Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Christopher Nolan – Movies Spotlight – July 2010

Christopher Nolan has established himself as one of the best (if not the best) working director in today’s cinema. Few directors’ names bring with them such hype and implied quality as Nolan’s. His new film, the widely anticipated Inception, opens this month.

Early Career:

Nolan began his film career, in a sense, making short films for his University College London film society in the late 80’s and early 90’s. These films were later screened on a showcase feature on PBS. The last of his short-films, called Doodlebug, starred Jeremy Theobald who he would again use for his feature debut, Following, and later in a small role for Batman Begins. Following features many of the same narrative elements that would make Memento (and much of this other work) such a breakthrough hit, including scenes shown out of chronologic order – leaving the viewer, much like the protagonist, disoriented and having to deduce what is going on from the clues shown. The film was shot for about six thousand dollars on the weekends with friends from the film society. Nolan took the film on the festival circuit, receiving notice and acclaim after premiering it at the 1998 San Francisco Film Festival, even leading to a small limited distribution deal. Due to the notoriety of the film among the festivals, Newmarket Films purchased the script for Memento and put it into production. The film became one of the most talked about films of the year 2000 leading to Nolan receiving an Academy Award nod for best screenplay. The film’s successes also managed to get Nolan a distribution deal with Warner Bros., a deal which would later lead to him helming the Batman franchise. Memento made Nolan a filmmaker to watch and follow and a favorite among film fans. Nolan’s first Hollywood film was a bit of a letdown for fans (but not so much for critics, who generally like it), mainly due to all the hype and love for Memento. While not a bad film (as it is actually decent), it did not live up to the quality of Memento. Insomnia is different from all other of Nolan’s films in that he did not write or work on the script – it is a remake of the 1997 Swedish film of the same name – Nolan’s version was scripted by Hilary Seitz. But, the film did reasonably well in at the box office and showed Nolan’s ability to not only gather a fine cast but to garner wonderful performances, even in a Hollywood setting with egos abound (as Guy Pierce in Memento, an indie film, is quite amazing).

Batman and Warner Bros. Darling:

Warner Bros. put its Batman franchise on indefinite hiatus following the epic critical failure of Batman & Robin, a film equally loathed by critics and fans. But, due to Nolan’s relationship with Warner Bros. and his partnership with David S. Goyer, who had success with Warner Bros. as the screenwriter of Blade, produced by one of their subsidiaries, he was able to convince Warner Bros. to let them reboot the series, which at the time was risky, considering Nolan was a relatively unknown director, at least among mainstream audiences. But, it is likely that Warner Bros. was looking at the recent trend of quality lesser known directors taking big films and producing both critical and box office successes (like Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings, Sam Raimi with Spider-Man and Alfonso Cuaron with Harry Potter). Batman Begins returned the Batman franchise to the upper echelon of comic based films, and the film itself, along with Spider-Man 2, to a different level of comic book films in terms of caliber surpassing all the previous Batman films. The film was a box office success, but nowhere near Spider-Man numbers, but more so it was a critical and fan success. Batman Begins also established Nolan’s production team, so to speak – most of which he would continually work with over his next three films to date: producer (and wife) Emma Thomas (she has produced all his films), cinematographer Wally Pfister, production designer Nathan Crowley, editor Lee Smith, composer Hans Zimmer, writing partner (and brother) Jonathan Nolan (whose short story Memento is based on), and actors Christian Bale and Michael Caine. The acclaim that the film garnered gave Warner Bros. the belief that Nolan was indeed the right director to finish the new Batman trilogy. But first, Nolan wanted Warner Bros. to fund his script and next film The Prestige. The film again reinforced that Nolan was and is one of the best working in the business, but also that he had a knack for complex narratives (much like with Memento). The Prestige seems like a straight-forward film about rival magicians at first, but Nolan is able to weave in almost Sci-Fi aspects to the film. Though, the film did underperform a bit at the box office, likely due to the complex nature of the story. With The Prestige finished, Nolan went back to work on Batman, many speculating, as they are now for the next Batman film, if the sequel could live up to the last. The Dark Knight opened to a huge success, both at the box office and among critics and fans alike. It was such a good film, grossly snubbed by the Oscars, that the Academy of Motion Pictures changed the format from five best picture nominees to ten the following year. It also features one of the most mesmerizing performances of all-time in Heath Ledger’s Joker. It is the kind of film and performance that makes audience members wish they had not seen it, so that they could watch it again for the first time and be absolutely astounded and blown away. The film’s utter triumph has made Nolan the king of Warner Bros. And again, before making the last of his Batman films, Warner Bros. is releasing his next Sci-Fi action spy film Inception. It will be interesting to see how the film does; it like The Prestige has a complex narrative structure. But with a credit like ‘From the director of The Dark Knight’ it is thought to do well.

Future Projects:

Nolan is expected to begin shooting the third of his Batman films, The Dark Knight Rises, in April of next year with the release date of July 20, 2012. It is likely that some details about the production, cast and characters, will be released at Comic-Con later this month (I hope). Also scheduled for 2012 is Superman: Man of Steel, which Warner Bros. has entrusted Nolan to executively produce and oversee. It is a retooling of the franchise, much like Batman Begins. David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan have been working on developing a script. Nolan has also stated that he would be interested in directing a James Bond film in the future, Bond films being a major influence for Inception.

Christopher Nolan Career Highlights:
1)      Following (1998) – director (DVD, Streaming)
2)      Memento (2000) – director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
3)      Insomnia (2002) – director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
4)      Batman Begins (2005)* – director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
5)      The Prestige (2006)* – director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
6)      The Dark Knight (2008)* – director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      Inception (2010)* – director (Blu-ray, DVD)
* Editor’s picks.

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