When deciding on this month’s edition of The Ultimate Choice, it was a no brainer. My first ever edition of The Ultimate Choice was one of Tarantino’s filmography. and I wanted to get back to focusing on specific filmmakers and directors. Therefore, I thought it would only be fitting with the release of Tenet to make one focused on one of the biggest filmmakers of our generation, Christopher Nolan. Here is what the film fans picked as their favourite of his filmography.
Chosen by Amy Smith
Admittedly, a lot of Nolan’s filmography is actually a blindspot for me. One day soon, I plan to go through and watch the entire Dark Knight trilogy and see where my thoughts lie on the controversial Interstellar. However, I have enjoyed every single film that I have seen from Nolan (yes, including Tenet) and I doubt that any I haven’t seen will be better than the one I plan to talk about: Inception.
Whilst Nolan’s filmography is one that can be an acquired taste and heavy on first viewing, there is a spectacle to it that not many other directors can master. It may take a few watches to truly appreciate the intricate choices and narrative style that Nolan goes for, but the pay off is always worth it when all the puzzle pieces click together. Inception may be the most rewarding of them all, as it asks so much of the audience and plays the long game.
The level of complexity that this film is told through is insane, and I have just the way of proving this. There is a YouTube video titled “Inception in Real Time”, in which the dream section in the concluding part of this film is edited so that not only do we see all the actions and when they are taking place. but how they link together and the true speed that they are happening at. It is even more insane after watching it that the sequence works edited in a film together. Alongside this, the ending shot may just be one of the best final shots in any film, being both open to interpretation and a solid conclusion that has a lot more meaning than just the spinning top falling or not. Quite simply, I do not think any other Nolan film will have the same impact on me that Inception does.
Also chosen by Isaiah Washington: Twitter
After the release of Tenet, writer, director and producer Christopher Nolan has put himself into a position of being acclaimed as one of the most ambitious filmmakers working in cinema right now. Over the years he has delivered hit after hit after hit whether it’s from a box office or critical reception. Successful projects from The Dark Knight, to Interstellar to his most recent war epic Dunkirk. And over time he has been progressing with his storytelling and grand scale of his scripts and directorial vision. But when it comes to my most appreciated film from Nolan that I favor, I admitting went back and forth but I think I settled on choosing his action heist film Inception.This is definitely the most original script I’ve ever seen Nolan write. The concepts and world building is truly ambitious and as someone who has a big appreciation for the art of screenwriting, the script truly opens the doors for fantastic aspects of true cinematic entertainment. The movie explores deep complex psychological themes that syncs up greatly with the film’s narrative of exploring dreams and cognitive thinking. And while it was a very risky decision, Nolan is able to plant in heavy yet clever exposition dialogue well delivered from it’s characters to allow it’s audience to stay engaged and not be completely lost in it’s three act structure that can be easily confusing if not treated carefully. It’s great to see Nolan take a risk and focus more on plot than character work with it’s ensemble. But we just so happen to explore one character, Cobbs (who’s played wonderfully by Leonardo DiCaprio) to be the emotional core of the film’s narrative with his sub plot of his motivation as a thief is to return back to his family after a tragic loss he faces that is turned expertly into a nightmare that haunts him through his dream and the mission he faces both literally and figuratively. The rest of the ensemble is memorable too including two fun charming performances from Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon Levitt. The film is also expertly directed showing a consistency in tone and a sense of urgency with time and stakes within the blocking of the dreams within a dream sequence. Nolan’s vision also allows the film to become a technical masterpiece with it’s imaginative cinematography, capturing engaging action set pieces including the iconic hallway fight, mind bending visual effects, crisp realistic sound editing and an amazing emotionally driven Oscar nominated score amazingly composed by Hans Zimmer. The film feels like it’s ahead of its time with it’s cinematic scope and concept that brings an extra layer to the heist genre. It’s also one of the only film’s in Christopher Nolan’s filmography I’ve seen in which it truly feels like the screenwriting and the direction are at their peak while simultaneously being on equal par with one another. There’s also a lot of respect to be had for Nolan focusing way more on plot than the ensemble characters yet he is also able to deliver one that gets us to care about his story-line that supports this narrative. Well balanced with great action, a complex original story that makes you think along with having the urge to re-watch it and appreciate its ambitious directorial vision, great technical craftsmanship and entertaining cast ensemble is all the more reason why Inception is my favorite Christopher Nolan movie.
