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My Money's on Nolan
August 21, 2012 5:45 AM   Subscribe

Christopher Nolan (mentioned previously) has been a divisive maker of movies. Some have lauded him as "the only working auteur" while others, like David Cronenberg ,and those that agree with him, tend to think he is a mere maker of entertaining genre flicks. Film scholar, David Bordwell, explains why both arguments have merit.
posted by sendai sleep master (74 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Never before has a director made such well crafted movies that I don't give a shit about, emotionally.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:48 AM on August 21, 2012 [20 favorites]


Some have lauded him as "the only working auteur"

Some known as "people who never watch movies." No slam on Nolan, though (although I do agree with nathancaswell, personally).
posted by Rykey at 5:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also find Cronenberg's films to be entertaining genre flicks.
posted by dubitable at 5:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Bordwell does a great job capturing how I feel about Nolan's films way better than I've been able to (probably because he knows 100x more about film than I do). Nolan is one of the directors who's films I always go out of my way to see in the theater but I'm always a little dissatisfied with them.
posted by octothorpe at 5:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the "only working auteur" thing is just ludicrous
posted by nathancaswell at 5:57 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I would say Whit Stillman was the only working auteur but I'm not sure he's exactly working.
posted by escabeche at 6:01 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bordwell is a very acute observer. Always worth a read.
posted by Wolof at 6:14 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I didn't mind Nolan's not Batman flicks (and I did love Inception, but I went in blind), but I pretty much hated his Batman films. I did not think they were good films.

I'm on the fence with Cronenberg, Kubrick and Lynch. YMMV.
posted by Mezentian at 6:16 AM on August 21, 2012


Yeah, the "only working auteur" thing is just ludicrous

Yeah, no kidding.
posted by hippybear at 6:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Christopher Nolan is an auteur of entertaining genre flicks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:21 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


False dichotomy is fallacious.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:26 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight Rises this weekend, and I'll that I liked it quite a bit, but the achievement is mostly in terms of crafting a very good version of a fairly unoriginal film. The best example of this to my mind is the scene where Batman finally escapes from the pit prison (SPOILER ALERT: BATMAN DOES NOT DIE IN A FOREIGN PRISON). The moment works in the context of the film, but the premise that he could finally climb out because he did it without a rope is not particularly interesting or original. The scene works because of the filming and music. That said, I like well made comic book movies, so I liked the movie.

I think there's an actually more interesting film out there where Bane is just a straight up left wing terrorist and Batman is an enforcer for the rich and powerful and it makes us all kind of uncomfortable, but that film did not get made.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:29 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think 'auteur working within the Hollywood system' is probably what that means, because otherwise WTF? He certainly exerts a lot of control over every aspect of his films, but I don't really see the recognizable artistic vision in his films. Same with Cameron, who's legendary in his control.

I'd say the most mainstream auteurs working today are probably Woody Allen, Lynch, Tarantino. I think Alfonso Cuarón might be headed that way, based on Children of Men.

Auteur ≠ automatically great
posted by Huck500 at 6:45 AM on August 21, 2012


Seems any shitty blog writer can make a "bold" statement for hits these days. Commenters have already pointed out Woody Allen, Cronenberg, Haneke, Malick and Lynch. But what about the Coen Brothers? Shit, they edit all of their own films as well. And even though Jim Cameron makes some monumental stinkers, they are most definitely "his vision" and he writes them. But what about the Euros? No mention of Lars Von Trier?! Has that blog writer seen ANY "foreign" films or does she not like to read subtitles? Let's not forget that Godard is still alive, honey.

I'm so glad Cronenberg pulled Nolan's car a little. Nolan is a clever technical filmmaker but his stuff is soulless and boring in my opinion. Huge set-pieces and awe-inspiring cinematography notwithstanding, his films are heavy-handed and chock full of boring interludes. Studios know they can make money with him so they give him hundreds of millions. Cronenberg has always been somewhat of an outsider whose films are JUST a bit too smart for the masses.
posted by ReeMonster at 6:50 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Auteur theory is a bunch of bullshit anyway. It somewhat made sense back in the days when big studios ran more of a centralized movie business and it was rare for a Hollywood director to have full creative control of a film, but these days every director working is solidly considered to be in control unless there is some severe executive meddling going on. Cinematographers, editors, and a host of other people contribute to any given film as an overall work and if anything too much credit is given to directors in terms of authorial agency. These days "auteur" is more or less used to label directors who make art films, or mainstream films that share aspects in common with art films.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Batman film actually about Batman.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:01 AM on August 21, 2012


