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The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight, of course, is The Godfather of geek movies. This is where Nolan soared into the stratosphere, cementing himself as the quintessential filmmaker of the 2000s. Together with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight set the template for gritty realism, not only in comic book movies, but in a whole host of other forgettable films.

How many times in movies news stories did we hear that there was going to be a “dark” or “gritty” take, or a Trek Into Darkness, with a film being developed?

Nolan’s influence extends well beyond those who cribbed from it. Storywise, The Dark Knight spawned countless imitators, with even good films like Skyfall and The Avengers taking a cue from Nolan’s playbook of having a villain who “planned to get caught” glare out from his cell, before escaping to sow further mischief. As the chief villain here says: “I’m an agent of chaos.”

The inclusion of an iconic baddie like the Joker, coupled with the unfortunate passing of Heath Ledger, created a perfect storm scenario whereby a 2-D crime drama was able to become a billion-dollar cultural phenomenon that inspired legions of cosplayers.

To a generation of fans, Ledger became the new James Dean. When he was first cast in the role, it left some naysayers wringing their hands. But in the end, Ledger’s performance not only eclipsed Jack Nicholson’s; it would ensure him a place in the upper echelon of great movie villains, alongside Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter. His posthumous Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor, along with the film’s weighty themes, helped it transcend the comic book movie genre—while at the same time elevating the genre to new levels of seriousness as an art form.

Never has the Joker been more gleefully Satanic than the scene where he appears at Harvey Dent’s hospital bedside, whispering in Dent’s ear, playing the part of the tempter, so he can win the battle for one man’s soul, and with it, Gotham City. Batman becomes a Christ figure, the Hebrew scapegoat made human, sacrificing himself for the sins of others.

Infused with similar religious themes, films like this year’s Logan are now more like dark dramas than standard superhero flicks. When The Dark Knight got snubbed for a Best Picture nomination in 2008, the Academy even went and expanded the category the next year, to allow for extra nominations. That speaks volumes.

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Inception (2010)

After The Dark Knight, the name Nolan had become a brand unto itself. In the summer of ’09, when the first teaser for Inception was released, the first thing that popped up on screen after the Warner Bros. logo were the words, “From Christopher Nolan.” There was no need to identify him as the director of [such-and-such a film]. Just his name was enough. Fans were already calling themselves Nolanites and proclaiming “In Nolan We Trust.” By now Nolan, with Zimmer as his new go-to composer, wielded enough influence that just the teaser for one of their movies could be a trendsetter.

Thank you, Hans, for all those braaams. Braaams were the gift that kept on giving.

Speaking of 2009, while The Lord of the Rings trilogy might make the 2000s seem like a real toss-up between Nolan and Peter Jackson, 2009 changed all that, as Jackson began to fall out of favor that year with The Lovely BonesThe 2000s were a slow decade for David Fincher; likewise with Paul Thomas Anderson.

Ultimately, you do not have to cherish the films of Christopher Nolan. You may even think (as this writer does) that the Nolan brand started to show some chinks in its armor with The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar. But there is no denying his far-reaching impact in the 2000s. Pit his filmography that decade against that of any other director, and it would be Christopher Nolan, for the win.

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