'How many films can claim to have literally invented their own suffix?'CHRISTOPHE HAUTIER ON UNSPLASH

11) Tenet

It was meant to heroically swoop in to save UK cinemas from the economic ravages of the pandemic – but perhaps a more realistic legacy for Tenet is to be remembered as Nolan’s most incoherent film. I’ve no qualms also calling it his worst – cool concept aside (reverse entropy! kind of like time travel but a lot more confusing!), it’s mostly a pretty opaque slog. Early on, another character urges our protagonist; ‘Don’t try to understand it, just feel it’. If that’s also supposed to act as a thinly veiled instruction to the audience, it’s one failed by the film that follows; once Nolan’s upturned his box of tricks, we’re left with nothing but an empty vessel, everything to understand… and absolutely nothing to feel.

10) Following

Nolan’s first feature, a ‘no-budget’ homage to the film noir genre shot in a grainy monochrome, is more of a neat puzzle box than it is an actual story. It’s got all the director’s classic tropes (themes of deception and duality, a non-linear structure), but they all feel like somewhat embryonic elements in a film that’s certainly not Nolan’s worst, but might be his most incidental.

9) Insomnia

This gloomy crime drama boasts some solid procedural thrills and two cracking lead performances from Al Pacino and Robin Williams as an archetypal cop-criminal pairing, each one more similar to the other than they’d like to believe. Yet, it’s also unusually by the numbers for Nolan, constrained by its status as a remake and singularly lacking in a writing credit from the director himself. Like Following, this is as close one of his films can come to feeling disposable.

Nolan's latest film releases in UK cinemas on 21st July

8) Batman Begins

The weakest of Nolan’s three Batman films, if only because you can barely see any of the action or fight sequences (oh noughties shaky cam, how I do not miss you). It’s a shame that the final third doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of those first two acts, which manage to commit to the ‘gritty’ faux-realism that’s become the bread-and-butter of later comic-book filmmaking, without (unlike many of those works) becoming completely humourless.

7) The Dark Knight Rises

The final film in The Dark Knight saga just gets the edge over the first for me – mostly out of respect for those action scenes, which are far and away the best in the trilogy. You can’t understand what Tom Hardy’s Bane is saying a lot of the time and the back half is a bit of a mess – but choose instead to focus on Anne Hathaway unexpectedly stealing the show as Catwoman and it’s hard to be too disappointed.


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6) Memento

Nolan’s breakout hit is a lean neo-noir with an ambitious two-pronged structure, designed to reflect the inner life of Guy Pearce’s Leonard, a man who seeks revenge against his wife’s killer whilst also battling anterograde amnesia. It’s a disorienting, sometimes electrifying experience on a first watch. Second time around though? A part of me started to wonder whether it might be just a tad too impressed with its own formal flourishes.

5) The Prestige

Telling the story of two warring magicians in Victorian London, The Prestige is a criminally underappreciated entry in Nolan’s oeuvre. It’s a film that carefully unfolds like a magic trick in itself, appearing to wrongfoot you at every turn… that is, before you realise that all the answers have been clearly laid out in front of you from square one. Come for the narrative twists, stay for a surprise cameo from a certain glam-rock legend.

Nolan with his wife, Emma Thomas, who has served as a producer on all of his filmsSBCLICK ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

4) Dunkirk

In a career chock-full of boundary-pushing filmmaking, Dunkirk might just be Nolan’s seminal technical achievement. It’s exactly the kind of project his skills are best suited towards – one where the action and the craft is the story. It may not work on your emotions quite as compellingly as other contemporary war movies – but, as an exercise in sheer verve and cinematic scale, it’s practically unmatched.

3) The Dark Knight

The Nolan film that’s destined to be called ‘overrated’ until the sun explodes is… let’s face it, actually pretty fantastic. Although it remains beloved today, first and foremost, for Heath Ledger’s scene-stealing performance as The Joker, it’s far more than a one-trick pony – the film also features some of the director’s most confidently envisioned practical setpieces and, of course, that chilling interrogation scene, which still sets the teeth on edge all these years later.

2) Inception

How many films can claim to have literally invented their own suffix? Now, that’s influence money can’t buy (at least for this English student). Jokes aside, Inception is deserving of its assured place in the cultural annals– the film remains a benchmark not only for Nolan’s own career, but for big-budget filmmaking in general. After all, over a decade later, it remains rare to see a high-concept blockbuster that quite so brazenly refuses to dumb things down for its audience, whilst also managing to ground those complex designs in true emotional stakes.

'Nolan's never been more visually majestic, ruthlessly ambitious...'

1) Interstellar

It’s taken years for me to fully admit that Interstellar is the greatest film Nolan has made to date. I’ve wrestled with its frustrating tendency towards ham-fisted exposition and knotty astronomical jargon. With the fact that if you think too hard about the metaphysical logic of its final act, it all starts to fall apart a bit. But that hardly matters; Nolan’s never been more visually majestic, ruthlessly ambitious – or, most important of all, emotionally sincere. His detractors are keen to brand him as a ‘cold’ filmmaker, passionlessly embracing concept at the expense of character. Yet, Interstellar, at its heart a story of transcendental love between a father and daughter, reminds us; Christopher Nolan’s films may always reach for the stars, but it’s the best of them that also endeavour, in some way, to bring us back down to earth.