Christopher Nolan’s rise from obscure art house mechanic to Master and Commander of the Hollywood blockbuster is the stuff of legends and textbooks, behind-the-scenes featurettes and film festival Q&A panel banter. His connection with audiences from all walks and interests has catapulted his career to one of the most influential and commercially successful filmmakers of the last decade, if not of all time. Heavily influenced and readily sampled, conventional and experimental, his approach is often at odds with itself, conflicted and convoluted giving way to big budgets and endless writings, reviews and conversations. He chooses grand over nuance, drives his points forward with all the subtlety of a bull in a china cabinet but somehow it always pays off. All of his films have returned a profit – a rarity for any career. He gets at your internal need to know and problem solve in concept driven spectacles, big screen theatrics with mainstream appeal. Nolan’s films have explored broken misanthropes and wounded nobodies, followed sleepless psycho dramas to the ends of the earth for perpetual daylight revelations, made dreams come true and blown them up, explored the mysteries of magic and breathed life into fallen heroes.
[full article at Above The Line: Practical Movie Reviews]
He started off as an obscure art house mechanic?
The only one that didn’t leave me with a throbbing headache was The Prestige
Michael- I had a laugh at that part, too
This would have been much more effective had it been posted before The Dark Knight Rises turned out to be such a sloppy mess.
Estimations of Christopher Nolan’s importance are wildly exagerrated.
To be fair, he has probably had the greatest influence on mainstream film in the last decade than anyone else.
But calling him “Master and Commander of cinema” is a little silly.
Lotsa money goes toward advertising his films. That’s all it takes. They buy their success.
Replace “greatest influence on mainstream film in the last decade” with “greatest influence on mainstream film ‘culture’ in the last decade” and you might be onto something (though I doubt he’s had anywhere near the same level of influence that Tarantino had back in the 90s).
Even suggesting that “he’s probably had the greatest influence on ‘mainstream film’ in the last decade” implies an originality strong enough to influence the way other movies are being made. Twisty thrillers, high-tech sci-fi, comic-book adaptations, “serious” superhero movies and Scandinavian remakes were already popular with audiences (and critics) before Nolan had any kind of mainstream success, and I can’t really say if he’s done anything with those genres that others filmmakers hadn’t already explored.
For me, he seems to have built his entire career trajectory on the influence (and the success) of films like The Usual Suspects, Unbreakable, Heat, X-Men and The Matrix. The thing that separates him from the directors of those particular films is a veneer of consistency; Nolan gives the audience what it wants, which is just enough jargon to make them feel clever (but not so clever that they start to feel challenged) with enough action and plot-twists thrown in to keep them from getting bored.
That said, I don’t have anything against him. I heard about Following back when it was first making (small) waves and like everyone of my generation I thought Memento was the start of something epic, but the level of subsequent hype (elevating Nolan to the level the new messiah) does make it difficult to see his films without all the noise and commotion.
I have to agree with Jirin. Nolan’s career has never gone down since its beginning. As of today, every other major studio must be desiring him to helm their projects. However, he is no way to be credited as the Master and Commander of cinema, even of action blockbusters, as this would rather go to either Cameron or Spielberg. He is a good and highly promising director, but no way near to be exceptional yet.
No, it’s Quentin Tarantino the master & commander of blockbuster. In 50 years no one will remember Nolan, we will all remember Quentin Tarantino. (Yes, i know first QT films are not blockbusters, but it happens the same with the first Cameron, Spielberg or Nolan films):
Alex, for some reason, I believe it will be quite different, but both directors will be remembered by geneations. And, I just cannot see Tarantino’s films as anything near what we usually call here action blockbuster. As for Nolan, he has already made quite many good films to be well-known. Give him another two decades of the same progression, and he will go down the history as Hollywood’s top director. Unless, he suddenly skrews it all up.
Heh, yeah, right. Let’s all jump on the Christopher Nolan bandwagon why don’t we. Nolan is waaaay overrated and, at best, mediocre. His films will not stand the test of time. None of the them. Go back and watch them in 10 years and you’ll realize they are, at best, medicore. Everyone said the same thing about Tarantino, and look at him – a Hollywood hack who couldn’t write a decent script if it killed him. He rode the Pulp Fiction wave for a quarter a century, but lets face it, the guys sucks. Like Nolan, Tarantino has managed to have career longevity in Hollywood due to his young, hipster status, and teens and 20-somethings don’t know any better now with Nolan didn’t know any better back then with Tarantino.
