CINEMATIC TOP 10: IN NOLAN WE TRUST
A countdown to the top 10 movie scene’s in Nolan’s filmography.
Nolan’s latest film – Interstellar
, in case you haven’t heard, is coming out in theaters this week and the twitterverse is set ablaze with giddy, hopeful slavish anticipation. Some people will love it, some will really love it and some will give it a passing grade, while the remaining deconstructionist will be more selective when handing out superfluous commentary, on why he chose to do this, or didn’t choose that. Either way, Interstellar
has arrived and it’s ready for consumption whether you are ready or not. Expectations have, for the most part, been befitting to a likely passable experience, even if it’s possibly, not up to the standard of his film’s normal stature. Don’t worry if it’s not the next Inception
, that’s fine, no director has ever batted a .1000 when it comes to their collection of work from beginning to end, with the exception I’m told of Andrei Turkovsky. But again, I digress. Case in point of contemporary directors pooping the bed every once and awhile: Scorcese - Gangs of New York
, Kubrick - Eyes Wide Shut
, Hitchcock - Birds
(come on, you know you didn’t like that movie!), Spielberg – War of the Worlds
, War Horse
and everything that Roland Emmerich has done. I’m not saying that any of these aforementioned films are horrible, or less than the standard of quality, but let’s face it – it’s not their most memorable work or the films you name drop at your next film buff vs. film buff cage match.
About a month ago I posed a question: why isn’t anyone excited about Interstellar?
Excitement has picked up from most Nolan fan boys (me included) but there is still a collective ho-hum from casual moviegoers. Like Nolan himself, the marketing has been refined and subtle, not pressing or desperate in seeking approval from the people say like Abrams, and the new Star Wars
. For the promotion Nolan has given interviews, held Q & A panels, and even stopped by the air and space museum here in my home city, Washington D.C., demonstrating a certain self satisfaction of his film that is coupled with his reassurance that he can do, ultimately whatever he wants to. The whole handling of the movie from a marketing standpoint has been done sublimely, in which adds to the movie’s overall mystery, while distancing itself (possibly harming itself) with a lack of mainstream accessibility. The beauty about watching Nolan’s career unfold right now in the moment is that I have seen a masterful, artisan, budding landmark auteur of the highest cerebral levels grow from one movie to the next. We are at the ground zero of greatness. We were told of Bergman, Kurosawa, Allen, Ford, Demille etc., we were preordained with their greatness already gifted to us like an inheritance, taking away the very immediacy of the moment in time of how they were viewed in their heyday as they too were discovering themselves. Rarely, do we see greatness in present time. But we are seeing it with Nolan, and we should be grateful that we get to see his mastery as a first hand experience that we will be telling the next generation of movie fans as they discover their Nolan like we did with ours.
Regardless, if Interstellar
misses the mark on its quest of self-imposed directional pantheon of The Dark Knight
, it will undoubtedly be a fitting piece in his overall filmography (I have not seen the movie at the time of this article) – so I’m not worried one bit. Having said that, during the trailers, news and alleged Marvel “real movies don’t do that” pimp smack, nothing has gripped me about this movie except that there is a movie to begin with. Inception
was a visual masterpiece that played on your mind's comprehension of what it was witnessing. The Dark Knight
was everywhere, fronted by Heath Ledger’s promise of an outstanding rendition of Joker, to even where The Dark Knight Rises
, had the opening 15 minutes with Bane hijacking a plane. Keep it real – you didn’t see go to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
just for Paula Patton alone, right?! I thought so – the bigger Nolan’s movies became, the louder the bellowing sound of the anticipatory music boom box would drop its heavyweight IMAX beats, but not so this time with rustic leading man, Rust Cohle, and the little Twilight
glitter baby in Interstellar
(from what I hear she is a little gem in this ). So to pump you up, if you need that sort of thing, I will go over the TOP 10 Movie Moments thus far in Christopher Nolan’s career that span from his very first movie (Following
) to his most recent one (The Dark Knight Rises
). Hopefully after I see Interstellar
I can add another remarkable scene to the catalog of the preexisting visionary movies from the ambitious man himself. Like the maxim that holds all truths to be self evident: In Nolan we trust, and with that trust comes an uncanny ability to hold our collective imaginations while delivering them with expected confidence.