I don't care much about the larger question, but nobody has mentioned Memento yet? It's the diametric opposite of soulless and boring, and the guy who made it should be applauded notwithstanding anything else.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:25 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best part of the article is when it gets into Nolan's One-Thing-At-A-Time filmmaking.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:28 AM on August 21, 2012


It's not about the director being "in control", burnmp3s. Yes, directors call the shots these days, but look at most studio crap: romantic comedies, toilet comedies, shitty horror films, inspirational tearjerkers, fish-out-of-water, rags-to-riches, etc.. there is still PLENTY of schlock being churned out where no-name directors can make a few bucks. Even if auteur theory isn't as relevent as it used to be, it's still very important and it's real. Not every director is the "complete artist."
posted by ReeMonster at 7:28 AM on August 21, 2012


I don't care much about the larger question, but nobody has mentioned Memento yet? Cronenberg said he felt it was Nolan's best film.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2012


The best example of this to my mind is the scene where Batman finally escapes from the pit prison (SPOILER ALERT: BATMAN DOES NOT DIE IN A FOREIGN PRISON).

They should have gotten Alejandro Jodorowsky in place of Cristopher Nolan: you'd get a film where Batman dies in a filthy pit 30' into the movie, and then the fun starts.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Back in the late 90s, the man who was currently wooing my eldest sister (and is currently her husband) brought a movie to my house with him called Following. He was always bringing cool shit over whenever he visited with my sister; movies, video games, computer stuff, whatever.

I watched this movie with him, and was sort of blown away. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time, so I was just starting to realize what kinds of movies I liked. After that, I made a point to see all of Nolan's movies, and was equally enthralled by Memento, which came out not long after I saw Following.

His movies probably have problems. None of them have really lived up to the feeling I got lo these many years ago, seeing his movies for the first time, but I still really like them. I love Batman so much that as long as a Batman movie has sufficiently many fuck yeah, Batman! moments, I'm going to enjoy it. They're not high art, but I don't care. I just want to watch movies and be entertained. I guess I'm just really easy to please.
posted by King Bee at 7:33 AM on August 21, 2012


well crafted movies

I've enjoyed me some Nolan films in my time, but I take all sorts of issue with this description. The meat-and-potatoes crafting aspect of filmmaking seems utterly beyond Nolan-- every conversation is a series of medium one-shots, every edit is a literalized translation of the script ('Here's a thing that happens. Now here is the next thing that happens. Here is a picture of the thing people are talking about. Here is the person talking. Here is the person reacting to that. Here is the person talking again.') He may be the least visually imaginative director I've seen in a long while.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:42 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the debate over Nolan is really rooted in a failure of film commentary and fandom as a whole to process the idea of a B+ auteur, who's neither Hitchcock nor Michael Bay.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 7:51 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I found Memento to not have much beyond the central gimmick and was very disappointed, and for that reason was prepared to dislike Inception -- but I think it turned out to be a really fantastic film. Great atmosphere, great pacing, entertaining plot. Give me a few years to come to a conclusion on how it really compares, but I think its merits are of a similar kind to what I enjoy in the best of Lynch and Hitchcock.
posted by Anything at 7:51 AM on August 21, 2012


His lighting and cinematography are really ....consistent if you're feeling favorable. Everthing is blue. And clear. And mid level. And blue.
posted by The Whelk at 7:55 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


OTOH I've only really enjoyed half of Nolan's films that I've seen Memento and Batman Begins were disappointments while The Prestige and the abovementioned Inception were certainly not.
posted by Anything at 7:56 AM on August 21, 2012


It took me awhile to find a part of Bordwell's arguments that I really agreed with. "Very few contemporary American filmmakers have pursued complex storytelling with such thoroughness and ingenuity."
Yes. This is Nolan's goal. He tells stories of characters trapped inside of odd narrative structures, whose lives are defined by it (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, even the Batman series). He twists that structure until reality breaks. He peoples it with garish characters (the Joker, obsessive magicians). And then he serves it to us.
He is about tortuous storytelling. Because of this, the story may be seem compromised, the focus may seem compromised. But that is what he is trying to do.
I think it is genius.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure any randomly-chosen two-minute section of a Nolan film would give Andre Bazin an aneurysm.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is Batman the new Citizen Kane?"
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:07 AM on August 21, 2012