My favourite Christopher Nolan film is quite the unpopular one for most. That being his 2014 science fiction epic, Interstellar. In comparison to his other works, this feels like easily the most poetic of his works as he deviates from his action spectacles more for an awe inspiring space opera. It clearly features great nods to Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey in how he wants to suck audiences into a unique world beyond our borders, but through using his signature focus on time, it ultimately turns into a cautionary tale about the importance of love itself.
The film follows Matthew McConaughey who is a farmer living in a world where humanity is on its last legs due to an array of storm killing the crops, all of which ignites a story of him joining an astronaut crew who is sent out into space to traverse past a black hole to another dimension in search for a new home for humanity to live in. It’s a remarkably outlandish premise at first glance, but once the film kicks into high gear and has us explore these uncharted lands in space, the film’s themes in regards to love start to sink in. It’s so especially apparent when the film demonstrates how much McConaughey and Anne Hathaway’s characters really lose everything just so that their species can have another chance on a new land. Whether it’s Nolan using his themes towards time to show how 1 hour can last 7 hours on Earth through an uncharted planet, or how there may be some potential scientific evidence towards how we may have influence over our past as a “Ghost”, the film goes above and beyond to make you feel just as lonely and isolated as these characters. It’s an isolating and harrowing experience and it only goes to question what the real point is to saving humanity if we are losing everything we hold dear to our hearts.
All of this is what elevates Interstellar among Nolan’s other films to me. For the most part, his films are amazing spectacles with a solid story to boot, but Interstellar mixes his amazing spectacle with an emotionally driven narrative which might not be for everyone, but makes for such a rewarding experience simply by being easily his most human film. Kind of ironic coming from a man who makes films about a human bat and dreams within dreams.
Also chosen by Sarah MacGregor: Twitter | Facebook
It’s almost impossible to choose my favourite Nolan film (I haven’t seen Tenet as yet) because each of his films has many qualities that I admire. However seeing Interstellar at the IMAX counts amongst my most memorable cinematic experiences. Set in a dystopian future where schools re-write history and science is frowned upon while food shortages surge and fires rage a secretive scientific project is underway to identify potential planets to support future human life.
Matthew McConaughey is brilliantly cast against type as a reluctant former NASA pilot who agrees to go on one of the secret missions piloting a spacecraft with a cargo of frozen human embryos through a wormhole near Jupiter even though this means leaving his family behind. The wormhole’s proximity to a huge black hole adds the complications of gravitational time dilation to the mission. Black holes are a fascinating topic and have been explored mainly ominously in science fiction cinema (Event Horizon, Solaris) however Interstellar had the resources to use scientific equations and then feed them into newly created CGI software to come up the most accurate visualisations of a black hole. Astrophysicist Kip Thorne was crucial as a script advisor and producer to the narrative development of Interstellar as the drama of the story revolves around exploring time passing at different rates for different characters on their space missions. To make the story scientifically plausible, Christopher Nolan discovered he’d need to introduce a massive black hole spinning at nearly the speed of light. In order to portray the warped side of the universe, space-time and how gravity bends light the production team came up with such data heavy designs that individual frames of computer graphic imagery took up to 100 hours to render. Much of the film was also shot on actual locations in Iceland (to depict some of the planets explored) with life size models of space equipment built including the affable robot TARS. The ‘epic-ness’ of the production really astounds onscreen with Interstellar inspiring the amazement of an early Hollywood epic with its scope and spectacle following the journey of its main character Joseph Cooper.
Despite the scale of this amazing 2001: A Space Odyssey homage I was reminded of Nolan’s gripping re-make of Insomnia (2002) a far smaller film that lifted the director from the world of indie filmmaking into the mainstream through its intense ‘cast against type’ performances, emotional relationships between the characters and the importance of the environment and landscapes to the narrative.
