The 10 Best Christopher Nolan Scenes

Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan

This week marks the arrival of the latest film from one of Hollywood’s best and biggest directors, Christopher Nolan. His new film, Dunkirk, is an even bigger event than usual for a couple reasons: first, the entire film was shot in a mix of IMAX and 65mm film, and second, it’s the first time Nolan has made a fictional film based on real events. Dunkirk, being about the infamous Battle of Dunkirk in World War II, is also the first time Nolan has stepped into the war-film genre after years in the world of comic books and science fiction. No doubt Dunkirk will have at least one or two memorable scenes or sequences, but today, I’d like to highlight the 10 best scenes of Nolan’s filmography up to Dunkirk. There are plenty of contenders that didn’t make the cut, especially from The Prestige and The Dark Knight, but let’s get on with the list.

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insomnia revisited 1

When we think of director/writer/producer Christopher Nolan and the hallmarks that line any of his films, a few obvious things come to mind. Twisty, complex stories. Taciturn and dour (to the point of humorless) lead characters. Jaw-dropping effects, both practical and computer-generated. Massive action setpieces. There’s little doubt that Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, will have a few of these hallmarks present, specifically in regards to special effects and action sequences. Yet even though it’s a straightforward narrative about the infamous Battle of Dunkirk in World War II, Nolan has said the film will be told in three timelines, from the air, land, and sea fronts.

Largely, you have to go back 15 years to find his sole film without tons of the familiar elements that define what we think of as a “Christopher Nolan film.” That film is Insomnia, which remains Nolan’s most underrated film, all the more so because it’s so assured, intense, and remarkable.

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Despicable Me 3 trailer

In just seven years, Illumination Entertainment has turned the grouchy, pointy-nosed villain Gru and his yellow Minions into some of the most recognizable characters in all of pop culture. They’ve starred in multiple movies, they show up in theme parks, you can buy their toys, and so on. The characters are ubiquitous. This feat of marketing is even more fascinating in its success considering that the Despicable Me franchise has yet to produce a truly good film, a streak sadly continued by the latest, Despicable Me 3. Like the first two films, as well as the obnoxious Minions spin-off film from 2015, this new entry is a loud, manic, and frantic extended episode of an overly familiar sitcom.

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the world's end 1

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: The World’s End is Edgar Wright’s best movie. By far.)

This week at the movies represents an oasis in the summer-movie desert, with the arrival of Edgar Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver. This new action film represents a slight change for Wright, who’s a) never made a film set and shot in America before and b) hasn’t been the sole writer of any of his past projects. He’s best known as the co-writer and director of the Cornetto Trilogy, comprising Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, all genre hybrids co-starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Now that Baby Driver is headed to theaters, there will no doubt be various (justifiable) appreciations written of Edgar Wright’s films to date; as a still-young filmmaker, he’s only now made six films (including A Fistful of Fingers, which, until recently, hadn’t been released in the United States in any form, so I’m excluding it from this essay). At the top, I want to emphasize something before I delve into the Unpopular Opinion at the core of this piece: I’m a big fan of Wright’s filmography, including the delightful, exuberant, and intense Baby Driver. Each of his films is remarkably assured and confident, hybrids that all feel singular instead of like carbon copies of their forebears.

But I feel now as I felt the moment I walked out of the theater in 2013: The World’s End isn’t just the best of the Cornetto Trilogy. It’s Edgar Wright’s best film, period.

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Cars 3

The Cars movies have been the redheaded stepchildren of the Pixar filmography for just over a decade. While the films are a merchandising cash cow, the 2006 original and 2011 sequel are among Pixar’s weakest creative efforts, the latter being their outright worst. A more positive spin on Cars 3 might suggest that the studio has something to prove, that they wanted this movie to exist for reasons aside from selling toys. The good news is that Cars 3 is mercifully a step up from Cars 2; the less surprising news is that it’s not quite as good as the original.

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Cars 3

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, and opinionated about something that makes us very happy…or fills us with indescribable rage. In this edition: why the world of Pixar’s Cars series, and the fan theories it inspires, are so frustrating.)

