July 21st, 2023-- is a day that will live in infamy.
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July 21st, 2023-- is a day that will live in infamy. If you’ve been anywhere on the internet for the last three or four months, I'm sure you’ve been utterly inundated with "Barbenheimer memes". Christopher Nolan's 3-hour WWII thriller, verses Greta Gerwig's hyper-vibrant, bubble-gum-pink live-action take on the iconic doll, played in this case by Margot Robbie. Two films that couldn't be more diametrically opposed have the internet in an absolute uproar as people are planning all over the world to double feature both films on the same day.
Whenever one of my favourite directors has a new film coming out, I always do a marathon re-watch of their previous filmography leading up to the new release. I have to watch the films in correct order of release to see how their style has developed over time. Yes, I'm a little OCD. Okay, I'm a lot OCD. I love how much of a diehard cineaste Nolan is. He has always and will always be a staunch supporter of shooting on film, while equally fighting for the movie-theatre-going experience, in the age of digital and
Christopher Nolan's directorial debut is a masterclass in shoe-string budget filmmaking. Following (1998) is a tight 70-minute crime thriller that Nolan shot on film of course, only on the weekends with friends, over the course of several months. It's grungy and very down and dirty. Effectively, efficiently brisk.
Two years later, Nolan followed up... Following (sorry not sorry) with his breakout indie darling sophomore smash, Memento (2000). A twisty noir thriller with a highly committed performance from Guy Pierce. You'll wanna watch it again the moment it's over. Backwards, forwards, in colour and black and white, and lots of body tattoos.
With those first two features under his belt, Nolan was offered the job of doing an American remake of the 1997 Norwegian icy chiller Insomnia. Nolan’s version of Insomnia (2002), stars AL Pacino as Detective Will Dormer (I see what they did there), on the hunt for a killer in the heart of frosty Nightmute, Alaska. It also has a fantastically menacing performance from the late, great Robin Williams.
Those three films were enough assembled clout to pull Nolan into the Hollywood Big Leagues and reboot the long-dormant Batman franchise after the disastrously reviled Batman & Robin (1997). As bad as that film is, I still hope that Joel Schumacher rests in peace. Nolan delivered a stellar Batman reboot, seeing Christian Bale don the dark cape and cowl (and my personal favourite of all the live-action Batmen). Batman Begins (2005), is grounded, gritty, smart, summer entertainment.
Before returning to the dark world of DC Comics, Nolan would first go back in time for a twisty, mind-bending period piece about dueling magicians competing to be the very best. The Prestige (2006) is my personal favourite of Nolan’s cinematic oeuvre. The less you know about it, the better your first experience will be. And yes, it was one of two period piece movies about stage magicians in 2006. The other being The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton. Highly underrated.
Heath Ledger sadly passed away before the release, but his take on Batman’s archrival, The Joker, has and did go down in history as of one of the all-time greats. He was wonderfully awarded posthumously the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The Dark Knight (2008) was an instant smash, making over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. It’s the best Batman film ever made. And yes, I have and will continue to defend Bale’s iconic growl voice to this day.
After ten years of plotting and planning Nolan next delivered his dream project. And I mean “dream project” as Inception (2010) is all about thieves hacking inside of dreams within dreams, within dreams. An iconic score from Hans Zimmer still slaps and the iconic “BUWAH” noise is still associated with the sci-fi action epic to this day. The Joseph Gordon-Levitt hallway fight-sequence remains a particular highpoint. Especially because Nolan ensured they built a real rotating hallway set for authenticity. Also, part of the film was shot in Alberta, so yay!
The Dark Knight Rises finishes Nolan’s Batman Trilogy on his own terms. Its large, loud, epic, and watching Bruce Wayne make the jump and ascend out of the large prison hole in the middle of the desert is nothing short of awe inspiring. Tom Hardy absolutely crushes it as Bane. Just like how he crushes Batman’s back, like the iconic story arc Batman: Knightfall. And yes, I will defend Hardy’s Bane voice, as well.
Some of the Nolan’s critics love lambasting him over how “cold and unemotional” his films are. Personally, I disagree with the critique. Even so, one of Nolan’s biggest influential heroes is Stanley Kubrick and 2001, in particular. Kubrick was infamous for being cold and unemotional himself. Interstellar (2014) is Nolan’s unabashed love-letter to Kubrick and 2001, but with a noticeable element of heart and human connection this time. Also, Lakewood Cannabis brownie points for it also being shot right here in Alberta too.
Dunkirk (2017) is a return to a shorter run-time than the back half of Nolan’s catalogue. It’s a lean, mean, tense, WWII thriller taking place in only a fashion that Nolan knows how to do. Intercutting back and forth between three different storylines. Over land, sea, and air. Over the course of an hour, a day, and a week. You want Nolan? Here he is.
Tenet (2020) is Nolan at “his most Nolan”. The film is dense, complex, and head-scratching in both its narrative twists and turns. As Clémence Poésy says early on in the film: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” There was a hope this would be the film to save cinemas during the height of the pandemic. Didn’t necessarily do that, but it’s still a twisty good time for fans of the resplendently dressed fancy British auteur.
I can’t wait to experience Oppenheimer (2023) on opening night, not only in IMAX, but also projected on glorious 70mm IMAX film. As Christopher Nolan would have always intended. And of course, I’ll be going to see Barbie (2023) as well during the first matinee show on Saturday morning. Barbenheimer is officially upon us.