Onto the countdown you have been waiting to see, and I have been waiting to show. As the Joker would say: “And here, we, go.”10. The chase scene in Insomnia
First of all - R.I.P. to my boy Robin Williams. Secondly, If you think that was actually Pacino and Williams running you need to get kicked in the head and trapped under the logs in this scene like Michael Phelps with two broken legs. This is probably the film that gets forgotten when discussing Nolan’s films. I saw this in the theater, and it was a faithful adaption to the original with Stellan Skarsgård, with Nolan trying to understandably make it his own. Not his best movie, but underrated, and still dealt with the same psychological complexities that we have grown accustomed to seeing in his films. Nolan uses quite a bit of ingenuity to portray heightened action, but really masking Pacino who is running frantically in place. Both characters faced more hazards in this scene then all of the contestants on all of seasons of Ninja Warrior combined. This scene could have easily been a throwaway, routine chase scene, but to Nolan’s credit he made chicken salad out of U.S. adaptation chicken shit.
9. The narrative explanation/montage scene in Following.
Great Scene/Sequence/Narration – a lot film idealism at play in which you get a narration from the main character as to why he “shadows” people seeing where they would go and how far he could follow them without getting beat the fuck up. Nolan keeps the main character in the shadows with murky, overcast richness of the baby neo-realistic setting. The scene highlights a charming, but delusional protagonist who is a brilliant and methodical in a poor man’s Jeremy Iron sort of way. He wears a mask of an inquisitive, sociopath that frequents coffee and crullers at Dunkin Donuts. You see early traces of narrative layering and writing, coming from Nolan in genius form as we are studying his character, as he is studying people, while walking in one of the most naturalistic shot environments. Promising start of what’s to come from a great director.
8. Inception – Mal in the hotel scene.
First of all, you are dealing with the point of view of Cobb’s reality from what he remembers the night Mal jumps to her death on their anniversary. This scene, as with numbers 9 and 10 on this list, still play on a mix of emotions and logic and how both don’t apply to Mal, and her sanity or lack of thereof. Elements come at a virtuoso harmony, starting with Cotillard's tragic, but haunting acting, to Zimmer’s music, to Leo doing what Leo does best and angry cries to cap the scene. Also, it’s supposed to be a night of happiness and celebration for the couple, but Like Papa Nolan does, he uses it and twists it to make the scene not only memorable for the characters, but also us - and for the all the wrong reasons.
7. The Dark Knight – Joker hanging upside down scene.
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object meets the bomb-ass counter camera rotation. This was a brilliant little camera move that still lasts with me until this day. With Joker just hanging upside down like a piece of rotisserie chicken, Ledger still exudes a confidence that even though he is captured, he is still self assured as he knows he's still in control in the best, extreme way possible. Once the camera slowly rotates and moves counter-clockwise forcing the power back in the hands of the joker, Ledger delivers a persuasive dreamlike monologue. Lending to the madness, Ledger is unfazed that he is dangling upwards to 40 feet in the air, is still talking shit to Bats. This camera maneuver gives Joker one last hurrah to show Batman may have won the battle but the war was far from over. The scene only heightens the psychosis of the character, movie and Nolan’s reputation for the search of intelligence even with a “comic book” movie.
6. Memento – Where he punches Natalie, but then knows he will forget.
Come on Leonard, concentrate, concentrate – stay focused, where is a pen? Excellent scene! Like the ass-backwards narrative structure of the movie, we are first exposed, in the previous scene, with Natalie and her busted lip (Who did this to Trinity?? She’s nice - she didn’t deserve that!!). She tells Leonard that her boyfriend Dodd did it, needing Leonard’s help to put Dodd in a world of hurt. Well come to find out, it wasn’t Dodd, but good ol’ Leonard that molly whopped Natalie thus giving her the bloody lip. The real intensity is released once Leonard knows he needs to write down what happened or he will forget in T-Minus 30 seconds and counting. While he is scurrying to find something to write with, or a bottle of scotch to drink his pain away, Natalie is sitting in the car, with a cunning smirk knowing that she has power over Leonard and there isn’t a damn thing he can do about it. Man, that is messed up, and that is why its number 6.
5. The Dark Knight Rises opening heist scene on the airplane.
Now here Nolan is just showing off. This is a byproduct of he can do whatever he likes, and believes in his prowess. Zimmer’s thundering score, coupled with the dense thick slabs of sound effects and the unmasking of Bane is a great way to set the tone for the rest of the movie. Here Nolan took what he learned shooting IMAX from The Dark Knight and decided to push himself further, higher (literally) and with more camera vibrato than we have seen. He is the Nolan we now know – he is in his film making prime. What’s most impressive is the choreography and timing that was required to pull such a shot off, as well as controlling the scene and its participants at such a high, grand level. He makes it look easy, but it’s not. That culminates with the old plane being detonated, spiraling downwards like a baby turd flushed down the toilet bowl of Bane’s primordial wake. You feel the physicality of Bane, or the impression of the pain Bane’s character will bring to the rest of the movie and eventually Bruce Wayne’s back.
