From ‘Following’ to ‘Inception’: Ranking the Films of Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan on the set of Inception
Photo: Warner Bros.

Trying to rank Christopher Nolan’s first seven films is an exercise in futility, but after watching all of his films over the last week once again with every intention of writing this article I couldn’t just not do it. So, here we are.

Ranking the bottom two films was quite easy, but depending on my mood the next five could adjust on a daily basis, but one thing I noticed after watching all of Nolan’s films over again is how much my appreciation for each has changed as I’ve gained a larger understanding for his work. His love for the anti-hero is obvious, and his desire for dark stories has been evident from the outset. He’s a smart filmmaker who understands the medium and knows how to use it to the advantage of his stories. His casting is typically spot on and with each film he’s shown some measure of growth, although that doesn’t stop me from holding a large appreciation for his early work as you will soon see.

With all that said, let’s start digging in and see where this takes us…

Doodlebug (1997)

I hadn’t seen Nolan’s 1997 short film Doodlebug until I started working on putting this list together and found it was available on YouTube. Shot in 16mm black-and-white it stars Jeremy Theobald (Following) as he chases a tiny intruder in his apartment. It plays around with some of the themes you’ll find in some of Nolan’s other work and once you get to the end you won’t be surprised in the slightest that it came from the mind of Christopher Nolan. It is available on DVD along with 15 other short films from the likes of Andrea Arnold, Matthieu Kassovitz, Ridley Scott, Lars Von Trier and Martin McDonagh if you are interested, just click here for details.

Now let’s take a look at the work from Nolan we’re all most familiar with…

Insomnia (2002)
I recently reviewed the new Blu-ray edition for this film released by Warner Home Video and for any of you that read that review you probably aren’t too surprised to see Insomnia at the bottom of this list. I don’t particularly dislike this movie as much as it just isn’t a personal favorite. Something about the detective-killer relationship going on in this film just doesn’t ring true for me causing the film to sort of fall flat. It has some great visuals and I certainly don’t hate it, but it just isn’t a film I would return to if given the choice.

Following (1998)
I just watched this about a week ago for the first time and IFC has just released the new trailer you see directly below as they’ve made it available On Demand. However, it’s also available on NetFlix Instant Play for those of you utilizing that service and if you click the Buy Now button below I think you can find the DVD for just over $5 on Amazon. As for the film itself it’s not that bad although you can tell it was shot on a micro-budget using 16 mm black-and-white film stock.

The story centers on a young writer who gets himself into some measure of trouble as he begins following strangers out of mere curiosity when he finds himself confronted by a professional burglar who ends up taking him along on his next robbery, giving him a taste for what it’s like to really step into the lives of strangers and see how they live. His curiosity piqued, he acquires a taste for it as well as a love for their first victim, which ultimately proves to be the turning point in the movie.

Following is the first time Nolan used the name Cobb for one of his characters, a name of which we now associate with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Inception 12 years later, and ironically the door to the young writer’s apartment has a Batman sticker from Tim Burton’s 1989 film on the door. I’d hardly say it was a sign of things to come, but perhaps fate had its sights set on Nolan for some time.

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