I wanted to write this article back when Tenet was released, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the whole theater experience was…not great. So I finally got a chance to watch the movie on VOD, and am now ready to do the ranking. Nolan is a very specific type of director, that lends to the auteur theory. Essentially, if you see the director’s relationship with a film the same way you would see an author’s with a book, as opposed to just a part of the larger team, you subscribe to auteur theory. That is why this is the first (of potentially many) rankings I’m going to do with film directors, because I do see movies as a result, primarily, of the director’s choices.
I’m only ranking feature-length films that Nolan has directed. No shorts, no writing-only credits, no producer-only credits, etc. Also, I haven’t yet seen Following or Insomnia, and I’m trying to remedy this fact, but as of this writing, Nolan’s first two films aren’t yet ranked.
The Dark Knight
I still see The Dark Knight as the greatest superhero movie of all time, so it’s easy to see why I might think that it’s also Nolan’s best. His ability to bring Heath Ledger, a romcom actor, into the ranks with Darth Vader as one of the greatest film villains of all time, that alone is a huge achievement. Add to this his obsession with the reality of the world of Batman, and this movie has such texture to it, it feels so real, that you can’t help but be gripped by everything on screen. This movie is peak cinema, and it is also a Batman film.
Worst: Promoting the Hollywood trend of “gritty-reboot”.
While I think Dark Knight is his best movie, I think that Inception is peak Nolan. This is the most “Christoher Nolan” that Christopher Nolan gets, and it’s a heist movie. Between handsome men in suits, with dead wives, and heavy themes on truth and time, this movie is the epitome of everything Nolan is. Not only that, but this is also his funniest movie, and one of the only ones that really look at romantic love, and what that means to a person.
Best: This ensemble.
Worst: A bit too much exposition.
After the success of Inception, Warner Bros. basically gave Nolan a blank check, and told him to do whatever he wanted to. This isn’t a bad way to use that full allowance as far as he can.
Best: Hans Zimmer, which technically wasn’t Nolan’s creation, but he certainly inspired it.
Worst: He really has an… interesting… view on love.
Two competing magicians try to challenge each other to become the greatest magicians in London. They are constantly one-upping each other, sabotaging each other, and even enlisting the help of the greatest scientific mind of their time, Tesla.
Best: Christian Bales.
Worst: A lot of physical pain, without any warning.
Nolan’s second film, and he has already mastered the art of time-manipulation in storytelling, and the balance of truth, something he is still exploring in his latest movie. A detective movie, where the detective has short-term memory loss. A constant state of picking up trails, putting clues together, and trying to determine what the truth is, when you have no way of knowing.
Best: You are exactly in the hero’s mind the entire time. Excellent storytelling.
Worst: The final decision.
Has Nolan finally bit off more than he can chew? So much of this movie is trying to make sure the science works out (when it doesn’t) that we completely miss out on motivations. What stakes does the Protagonist (that’s his credited name) have to lose, besides just “saving the world?” Who are we fighting against in that finale? Why should we support Robert Pattinson (Robat Battinbat) when his motivations are increasingly shaky throughout the film? Why do we care?
Best: That one double explosion.
Worst: This is how it works, but don’t think about it.
The movie that put Nolan on the map. He looked at every aspect of Batman, and made sure that it made sense. He never went for the obvious solution, making Scarecrow the first villain. It is just an exciting movie that keeps you watching, and is what made me love Batman personally.
Best: Katana fights on ice!
Worst: Killing someone =/= letting them die by your hand?
This movie is further down this list than I would have originally thought, but it’s only because of the style of movie. This movie isn’t so much a story, as it is a moving mural. It’s not meant to be watched, with characters and plots, but instead a giant work of visual art, to admire. I love it for what it is, but in a list of Nolan films, it’s not an overly enjoyable movie to watch. It could very easily be the top of another list, perhaps Best Films as a Work of Art.
Best: Managing three different senses of urgency.
Worst: Tell me a single characters name.
The Dark Knight Rises
The worst of the Batman films from Nolan. This movie could have been a lot better, but it’s hard to be engaged when your protagonist spends most of the movie in a hole with a broken back. I don’t have a lot to say that hasn’t already been said though.
Worst: You can escape, if only you believe in yourself!