4. Prestige ending
All of those top hats. The Prestige is a gem of a film, which really questions the motivation of the lengths that both Angier and Borden dramatically strive to “out bro” the other for the ultimate magic trick/disappearing act. What’s really at play here, again, is that Angier clearly won the spectacle but at what price? I mean how many top hats did my man go through to perform this trick? 10? 20? 120? Doesn’t matter – he is a living ghost. He kills himself, but is still alive. It’s perverted, and the utmost macabre, but tragic as well. The last image of Angier’s clone, lifeless, floating, eyes aglaze, and hair directionless but with a face that hints of stale consciousness by its own death by the encumbered hands of the person the clone couldn’t trust the most – Angier himself.
3. Batman Begins – bats in the cave.
A clear motif in all of Nolan’s films is that the mind is a powerful ally or adversary. In Batman Begins, the movie (in 2005) was met with a tepid but interested response. And like Bale accepting his fears and immersing himself with the bats in the cave, we also accepted this new version, a rebirthed Nolan hero. Bale sells the fear immediately, stilted movements, careful and careless at the same time, hands trembling without coming across as completely intimidated. Zimmer’s score builds and builds cueing Bale to rise and accept his destiny as the Dark Knight Detective, and our new modern, quintessential, Connery of a Batman. The scene is highly symbolic: Bale walks in, looks like he is shitting his pants, and then decides to operate his flash light as if Nolan is shining a light to us, the fans, that there is a new franchise, and is titleholder as the Batman of all Batmen. Once Bale turned the light on, our collective imaginary lightbulbs went off in our mind knowing that we were on to something truly landmark here, that transcends the genre, like Bale transcending his fear, like us transcending the given skepticism.
2. The Dark Knight – truck flip/bike scene.
This whole sequence is paramount to the movie, Nolan, and the Bat Universe as a whole. It plays to a wonderful score where the slicing string notes escalate and release tension, as Batman is racing to destroy the Joker on a collision course of a glorified “Made ya flinch first” game. Batman is determined to put an end to all of the anarchy caused by the Joker, with the Joker daring him to do it. It’s apparent these two really need each other – yin to the fucked up yang. If the sequence played like a song, with Joker and Batman doing the harmonies, the truck flip is the high note! The way Nolan shifts the action gears with Batman speeding up, shooting his bat hooks – intercut with Joker looking puzzled, to Batman flipping the shit out of the truck, like someone’s little brother in backyard wrestling, ending with Bats looking as pleased as he can look without showing it. Nolan is masterclassing his ass off, playing tension, drama, and high action theatrics. And the greatest part at this point is, you haven’t seen shit yet.
1. The hallway fight/van chase sequence in Inception.
As I have previously stated above, I have been very fortunate to watch Nolan in his prime, challenging, himself and taking what you can do in cinema even further with a beautiful marriage between big budgets and big ideas. So far every moment I have put in the countdown is obviously not in chronological order, but they all served traces of his inventiveness, and directional knowledge from the raw elegance of Following to the physical brutality that inhabits Bane and The Dark Knight Rises. For me personally, this scene is the one that lingers and holds the most reverence with its textured presentation, layered relationship physics to the sheer audacity of Nolan not using a green screen to pull off the rotating hallway effect. He kept the camera mounted, fixed, and with extraordinary choreography, rotated an actual hallway model to keep the entire sequence with the illusion harnessed within M.C Escher like “kick punch-ability.” There are many key sequences that all need to naturally co-habit with one another, along with brilliant editing, to make Nolan’s mind warp thriller attain its impact at its absolute zenith in the film. First of all, the focus here is Joseph Gordon Levitt. This helped him go from a stage kid in meaningless teen roles, and hidden gem poster boy to a bonafide, A-list co-star. This movie along with 500 Days of Summer presented him to audiences in a different light. He was solid, tactical, and unemotional. He exhibited an everyman strength and fortitude that would make Edward Norton proud. He is the person in the movie that holds the scene together. Second, in the same action frame, one of the dream henchmen pulls out a gun and gets ready to pull the trigger, but Nolan quickly cuts to the second level during the motorcycle chase scene, and immediately the cyclist shoots in syncopation at our driver. It’s a brilliant subliminal trick that not only thrills, but also psychologically presents a connective thread to the simultaneous connective dream world levels: danger lurks at every sleep awakened place. The hallway demonstrates that Nolan at times is now playing filmmaking chess, while everyone else, like Fincher (whom I like) is still playing repetitive filmmaking monopoly. Pass go, collect your 200 hundred dollars, and come out with the same style and vision, and that’s fine, perfectly fine. Nolan looked at the board, and decided that it wasn’t big enough and decided to create his own game by his own rules, as he did with this scene, and to a grander extent, the movie, and this countdown itself.