Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer
Essential Christopher Nolan Films to Watch
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With a feature film career spanning 25 years across multiple genres, five-time Oscar nominee Christopher Nolan has become one of the most recognizable and respected writer-directors in the modern era. Created alongside his producer wife, Emma Thomas, Nolan's blend of brain-teasing plots and electrifying cinematic spectacle has resulted in a body of work that truly must be seen and heard on the big screen to be fully appreciated. Throughout his career, Nolan has also continuously managed to get riveting and memorable performances from his actors.

With his latest film, Oppenheimer, a historical thriller releasing in theaters on July 21, A.frame is taking a look back at the previous Nolan films that have entertained moviegoers and kept them returning to the movie theater to experience their many levels of rewards.

1
Following
1998
Following
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Shot in gritty black-and-white 16mm, Nolan’s debut feature uses the template of a London crime film to introduce the manipulation of time and the twisting of narrative that would become his storytelling signatures. Shot on weekends for over three months utilizing extensive rehearsals, the film charts a nameless young man (Jeremy Theobald) as his practice of following strangers around the city to glean material for his novel entangles him in a world of gangsters and a possible femme fatale.  

2
Memento
2000
Memento
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Nolan's masterful second film, the psychological thriller Memento, was an immediate sensation on the indie film scene and launched his career. Here, he adopts the story points and style of film noir with a novel twist: the film unfolds chronologically in reverse. This brave choice was partly done to reflect the short-term memory loss of the film's protagonist, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), who is seeking the man responsible for his wife's death with the aid of Teddy (Joe Pantoliano). Intermittent linear flashbacks add to the layers of the film's intricate twists, which culminate in a devastating conclusion (or its beginning, if you prefer).

Memento, which co-stars Carrie-Anne Moss, was Nolan's first time collaborating with cinematographer Wally Pfister. Nolan's script for the film is based on a short story written by his brother Jonathan Nolan. Memento received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and another for Best Film Editing for film editor Dody Dorn's extraordinarily innovative cut of this groundbreaking thriller.

3
Insomnia
2002
Insomnia
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The sole remake of Nolan’s career to date is an Americanized take on a 1997 Norwegian crime film of the same title with Stellan Skarsgård — albeit with several changes here, including a significantly darker ending. Shot on location in Alaska and British Columbia, the film stars Al Pacino as a cop who's investigating a young woman's murder and teams up with local detective Hilary Swank. The film was startling at the time for its menacing performance by Robin Williams, cast very much against type here in the first of several very dark roles throughout the decade. Insomnia has since been singled out by Nolan as one of his favorites.  

4
Batman Begins
2005
Batman Begins
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Nolan entered the blockbuster Hollywood arena with this revolutionary new take on DC Comics’ legendary crime fighter of Gotham and his millionaire alter ego, Bruce Wayne, here played by Christian Bale in what would soon become a full cinematic trilogy. Repeat players like Cillian Murphy (terrifying here as Scarecrow), Ken Watanabe, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine were introduced to the Nolan world here, and Bale became a full-fledged star while facing off against the mysterious leader of criminal organization League of Shadows and kindling a romance with assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). The film went on to receive the first of several Oscar nominations for frequent Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister. 

5
The Prestige
2006
The Prestige
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Bale's second consecutive film with Nolan was one of the director's longest-gestating projects from a script developed for years with his brother Jonathan. Here the viewer is thrown into the increasingly destructive feud that evolves between two magicians (Bale and Hugh Jackman), whose seemingly impossible stage feats lead to obsession and tragedy. Nominated for two Oscars (Art Direction and Cinematography), the rich visuals and dark twist ending make this stylish period film yet another must-see from the filmmaker.

6
The Dark Knight
2008
The Dark Knight
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Nolan first dove into the possibilities of IMAX with a bang with this superhero classic, which made history with Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar win for Supporting Actor for his indelible performance as the Joker (a role that later earned the Best Actor Oscar for Joaquin Phoenix as well). Here the scope expands considerably from Batman Begins with questions about the ethics of a surveillance state raised through dual plotlines involving the Joker’s disruptive crime spree with a message and the shining hope of Gotham public servants, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who experiences a colossal fall from grace. Returning composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer also provide a dynamic, bass-heavy score that matches the scale of the visuals on-screen. 

7
Inception
2010
Inception
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Viewers still love to debate the details (especially the final shot) of this ultra-twisty heist film about a break-in staged within the mind itself. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, the head of an intrepid team of consciousness crackers who dive into several action scenarios to crack a secret inside the brain of Robert Fischer (Murphy), the heir to a business empire. A balletic performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard’s uncanny turn as Cobb’s late wife Mal, and mind-bending imagery - including Paris folding up on itself - are just a few of the many highlights in this philosophical and emotional sci-fi action thriller.

Inception took home four Oscars: Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography, plus additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Score.

8
Interstellar
2014
Interstellar
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Though he had flirted with sci-fi elements in his previous films, Nolan fully embraced the genre for the first time with this sprawling story of a team of astronauts, including Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, whose journey through a wormhole is tied to the only possible salvation for a rapidly dying Earth and its population. The role of time and its effects on parent-child relationships takes center stage here, with portions of the story unfolding at different speeds that pay off with an unusual and heartfelt conclusion.

Zimmer’s organ-laced score quickly became a cult favorite among film score enthusiasts, earning one of the film’s Oscar nominations, along with Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Interstellar won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

9
Dunkirk
2017
Dunkirk
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One of England’s most famous moments from World War II had already been adapted on film multiple times, but never like this Nolan rendition unfolding over three different time speeds, reflecting the efforts via land, sea, and air to evacuate a large, stranded group of Allied soldiers from certain death on the French coast. Spectacular combat scenes and white-knuckle moments of suspense highlight this intricate new take on the World War II epic, with the stacked cast including Murphy, Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, and Mark Rylance.

Dunkirk received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Nolan's first Directing nod, with wins for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Film Editing for Nolan's frequent collaborator Lee Smith.

10
Tenet
2020
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Nolan returned to sci-fi with yet another challenging puzzle film, here spinning time forwards and backwards as onetime CIA agent John David Washington and ambiguous handler Robert Pattison use highly unorthodox means to stop a catastrophic terrorist attack engineered by Branagh. By this point, it had become a tradition to use the openings of Nolan’s films as early promotional hooks, with this film’s stylish initial opera house siege drumming up excitement without giving away much about the plot itself. Still being dissected today, the film (which won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Production Design) pushes Nolan’s action approach and intellectual gamesmanship to new heights of tantalizing abstraction.

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