September 9, 2020
Christopher Nolan’s 11th feature film, the much anticipated Tenet, is finally here and playing on big screens in Fort Wayne (although not in New York or L.A., go figure).
Are people going to it? Yes. Not like they would if there wasn’t a pandemic happening, but they’re going. Perhaps more importantly, people are going to see the film overseas almost as they would if there was no plague happening at all. In less than a week of proper release, Tenet made more than $100 million at the box office.
The film, which cost over $250 million to produce, will need to make $500 million to be considered profitable, due to marketing and costs ensued from being pushed back several times. Will it get there? I’m not certain, to be honest. It depends on how the next few weeks play out and, of course, how the word-of-mouth element affects the film. I do think, though, that once we figure in eventual streaming profits, Christopher Nolan will once again win.
Perhaps what matters most in the case of Tenet is legacy. It’s the Covid film. It’s the film that secured Nolan’s reputation as the filmmaker of his generation. And, beyond that, it’s probably very good. Or, I should say, very well made. If they do have an Oscars ceremony in 2021, I could easily see Tenet being one of the big players, if mostly because there isn’t going to be a whole lot of competition this year. I could see Nolan finally winning the Best Director statue, if only for the historical value of the film.
In addition to theaters screening Tenet, they’re also screening older Nolan films, including The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk. This being the season of Nolan all of the sudden, a lot of bored film critics have been doing deep dives into Nolan’s oeuvre, asking questions like, “What’s Nolan’s best film?” “Is Nolan actually a good filmmaker?” “How will we feel about Christopher Nolan films in 75 years?”
With not much else to talk about this week, I figured I’d jump into the conversation and offer my own ranking of the 10 Christopher Nolan films I’ve seen so far.
10. Following (1998)
You’ll have to forgive me, I saw this movie one time and that was 20 years ago. I don’t remember much more than liking it. The Criterion Collection has reissued it, which suggests that it’s very good and (gag) important. A micro-budget film with big ideas. (B)
9. Insomnia (2002)
This underrated detective flick is the only one on this list that Nolan didn’t write, and it shows. The movie has some heart and some humor and makes perfect sense. Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, and Robin Williams star in a mystery flick about a detective who goes to Alaska to solve a convoluted murder. The scale of Nolan’s signature works keep this gem in the shadows. (B+)
8. Batman Begins (2005)
At the time of its release, the first two acts of this film made for maybe the best superhero film of all time. Like most of Nolan’s films, I found the third act to be tedious and silly. But dang, those first two acts kinda sorta changed the superhero genre and, ultimately, cinema. (B+)
7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
A strange, silly, accidentally hilarious, often very cheesy spectacle of a film, Rises is Nolan going as big as possible for the sake of going as big as possible. The film itself makes me laugh in all the wrong places but ultimately was an incredibly good time at the theater. (A-)
6. Inception (2010)
I saw Inception three times at the theater and have seen it at least another three times at home, and yet I can hardly remember a single thing about it. I do remember, however, that it’s an overly long, tedious watch. And it’s confusing. And it hardly makes sense. I also remember it being visually inventive and fun as hell to watch. (A-)
5. Interstellar (2014)
A remarkably gorgeous odyssey of a film that hardly makes any sense at all. This is Nolan in full-blown Kubrick mode, trying to make the most gorgeous and philosophical film of all-time. He doesn’t succeed at either, but it’s very interesting to watch him try so hard. (A)
4. Dunkirk (2017)
Here we see Nolan keeping the story simple and focusing on mood and production more than ever. The result is what’s perhaps his masterpiece. A true production marvel that, like all of Nolan’s work, somehow avoids emotion and humor entirely. (A+)
3. The Dark Knight (2008)
There’s not really much that needs to be said about this one. We’ve all seen it, we know it changed cinema and the Oscars, and we know it features one of the best performances ever put on screen. The best comic book film ever and one of the five best action films ever. (A+)
2. Memento (2000)
One of the best films of the current century and the film that made the rest of Nolan’s career possible. Memento became the movie that movie nerds obsessed over. It’s a true masterstroke that proves that Nolan doesn’t need a huge budget to make a gorgeous, inventive film. (A+)
1. The Prestige (2006)
And here it is, the Nolan film I think cinephiles will care the most about in 75 years. Unlike other Nolan films, this one has some heart and doesn’t need to lean on stunts or epic visuals to feel like a spectacle. I’m not going to say anything more about this gem, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it. I’ll just say this, it’s perfect. (A++)
Making the a grade
By my account, that makes Nolan an A/A- director. There are maybe 20 of those out there ever. And, like his hero Stanley Kubrick (and his biggest competition, Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson, and Wes Anderson), every one of Nolan’s films is a must-see. And so, whoa, hey look, I guess I might be a Nolan fan afterall. Who’d have thunk it?
Send your Christopher Nolan Top 10 Lists my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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