Oh man, just read the link in the Cronenberg piece to the news his studio pulled the plug at the last minute on Eastern Promises 2, which had been scheduled to shoot in October. What a fucking shame. The first one was a great, tense flick with a neat emotional payoff - one of the best gangstery films I'd seen in years. In my mind, Cronenberg's been on an increasingly interesting roll as a director; I haven't seen A Dangerous Method yet, but the three films he did before that - Spider (2002), A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises - were all excellent, smart little gems that had his usual mental horror without the standard pulsing, globular, liquifying, etc physical effects.
posted by mediareport at 8:20 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, the site is unreachable for me, but Memento made me a Nolan fan. Enjoyed The Prestige quite a bit. Inception was not quite all that for me. [shrug]
posted by Samizdata at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2012


He is about tortuous storytelling.

Hmmm. How does one tell the difference between "tortuous storytelling" and "incompetent storytelling"? The Dark Knight just seems to lurch drunkenly forward from scene to scene, with no feeling at all for any overarching narrative. Some of the individual scenes are terrific (Heath Ledger's performance deserved all the hoopla), but as a piece of storytelling it seemed quite bizarrely formless.
posted by yoink at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Eastern Promises is amazing until the ending, which completely reveals the fascinating, mysterious, conflicted main character to contain none of the attributes that made you love him.

I almost included Alfonso Cuarón on my example list of 3 auteurs (I think Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien are both masterpieces) but he has a lot of straight Hollywood cluttering up his filmography that makes it difficult. When he's at his best he has an unmistakable vision though. I actually think, in time, Children of Men may be recognized as the best film of the 2000s.

I should have included Lynch but he slipped my mind.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, directors call the shots these days, but look at most studio crap: romantic comedies, toilet comedies, shitty horror films, inspirational tearjerkers, fish-out-of-water, rags-to-riches, etc.. there is still PLENTY of schlock being churned out where no-name directors can make a few bucks. Even if auteur theory isn't as relevent as it used to be, it's still very important and it's real. Not every director is the "complete artist."

Bad films are bad films. It doesn't matter it's directed by a first-time director or someone like Micheal Bay who imposes a very strong stylistic consistency of terribleness on all of his films. My point is that a lot more goes into a film being good or bad than who the director is. You can take Robocop and Starship Troopers and make some sort of argument about what kind of director Paul Verhoeven is, or you can take Showgirls and Hollow Man and make an entirely different argument. Charlie Kaufman has only directed one film, but all of the films he's written have his own stylistic stamp on them the same way that Cronenberg's do. In comedy films the actors generally make or break a film more than anything else. It makes no sense to me to spend time arguing about whether or not someone like Nolan is an auteur, when the label mostly just means that most of the films share some sort of vague positive qualities that make them okay for cool people to like.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:43 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


...the ending, which completely reveals the fascinating, mysterious, conflicted main character to contain none of the attributes that made you love him

Huh. I didn't get that at all. I'd love to hear more but don't want to derail further or spoil the movie for anyone, so feel free to MeMail me; I'd love to know what you mean.
posted by mediareport at 8:46 AM on August 21, 2012


Also can't get to the main link, but as someone who really liked Inception and has enjoyed most of the Nolan films she's seen (exception: TDK, have not seen the new one yet), I don't even get this idea that Nolan is the best auteur working. The man is generally competent, he's got a style, and he works with certain themes--themes that get him shoved in the genre gutter, which is an argument of its own--but if that makes him an auteur, so are a lot of people.

the label mostly just means that most of the films share some sort of vague positive qualities that make them okay for cool people to like.

I've been waiting for Inception to get classed as a "guilty pleasure" when the eventual Nolan backlash really hits.
posted by immlass at 8:50 AM on August 21, 2012


When it comes to all the anger and enthusiasm that swirls around Nolan I really think that it has a lot to do with the instant ability of people to know the rest of civilization's conglomerated, averaged, rotten-tomato-ified opinion right after one consumes a piece of media. This, I think, makes it very difficult to spend a lot of time with one's own opinion before digging into the consensus. Ultimately this leads to a lot of the line of thought, "I only want to like vetted 'good' films. The film I liked was not vetted as 'good' and thus either A. I am wrong or B. all the critics are wrong!"

This is all said so that I may tell you how I really feel about Inception.

