Nolan's first feature length movie (after short Doodlebug) is a fascinating thriller that exceeds its tiny budget in terms of raw quality. Shot on a 6000$ budget, using Nolan's own friends as actors and the fact that the movie was shot on weekends during an entire year is only a few of the many interesting aspects of this movie. The story in itself is tight and suspenseful and it's presented in a great way by the non chronological narrative.
Following is by no means a bad movie but in comparison with Nolan's other movies it falls short and therefore I place it last on this list. But still, it's a great movie and I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed any of Nolan's previous work.
Number seven on my ranking is the 2002 thriller Insomnia starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams. The movie is a remake of the Norwegian movie from 1997 with the same title and in my opinion Nolan's version outdoes the original. Set in an amazingly beautiful looking Alaska Insomnia examine the troubled mind of the main character played to great effect by Al Pacino. For me Insomnia is a great thriller but nothing more than just that. I don't get the same awe inspiring feeling of something bigger that I get from some of Nolan's later (and earlier) work.
This is the point where all the remaining movies start to become almost impossible to list. From now on all the movies appeal to me beyond just the story and characters, because to me all the top six movies share a sense that they are something more than just your normal 2-hour "away from reality" entertainment. They want to engage you and provoke feelings, discussion and moral questions. Memento for me is like the deluxe version of Following, once again the story is centered around crime and uses non chronological narrative. The difference is that this time Nolan has the money available that allows for professional actors, effects and so on. Guy Pearce is great but the star of the movie is Dody Dorn's editing.
The Dark Knight Trilogy. For me and certainly a lot a other people this was the first introduction to Christopher Nolan and what an introduction it is. It's very tough to determine a favorite and least favorite chapter of the trilogy but for this list I had to and for me Batman Begins is the least remarkable of the tree. But still remarkable. After the abysmal toy commercial that was Batman & Robin this movie had to deliver in order to give the audience some faith back to Batman, and Begins certainly delivered. With a darker, more realistic tone Nolan revived Batman for a new generation of moviegoers. I love the way the origin story is handled (non chronological once again) and the emphasis on Bruce Wayne rather than his masked alter ego Batman. The reason for this ranking below Dark Knight and Rises is the somewhat smaller scale of Begins. Just as Gordon says to Batman in the last scene everything escalates in the following two movies, something I love.
The middle chapter in the trilogy is also the middle movie in terms of my preference. Probably one of the most influential movies the last 10 years, The Dark Knight elevated an entire genre to a completely different level and changed everyones perception of what a superhero movie could be. Of course Heath Ledgers iconic performance as the Joker is fantastic and the score by Hans Zimmer is equally brilliant. The action is handled very graciously and the thrill never stops. The only minor gripe I have with The Dark Knight is the small time spent on Bruce Wayne and his emotional journey.
The enormous scale of this movie is breathtaking and Nolan's ambition and vision helps to make this closing chapter my favorite of the entire trilogy. A lot has been said about the movie, both positive and negative, but for me this is the most emotional, engaging and thought provoking movie of the three. The way in which Nolan manages to conclude the trilogy is unbelievably good with all the themes and threads tying in to the earlier movies. The ending of Rises concludes what was being established in Begins and does it in a beautiful way.
In terms of scale this is nowhere near the level of The Dark Knight Trilogy but still The Prestige is a truly magical movie. This is a movie that knows exactly what it's doing and every single story beat is delivered perfectly. The narrative structure is interesting and uses a lot of foreshadowing. Even if "the twist" is spoiled after the first time you've seen the movie there is a lot to still enjoy. This is Nolan in full control over every aspect of the story and moviemaking creating something that goes beyond the story itself. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman deserves all the praise possible for their acting.
What do you get if you combine the magical, inspired filmmaking of The Prestige and the giant, epic scale of The Dark Knight? Inception. From the first frame all the way to the last I was completely blown away by the movie and when I left the cinema I knew I had experienced something special. The multi layered narrative invites you into this epic action movie that explores the subconscious and maintains a emotional core, all at the same time. For me, Inception is Christopher Nolan's masterpiece.