The beauty of Interstellar for me is not only the visualization but that it manages to combine high concepts with a human painful story wracked with loss, doubt and the fear of making wrong choices. Science, desperation, love and ghosts contradictorily are bound to the raw human experience. The astronauts who set out to try and save their fellow humans become ghosts tied to their past and memories. Cooper trapped in the black hole’s gravitational pull manages to send desperate messages to his daughter Murph by knocking books from a shelf. Survivors re-enter a future which they helped to create but are no a longer part of. Cooper finds his home on the new ‘earth’ is an exhibit in a museum. Since Nolan made the leap from indie filmmaker to becoming one of the major players in high concept film making he has naturally come in for some criticism. One critique of Interstellar argues that he should have used the resources to create a film that imagined using science to combat climate change not to run from it – a valid point – but that would have clearly been a totally different story and not the time travelling space epic that Nolan was trying to explore. The truth is Christopher Nolan was sadly over-looked as a developing filmmaker in Britain and so set off through the wormhole for America in order to continue his career which is now on such a level that the cinema industry itself has been relying on the release of Tenet to literally save it. Nolan has been faced with as impossible task as his fictional pilot Cooper. Social realism and family drama are key genres of British cinema which is known for small intense films and although Nolan has left the frustrations and limitations of independent films behind his relentless exploration of realistic detail coupled with the raw emotions and family dramas of his time travelling scientists are what for me – keeps this amazing sci-fi Interstellar ironically with its feet on the ground.
Also chosen by Guy Jeffries: Twitter | Website
Now some people may have even avoided the mind boggling Inception or his Dark Knight trilogy for it not being their thing. But Interstellar feels like his most unavoidable film; it’s a true sci-fi epic that manages to be a blend of a deep, emotional space odyssey and a far out, yet believable piece of science fiction; and there’s good reason as to why. Jonathan Nolan, Christopher’s brother was initially hired by Steven Spielberg to write the story and when Spielberg set off to pursue other projects, Jonathan recommended his brother to take the helm instead. But it wasn’t all just Jonathan’s story and Christopher’s amazing vision. There’s a lot owing to Dr. Kip Thorne who provides the very basis of the scientific foundation of the story, actually setting boundaries of what is real and what can be realistic possible.
Matthew McConaughey plays Coop, or Cooper and is amazing as the torn father who makes the ultimate sacrifice of his parenthood for the greater good and in a round about way, saving their lives. It’s quite possibly, the most difficult sacrifice any parent can do, to leave those you most care about in order to save their future. McConaughey’s performances entwined with the story clearly displays that this isn’t an excuse to skip parenthood. Cooper is the key protagonist but you’re never thinking he’s the selfless hero out to save the entire future of humankind. It goes further than that with McConaughey injecting a personal, almost selfish humility that keeps Cooper ironically grounded. He’s a father, a man who is ultimately trying to get back home to his family, but he knows if has to save that home or ignite some hope by a weird twist of fate.
There’s the turmoil and resentment, regret and forgiveness. It’s not only exploring the depths of space and time, but with McConaughey’s performance, we delve into the emotional psyche of human emotional and dare I say, love. It’s hard to deny that the key focus is all on Cooper’s personal mission, that is clear but the supporting cast is tremendous and really holds the rest of the story up. The emotional struggle is real as space time literally unfolds, even though the crew is are millions of miles away from earth, the thought of home does more than linger in the background and is still, very much the driving force of their mission’s purpose. Hathaway, Gyasi and Bentley all give strong performances as fellow crew members, allowing each character to bounce off each other. Some might be surprised to see a young Timothée Chalamet who is perfect as a younger Casey Affleck. You can clearly see Chalamet has based his performance on Affleck as oppose to Affleck being an older Chalamet. Chastain is equally good at playing the abandoned, older Murph. But it’s Bill Irwin’s robot TARS that actually shoulders up to McConaughey performance and even has his name rightly among the top billing.
Again much like Inception, it’s the perfect amalgamation of science fiction, thriller and emotional, thought-provoking drama. It’s courageously ambitious and dares to go way beyond anything that has been done before with a danger of slipping into a black hole itself with gargantuan effect. But it doesn’t. Typical of Nolan’s films, it’s heavier than most, but nicely layered with a number of relatable themes, without each overriding one another. There’s the family relationships and the future of humankind, climate change, the looming food crisis and most importantly the mind- bending, paradoxical astrophysics.