I understand that in a lot of ways Inception may be a flawed film. It doesn't develop characters, it spends a lot of it's time on exposition and quoting other sources BUT...... I love subjectivity writ large (dreamscapes etc. I've always been afraid to see Tarsem SIngh's The Cell because I might actually like it.), I love sharp suits, I fall asleep on the plane all the time and find myself waking from a dream in another city and I truly think that if nothing else Nolan does a wonderful job of capturing that feeling of wonderful, fuzzy/warm, displacement that takes place after you wake up. The entire film is worth those last 5 minutes.

So, you see, I have trouble viewing the film objectively and formally. It has so many elements (visually and thematically) that I get a kick out of I wouldn't notice how badly they were directed.

It's ok for me (and anyone else) to like a film for these reasons. It's just harder to be OK with it in a world where the consensus of civilization immediately comes around to tell you that your incorrect.

Again, I don't necessarily disagree with critical commentary, I just think for most film going experiences most people would benefit from a little more time alone with their own opinions.
posted by sendai sleep master at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2012


It's ok for me (and anyone else) to like a film for these reasons. It's just harder to be OK with it in a world where the consensus of civilization immediately comes around to tell you that your incorrect.

Inception has an 86% "Fresh" score on RottenTomatoes (and 93% Fresh from audience ratings). You're not exactly bucking the trend by expressing your admiration of the film.
posted by yoink at 8:59 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the debate over Nolan is really rooted in a failure of film commentary and fandom as a whole to process the idea of a B+ auteur, who's neither Hitchcock nor Michael Bay.

Grade inflation aside (you don't get near a B+ in my book for the level of incompetence relative to budget in Nolan's last few blockbusters), I think we have a pretty good word for this kind of director already. We call him a "hack" — a description which does seem to fit Nolan pretty well.
posted by RogerB at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2012


I can't get to the article either, but I'm guessing from the response here that, now that he's knocked out a bunch of massively successful movies, the cool kids think he sucks and they much preferred his early stuff before any of the popcorn munching masses had heard of him.
posted by IanMorr at 9:06 AM on August 21, 2012


I can't get to the article either, but I'm guessing from the response here that, now that he's knocked out a bunch of massively successful movies, the cool kids think he sucks and they much preferred his early stuff before any of the popcorn munching masses had heard of him.

Yes, everyone's critical opinions are always based on wanting to be cool, especially on a site like Metafilter. Try to take people at face value and believe them to be honest and earnest until proven otherwise.
posted by Falconetti at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't get to the article either, but I'm guessing from the response here that, now that he's knocked out a bunch of massively successful movies, the cool kids think he sucks and they much preferred his early stuff before any of the popcorn munching masses had heard of him.

This makes it sound like you haven't even read any of the comments in this thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:33 AM on August 21, 2012


I've always been afraid to see Tarsem SIngh's The Cell because I might actually like it.

It's one of the films I've really enjoyed that I'm hesitant to see again because the impression it made on the big screen (yes, I was lucky enough to catch it during the week it was in theatres) is likely to be severely curtailed by the home-viewing experience... but since you haven't yet seen it, go do. As you pointed out, subjectivity makes enjoyment a crap shoot -- but I'd say admiring the ambition alone makes it worth a shot.
posted by psoas at 9:34 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, everyone's critical opinions are always based on wanting to be cool, especially on a site like Metafilter. Try to take people at face value and believe them to be honest and earnest until proven otherwise.

That's good advice, but to say that people's tastes are informed to an extent by how popular the work of art is is not necessarily to impugn their honesty, is it? I mean, the claim needn't be that people are secretly loving the work but pooh-poohing it in public because it's a mega-blockbuster. It could be that popularity influences taste in quite unconscious ways.

There is obviously SOME kind of complex interference between taste and popularity for a certain kind of high-cultural-capital audience. Anything that becomes hugely popular will automatically be suspected of having "sold out"--of being too simplistic or insufficiently willing to challenge the audience (and this is true not just in film, of course, but in all art forms). It's interesting, actually, because as Kant argued all artistic judgments are, formally, universal: the claim is never just "I happen to like this" but "all people should like this" (hence the vitriol of most Metafilter threads about music, movies etc. etc.). And yet if we find that, in fact, all people *do* like something we tend to become suspicious of it. Perhaps it panders too readily to people's preconceived opinions; perhaps it fails to interrogate its own aesthetic premises sufficiently etc. etc.