Nolan’s Batman movies are hype, just like Tim Butron’s Batman was in 89. Remember all the hype in 89 (if you’re old enough). If you don’t, it was far more than Nolan’s franchise. Now go watch Burton’s Batman and try not to laugh and cringe.
@ Alex: “Quentin Tarantino the master & commander of blockbuster. In 50 years no one will remember Nolan, we will all remember Quentin Tarantino.”
Really? I forgot what Inglourious Bastards was about five minutes after watching it. Unwatchable. Horrid, Pretentious. A 3-hour-plus ego trip.
Tarantino is a Hollywood hack in love with his own coked-up voice. And don’t get me started on that nasty piece of crap “Deathproof.” How do you F#!* something like that up? The title of the film should’ve been “Chicks Talking in Bars, Chicks Talking in Cars.”
Nothing like sitting in a movie theater hoping for a coronary.
wait…what the fuck
“Now go watch Burton’s Batman and try not to laugh and cringe.”
I saw it in 89. I wasn’t laughing, I was too busy cringing. Probably Burton’s worst film, overall. But I think he got BATMAN RETURNS right.
Thank you for posting that picture, Tommy.
Nolan aside, Inglorious Basterds wasn’t three hours plus. It was two hours and twenty minutes. Just sayin’. Also, how could you forget about what something’s about only after five minutes. You usually have to watch something a ways in to find out what it’s all really about, and even then, some of the greatest movies are really about nothing other than the characters on the screen or things deeper within the film that you have to watch the film all the way through to get or think about. Example, if you only watch the first five minutes of 2001, you would assume that the film is about apes.
I agree with the mechanic part.
Go to the street and ask somebody the name of a filmmaker, the answer could probably be Spielberg, OR Tarantino.
Eh, I agree with Lights in the Dusk assessment. The only mastery Nolan possess is as a Hollywood technician. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is what it is. The only big budget Hollywood directors I have any interest in are The Wachowski’s who I have faith in that they will actually try something. I had hopes for Peter Jackson but he can’t get away from the damn elves and Guillermo del Toro can’t seem to mesh he gleeful and wonderfully imaginative nerd interests with a great movie.
Technically, wouldn’t the producers be the masters and commanders of cinema? They give the film makers the money and the green light to go ahead with the projects they have in mind. They can also deny film makers the money and the green light. As for directors, no one is the master and commander of cinema. Cinema as a whole is every film and film maker in existence. So, if everyone else suddenly stopped making movies and Nolan was left as the last remaining film maker in the world, wouldn’t people stop watching his movies since there would be nothing else to watch and not everyone would like his movies? Thus, all film makers are needed, even if they are bad at it, in order to keep cinema alive as the audience is vast. So, the films need to be produced quickly and each one different. Therefore, the film makers must be vast.
I would say that Nolan is becoming one of the next big major Hollywood filmmakers in the blockbuster subgenre, along with Peter Jackson and James Cameron. I will say he’s definitely basing the promise of the movies for mass appeal on his own love of mainstream films. If you look at his IMDb page, his favorite films include Star Wars, Blade Runner, 2001, and Chinatown, films that were apart of Hollywood a long time ago and have remained big masterpieces to this day. I think he means to aspire to the intelligence and originality that those films showed at the time, but do it in his own shadowy realistic style. It’s not as strange and surreal as David Lynch, as witty and bloody as Tarantino, or as optimistic and teary-eyed as Spielberg, but it’s a style on its own that is believable and mysterious, so in that way, he can be an influence to future generations, just as Lucas and Spielberg were in the later part of the 20th century. Since you don’t see much of those old Hollywood big-shots making as many good movies as they used to, Nolan’s becoming the next biggest icon to benefit Hollywood with films of his own creative freedom and hopefully he’ll be staying successful for a good long time, before he grows older and has to pass the torch to another young filmmaker ready to give Hollywood some new surprises.