Chosen by D.W. Lundberg: Twitter | Podcast
You wouldn’t expect a fledgling director to make his masterpiece so soon out of the gate, but that’s what Christopher Nolan did with Memento (2000). And, no, I don’t use that word lightly. Memento is not a “masterpiece” in the same way that the latest superhero blockbuster or lightweight romantic comedy is a “masterpiece,” as countless tweets and Reddit posts are so quick to call them. I mean “masterpiece” in the classical sense of the term, as a compendium of all the skills honed by its artist, elevating that artist to the level of master craftsman. Adapted from a story by Nolan’s brother Jonathan (who would later co-write The Dark Knight and Interstellar), Memento is a noir-ish mystery thriller about an insurance investigator trying to avenge the death of his wife. It’s a simple enough story but with all the hallmarks of its director’s later career, including a time-bending narrative (the story is told in reverse), a high-concept “hook” (the protagonist suffers from Anterograde amnesia, which prevents him from making new memories), and characters in search of their identity (and just looooove talking about it). You can see it as a blueprint for Nolan’s future mindf**ks like Inception and The Prestige, but on a smaller, more personal scale, before his films were enveloped by spectacle. Memento‘s backwards storytelling is a particularly novel approach. Nolan tips his hand early on, with a famous shot of a Polaroid photograph slowly fading to white. Then we get a quick succession of shots, of blood running up a wall, of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) seemingly grabbing a gun out of thin air, of a bullet lodging itself back in its chamber. It’s unnerving, and already something feels… off. Even so, it doesn’t take us long to realize that the scene we’re watching takes place immediately after the next one; Nolan uses explosive, sometimes funny bits of dialogue (“Lenny!” “Oh, I’m chasing this guy? No, he’s chasing me”) to bookend scenes, so that by the sixth or seventh time shift, our brains instinctively know when to refocus and adjust. (It also helps that a forward-running narrative, shot in black and white with Leonard in a hotel room, plays concurrently between scenes.) Reverse chronology films are nothing new, of course—Happy End (1966) and Betrayal (1983) being two of the earliest examples—and Nolan would continue to bend the rules of time and space, most recently in Dunkirk and Tenet. But there’s a crispness to the way Memento’s story unspools, so that it feels fresh and unpredictable even on repeated viewings. Clever as it is, Memento would be nothing but a distant memory (see what I did there?) if Nolan didn’t have grander ambitions in mind. (This is also in keeping with Nolan’s modus operandi, giving even the most basic “hook” an ambitious art-house spin.) How the movie’s fractured narrative is meant to mimic the mindset of its hero, for instance. Like Leonard, we’re consistently kept off-balance, always struggling to find our bearings, to retain information for the next (previous) scene. Supporting characters’ motivations are also kept murky and mysterious, and part of the fun is trying to figure out where everyone’s loyalties lie. Can the beautiful, hard-bitten bartender (Carrie-Anne Moss) really be trusted to help Leonard “out of pity”? Is the cop/”best friend” (Joe Pantoliano) trying to assist him on his quest, or extort him? What about the kindly hotel clerk (Mark Boone Junior) who greets him at the front desk with a smile? Relationships get muddled, and it’s hard to keep track of who double-crosses who. Yet that’s precisely the point—because that’s how Leonard experiences it, too. (A special feature included on the Blu-ray and DVD allows you to watch the movie in chronological order, which is good for a laugh but completely nullifies Nolan’s stylistic intent.) Grander than Memento‘s psychological underpinnings, though, is the characters’ search for self—the actions that give them meaning in the here and now. Moreso than his obsession with time, I would argue that “identity” is the driving theme throughout all of Nolan’s work. From “Daniel Lloyd” to Will Dormer to Bruce Wayne to Alfred Borden to Joseph “Coop” Cooper to virtually everyone in Inception, Nolan’s characters have always been defined by (or seek to be defined by) the world they inhabit. Leonard is his ultimate protagonist: a man constantly forced to reassess himself, constantly in flux. He’s as quick to tell other people about his “condition” as he’s prone to moments of quiet self-reflection (“How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”). The movie’s stunning revelation that Leonard and Sammy Jankis might be one and the same also serves as a further attempt by Leonard to define himself (“So you lie to yourself to be happy…. We all do it!”). But it’s Leonard’s final epiphany that proves the movie isn’t just a gimmick for gimmick’s sake—and floors me, every time. As Leonard comes to grips with what he’s become, caught in an endless loop of violence and vengeance, he makes the conscious decision to continue that loop, that it’s his actions, his identity as avenger and amateur sleuth, that give him purpose. “We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are,” he says, in the closing (opening) frames of the film. “I’m no different.” Neither are we. Is Memento a “perfect” film? Not really. There’s no rhyme or reason to Leonard’s memory loss, no set limit for when he’ll “reset.” This works well enough within the reality of the disease itself, but doesn’t explain how the characters can manipulate it so easily to their liking. And Nolan’s writing, as always, is too on-the-nose for its own good (when Leonard explains his condition to people, it’s often revealed that he’s told them about it before, which comes across as overly expository and tin-eared). But then… no “masterpiece” is “perfect.” Like the remnants of our own fragmented memory, it isn’t so much the individual pieces but our collective experience that make up who we are. Memento will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first Christopher Nolan film I saw in a theater, and sitting there with that packed Sundance crowd, you got the sense that we were witnessing something special. It pretty much rocked my world, and I’ve watched him offer different variations on those same characters and aesthetics ever since.