With a new Cars movie racing into theaters this week (Do you get it? “Racing”? Because Lightning McQueen is a race car; it’s funny because he races, just like the movie is racing into theaters), it’s time once again to revive that dormant question that has persisted for just over a decade. How exactly does the so-called “world of Cars” work? There are few answers within the movies themselves, so a few ideas have sprung up online. Have the cars adopted the personalities of their last human drivers? Did sentient cars take over the world, sending humans off on a massive intergalactic cruise ship for centuries? Did humans literally turn into cars? These theories have all gained a level of traction (Do you get it? Traction! I made another car-based pun!), while also remaining utterly ridiculous.

To be fair, I have previously written about my distaste for cinematic fan theories, few of which are more well-known than the Pixar Theory. But today, I come not to bury the Pixar Theory, or any of those other Cars-related theories; I come to empathize with them. I do genuinely think that each of the theories mentioned in the previous paragraph are utterly silly, and that a glut of such theorizing can do great harm to film discourse at large. But specific to the fan theories zooming around Cars (“Zooming”! I made another pun!), which will inevitably kick up again after Cars 3 opens this Friday, there’s a big question worth exploring: why do people feel the urge to crack the code of whatever’s going on in the Cars movies? While some other big mainstream films can inspire fan theories, such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, why is it that the Cars movies have led to all manner of conspiracy-style ideas?

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The Mummy review

Hubris, thy name is The Mummy.

What other word describes a film that kicks off a presumed franchise in the vein of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in spite of not gauging whether or not audiences want such a franchise? The ingredients for a compelling single movie exist within The Mummy, yet they never cohere into a genuinely exciting adventure. The pieces are here, but director Alex Kurtzman isn’t able to put them together; he’s too busy trying to make the so-called Dark Universe worth the effort.

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final pirates of the caribbean movie

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, and opinionated about something that makes us very happy…or fills us with indescribable rage. In this edition: studios are blaming critics for their summertime woes and that’s stupid.)

Just a month into the 2017 summer movie season, it’s safe to say that things have been rough. May began with a major bright spot, the delightful and exciting Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, which was welcomed with critical acclaim and has surpassed the 2014 original at the box office. After that, there were stumbles: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the first in a proposed six-film franchise, has tanked; Alien: Covenant is likely not going to top $100 million at the domestic box office; and this past Memorial Day Weekend, both Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales underperformed and were met with critical pans. This week, we have the (so far) critically praised Wonder Woman to look forward to, and later this summer, we’ll get a new Edgar Wright film, Christopher Nolan’s next epic, the latest Planet of the Apes entry, and more anticipated studio offerings. But for now, big movies are struggling.

Who or what is to blame? Are audiences just not responding to these attempts at franchise-building or franchise-restarting? Are people holding out to see other summer movies? If you ask some industry insiders, it’s a much more terrifying specter: critics. (Cue the horror-movie music.)

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Pirates of the Caribbean 5 Review

How convenient it is that one of the last lines of dialogue uttered in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, courtesy of Captain Jack Sparrow, sums up the experience of watching the film: “What a truly revolting sight.” Indeed. What was once the flagship franchise for Walt Disney Pictures has now become an unavoidable anchor weighing the studio down. This Pirates is perhaps not the most exhausting entry in the series, but it is easily the most visually and narratively incoherent.

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disney rides ranked

This is a banner week for the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. This Friday, Walt Disney Pictures releases the new entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, Dead Men Tell No Tales; it’s the fifth film based on the classic 1967 attraction. Also Friday, at the Disney California Adventure theme park in Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort, Marvel will make its presence known in the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission – Break Out! attraction, taking over from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. But wait, as they say: there’s more. This weekend, Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World gets a whole new land, Pandora, themed to James Cameron’s Avatar. This combination of theme-park and movie-centric unveilings is the inspiration for the following, admittedly massive ranking of every single movie-inspired or movie-adjacent Disney attraction.

Get comfortable. We’re going to be here for a little while.

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