I think we can observe these tensions at play in any community engaging in aesthetic judgments without necessarily accusing anyone of acting in bad faith.
posted by yoink at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2012


We call him a "hack" — a description which does seem to fit Nolan pretty well.

He's no hack. All of his movies are way better than they need to be.
posted by empath at 9:37 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I found Memento to not have much beyond the central gimmick and was very disappointed,

What's more it wasn't faithful to that central gimmick, and continually cheated the audience by distorting and tweaking it to the demands of the plot from one scene to the next. Also the willing suspension of disbelief required to enjoy a film which is not supposed to be a fantasy was way over the line. I walked out of the theatre not just disappointed but irritated: if a high-concept film's central premise doesn't work because it can't support the story the writer wants to tell, then the film hasn't got many levels left to succeed on. I think Nolan has done better since.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:40 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Cell was th center of a GIANTIC SHITSTORM between the director, the star, and the studio. That it got made at all is kind of a miracle. My opinion of it shifts depending on my mood but it helped The Fall get made which justifies almost anything short of mass murder.

Also we're talking about auteur and genre and not mentioning Tarentino?
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bordwell: "I remember walking out of Patton (1970) with a hippie friend who loved it. He claimed that it showed how vicious the military was, by portraying a hero as an egotistical nutcase. That wasn’t the reading offered by a veteran I once talked to, who considered the film a tribute to a great warrior.

It was then I began to suspect that Hollywood movies are usually strategically ambiguous about politics. You can read them in a lot of different ways, and that ambivalence is more or less deliberate.

A Hollywood film tends to pose sharp moral polarities and then fuzz or fudge or rush past settling them. For instance, take
The Bourne Ultimatum: Yes, the espionage system is corrupt, but there is one honorable agent who will leak the information, and the press will expose it all, and the malefactors will be jailed. This tactic hasn’t had a great track record in real life.

The constitutive ambiguity of Hollywood movies helpfully disarms criticisms from interest groups (“Look at the positive points we put in”). It also gives the film an air of moral seriousness (“See, things aren’t simple; there are gray areas”). . . .

I’m not saying that films can’t carry an intentional message. . . . More often, I think, filmmakers pluck out bits of cultural flotsam opportunistically, stirring it all together and offering it up to see if we like the taste. It’s in filmmakers’ interests to push a lot of our buttons without worrying whether what comes out is a coherent intellectual position.
Patton grabbed people and got them talking, and that was enough to create a cultural event. Ditto The Dark Knight."

Exactly. The thematic/political incoherence is deliberate. Blockbuster mass entertainments can't afford to make points beyond "evil is bad, mmmmkay?" Every person you piss off is one who won't buy a ticket to your epic boondoggle of a picture. (Granted, I saw a lot of right-wing worldview in DKR, but yeah, I could also see a ton of bet-hedging as well. It's far less a right-wing screed than a big deliberate mess.)
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink - I didn't mean to imply that taste isn't a complex phenomenom. To paraphrase Bordieau, judgments of taste can be acts of social positioning. However, it is tiring for individual opinions on film, or any aesthetic judgment, to be questioned as if they were not the commenter's true opinion, but rather a deliberate ploy to increase their social standing on metafilter. I don't think abjuring from insinuating that other posters are, in essence, liars impinges on the any truths found in the broader cultural field in which taste is embedded.
posted by Falconetti at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, Insomnia? That's a very handsome adaptation.
posted by The Whelk at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2012


Did you see the original Insomnia?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:44 AM on August 21, 2012


Anything that becomes hugely popular will automatically be suspected of having "sold out"

You know what the most fun I've had in a theater this year was? The Avengers.
So there.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:46 AM on August 21, 2012


Re: The Cell... It's pretty cool visually I guess but it's kind of derivative...
posted by nathancaswell at 9:53 AM on August 21, 2012


I don't think abjuring from insinuating that other posters are, in essence, liars impinges on the any truths found in the broader cultural field in which taste is embedded.

To be sure--which was why I said that your original comment was "good advice" (and, indeed, why I usually find Metafilter threads on aesthetic matters--like all internet discussion threads on such matters--so dispiriting. The drift towards "if you like/don't like this you're obviously a poopyhead" seems almost irresistible.
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on August 21, 2012


I have been the Orginal! I thought Nolan did a good job translating it to the US idiom and Pacino gave a good performance even if he could do the bedraggled detective thing in his sleep. Plus I like my Robin Williams creepy flavored.
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 AM on August 21, 2012


Did you see the original Insomnia?