The Prestige (SPOILERS AHEAD)
Chosen by Story at the Core: Twitter | Studio Twitter
“Are you watching closely?”
I recently watched The Prestige… for the 9th time. I always love noticing how insignificant phrases like “I keep asking myself that” get more meaning, but when I watched closer this time, I noticed something deeper than the easter eggs. I got to notice how the themes and the character arcs, specifically how the character arcs explore the idea of obsession.
Christopher Nolan tries to show that obsessions will eventually destroy us. We see obsessions get the better of the characters until Angier loses his girlfriend, his ingenieur, his morality, his identity, and his life; and Borden/Fallon lose their wife, their mistress, their brother, and their favorite trick. Angier gave up everything for his career, and in the end, he finally lost his career. Borden/Fallon gave up everything for their trick, and in the end, they finally lost their trick. Obsession destroyed them. But when you look at the characters, you realize one of the bordens didn’t lose everything, because he changed early – but the other didn’t change until it was too late.
To understand Borden/Fallon, we need to split them into 2 different people. We’ll say that Alfred is the one who loves Sarah and Freddie is the one who loves Olivia. When you watch the movie with that perspective, you realize that Alfred and Freddie each has their own story through the movie. Each has their own arc. And each has their own morals.
Alfred and Freddie both start out obsessed with their trick. We get to know what they want early on in the movie: They want to invent something new; something other magicians will scratch their heads over. But it’s not because they want to be the best. It’s because that’s what they think real magicians do. In their minds, if they don’t pull off The Transported Man, they’re not real magicians. To them, The Transported Man is a matter of self-actualization, of identity, of self-worth. That’s why they’ll keep their secret from the people they love the most – because without that trick, the Borden twins are nothing.
But when Alfred starts a family with Sarah, his priorities shift. He starts to become more interested in his family until his secret leads to Sarah’s suicide. And at that point, he realizes he lost something more important than his trick. So he tells Freddie “We’re done. We’re not going back to Angier’s show”. For Alfred, the trick is over.
But Freddie never has the benefit of a family. The closest he gets is a relationship with Olivia – and that relationship is illicit! Eventually, his obsession gets the better of him, and even though Alfred warns him to not go back to Angier’s show, Freddie can’t resist and gets framed for murder. Once Freddie sees that his life is on the line, that their best piece of magic will be worthless, and that he’ll lose their daughter, he offers even his trick if it will save the last piece of family they have left. He has a slight change of heart as he realizes that there might be something more important than magic – for the first time in his life… and the last time in his life.
Alfred had this change of heart early and was willing to let go of his professional rivalry with Angier. Alfred got to live. Alfred got his daughter. Alfred won. But that’s only because he got a slap in the face that there must be something more important than magic, so he changed early enough to not make the choices Freddie made.
Freddie didn’t change until it was too late. He lost Olivia. He lost his daughter. He lost his life. And Angier? Angier never turns away from his obsession. Driven to be better than Alfred, he never celebrates victory. He doesn’t care about his wife; he cares about Afred’s secret. He treats his girlfriend like a stagehand. He buries Freddie alive. And he kills himself night after night, frames Freddie for murder, and lets Freddie die for a crime he never committed. And in the end, Angier loses his girlfriend, his career, his identity, and his life. The Prestige does what Shakespeare’s tragedies do – warning us of impending danger so we, like Alfred, can change before it’s too late. If you’re watching closely.
Thank you to everyone that took part in this edition. What is your favourite Nolan movie? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.