“It’s not as strange and surreal as David Lynch, as witty and bloody as Tarantino”
I fail to see anything of this in his films.
I watch Burton’s Batman all the time without laughing or cringing. Burtonverse > Nolanverse, and it’s not even close.
NO FUN NOLAN!
@Alex I never meant his films are as bloody and witty or strange and surreal as those filmmakers, I meant to see they’re not like them.
Looks like I have some catching up to do. First, thanks for the comments and great response to my article. I do want to point out that this is only the beginning of the article I wrote on my blog and as such, I’m sure if you visit the full entry it will probably answer some of the questions posed here (not that I’m suggesting answers as much as my thoughts).
Is it pretty much SOP or the norm to keep the discussions here in MUBI instead of following the article back to the source?
I’ll do my best to go over the comments just the same here, but do invite you to the full article:
@Micahel – such that his earliest films are indeed art films. That’s not intended as criticism. Memento is my favorite Nolan film. I described him as a “mechanic” because of the refined narrative structure and clarity, his adherence to story/character instead of concept in those films, also not meant to be derogatory.
@Lights/Dusk – Yes, the veneer is indeed a marketable asset in Hollywood and as such bankable – a brand name as strong as Ron Howard used to be, Scorsese remains though his films are vastly inferior to the fervor he once commanded, perhaps last seen in The Departed, and Burton continues to produce films that audiences as well as studio execs understand what they are going to get when they write the check, buy the ticket, watch the lights go down in the theater.
Above everything else one cannot deny Nolan’s mainstream appeal and yes, influenced by and influencer — the one thing that all filmmakers want to do is capitalize on the success of other filmmakers, good and bad filmmakers, or just mediocre ones. Master and Commander is a play on the IDEA of his role as a filmmaker of attention right now, not a measure of his talent, sustainability or even his effectiveness over time but suggesting he’s a hack or will be forgotten is allowing your dislike for him/his work to get in the way of the facts of his accomplishments.
@Billy – the trouble with trying to gauge success in Hollywood is it is an ever changing thing, it is a chameleon and the title is intended to titillate and by the response to the article it accomplishes that.
@Lester – indeed. Inglorious is ridiculous, poorly conceived and forgettable.
@Shaun – actually in this case no. Nolan is in charge in every way, which is one of the fundamental problems with his films – there isn’t anyone checking him, telling him to cut down that scene, leave out the third or forth explosion, and stop with all the overblown theatrics and micro-cinema because it’s not necessary. When Cameron and J.J Abrams and Michael Mann get in a boardroom with the people with the checks they are running the producers circles not the other way around.
Thanks for the thoughts, it’s much appreciated. That’s what I love about MUBI. I just wish I had more time to spend with you guys and return the favor.
“Is it pretty much SOP or the norm to keep the discussions here in MUBI instead of following the article back to the source?”
Speaking as a person who values primary sources and citations, I am also a familiar enough Internet user and self-aware enough human being to know that when you link away from a webpage, you are fragmenting discussion despite intentions. Webpage designers are recommended to keep links at a minimum and, if possible, keep them all to other parts of the site so that traffic is kept in-site and the audience doesn’t end up getting distracted by moving on to possibly more interesting sites that you’ve linked to through articles and such. In the meantime, self-containing all information to one page makes it easier for the audience to focus without having to split their attention between sources. So ultimately it is recommended that, where possible and with respect to IP, just copy and paste the information you want to present to whatever forum you are presenting it on with the link to the original source embedded in the article headline or footnote, or where you are not allowed to just steal someone else’s writing, cite only the key points or specific paragraphs you are using like you would in any sort of research or academic paper. That’s just being polite.
If the original text is your own, dude, just copy and paste it all here. If you want to ‘drive traffic’ to your own site, then you provide a hyperlink clearly isolated before or after the article with some general promotional statement along the lines of, “If you find this article interesting and want to read more about my views on [cinema or Nolan or whatever], please visit [site name here as the actual link].” Like any other Internet-age publicizing, it is generally expected that you’ll give away much of the content for free anyway in order to spark the interest of an audience that will bring traffic to your personal website (and then possibly pay for/download further, special, or more in-depth content that you do not want to provide for free).