opportunities to speculate. Are we to believe the seedy Teddy’s rant in the final act over our untrustworthy narrator? Nolan doesn’t explicitly say. He never does in any of his films. Nolan inspires thought and debate after viewing his work, which makes him a master-class storyteller and filmmaker. – Jeff Widman
Inception is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is the film that made me want to talk about film. It is the film that made me look at movies as works of art and deeply complex machines, rather than just fun entertainment. It is also the film that made me want to make my own movies. The performances are fantastic. It is a stunningly complex and imaginative story with fantastic set pieces and memorable characters. My favorite part of Inception is how deeply emotional it is. The action scenes are awesome and the complexity of the art on display here is endlessly interesting, but at its core, this is a deeply human story about a man who just wants to get home to his children while trying to move on after a personal tragedy. Coupling that with Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) very obviously strained hold on reality, what you get is a tale that constantly raises the stakes.
Nolan’s script and tight direction really prop Inception up to incredible levels. It would be easy for a lesser director or writer to lose control of their own narrative. There’s a lot going on between all the levels of dreams, the plans on each level, and the tethering of this all together with an imaginative mythology. Thanks to Nolan’s direction, however, this movie never loses focus, and the story is allowed to breathe through its near-perfect pacing. It is not a short film, at nearly two and a half hours long, but it breezes by like a ninety minute feature. Christopher Nolan also gets the most out of his actors, with fantastic performances that drive home an ending that is gutsy as all hell. I honestly can’t think of anything about Inception that I don’t like. – Mike Calkins
1. The Dark Knight
What hasn’t already been said about The Dark Knight? It is a brilliantly gripping crime drama that just so happens to feature one of pop culture’s most recognizable icons: Batman. It does not use its comic book lore as a crutch. I’m not saying that others films do, necessarily, but there is something that is distinctly unique about this movie. Christopher Nolan carefully crafted one of the best films ever made and keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
With incredibly powerful and exciting performances that are indescribably unforgettable, every moment in this second entry in The Dark Knight Trilogy is precise and specific. There isn’t a single frame wasted. Each character is a tool that has a specific purpose and never feels misused. This amounts to a masterclass in filmmaking. For me as a fan, it gave me my favorite performance from any actor in Heath Ledger as the Joker, and my favorite scene in any movie: the interrogation scene. It is the film that made me realize that movies are more than just entertainment and are also an art. Without The Dark Knight I would not be writing today. It has always been the reason I love movies as much as I do. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite film ever made. – TR
Without much debate, Christopher Nolan is one of the great filmmakers of our time. This incredible filmography is proof positive of that, and his latest movie Dunkirk looks to continue the trend of greatness from this British creative mogul.
What are your thoughts on Christopher Nolan? How would you rank his nine films? If you’ve seen Dunkirk, where does it fit in? Keep the conversation going across all of Geeks + Gamers social media platforms!