Christ, the original was *so* much better than the remake, for so many reasons. I hadn't picked up on the things Bordwell mentions in the link, but he's totally right about them and they just confirm my opinion.
posted by asterix at 10:34 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have been the Orginal!

I think that's definitely TMI.
posted by yoink at 10:42 AM on August 21, 2012


Okay you got me I'm Stellan Skarsgård
posted by The Whelk at 10:46 AM on August 21, 2012


Okay you got me I'm Stellan Skarsgård

You lucky dog.
posted by yoink at 10:57 AM on August 21, 2012


I've always been afraid to see Tarsem SIngh's The Cell because I might actually like it.

The Whelk already mentioned it, but The Fall is great.

As for Nolan, I really liked Memento, but I like gimmicks. But the rest of his output while not being amazing is IMO inoffensive and a lot of it delivers on the level of spectacle if nothing else. I find it hard to muster up the kind of hate I'm seeing here for him.
posted by juv3nal at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2012


I don't hate Nolan-- like I said, I generally enjoy his films (although Inception made me angry). But I think he's one of the least filmic directors working now, who's interested in ideas and puzzles and labyrinths but often finds the most banal ways to get into them, be it The Deepest Level Of Dreaming Is Guys With Machine Guns On Snowmobiles or the way a good third of his dialogue is exposition or the way each of his shots only ever serves exactly one purpose. I like puzzles and labyrinths and I like Batman and I don't mind Nolan's literalism, but I wish he was better.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:41 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes, everyone's critical opinions are always based on wanting to be cool, especially on a site like Metafilter.

Well, I know that my opinions are based on wanting to be cool. Or rather I know that I'm cool. That's why I'm blatantly announcing it here. Favorites right below.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2012


the way a good third of his dialogue is exposition or the way each of his shots only ever serves exactly one purpose. I like puzzles and labyrinths and I like Batman and I don't mind Nolan's literalism, but I wish he was better.

This. You go back and watch a lot of 80s blockbuster movies like Lethal Weapon or Top Gun and there's action and heroics and all that but there are also entertaining characters. With understandable motivations and amusing dialogue and side plots and stuff. Current blockbusters are all: Very Good Amazing Guy vs Very Very Bad Ultimate Evil Guy: the No Guns Punchingfest. The latest Batman was just silly that way, vast chunks of the plot were just like wtf? The prison bit was a prime example of something so silly it should have been laughed out of the writers meeting.

I get its a stylistic choice but its become the default and they're not pulling it off.
posted by fshgrl at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2012


For an example of what I mean by Nolan's literalism and one-thing-at-a-time filmmaking, take a look at this blog entry by Jim Emerson, where he talks about one shot in Alien and all of the things it accomplishes. This is the sort of thing Nolan never seems interested in-- his setups are pretty much entirely perfunctory.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:28 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the payoff in Bordwell's blog post on Nolan is in his section on "Syncing story and style." For Bordwell, Nolan is a "good bad director" in the same way James Fennimore Cooper is a "good bad writer." Fennimore Cooper might not be the best stylist when it comes to executing each individual sentence in a novel, but a work like Last of the Mohicans still gallops along and stays readable, even if individual parts of it might seem wanting. Similarly, Nolan can pull off some good visuals and set pieces that keep you interested enough to keep watching until end, but individual dialogue scenes are relatively unimaginative, and I've seen better blocking and choreography of fight scenes in B-level kung fu movies.
posted by jonp72 at 1:20 PM on August 21, 2012


What's great about the Batman films are the powerful female roles played by such highly valued female actors. Bale, Freeman, Oldman and Sir Michael all do their best, and its nice that the franchise lets them work through three films; but it's a tribute to Hollywood that the series of films is unthinkable without the continued presence in each movie of [EXCHANGABLE DARK HAIRED FEMALE]. That's why the films scream out their artistic plea: "woman are important in our vision of the world".
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Similarly, Nolan can pull off some good visuals and set pieces that keep you interested enough to keep watching until end, but individual dialogue scenes are relatively unimaginative, and I've seen better blocking and choreography of fight scenes in B-level kung fu movies."

I think Bordwell is saying that Nolan's primary interest is the structure of the story, rather than the way that story is told or the characters involved. He shoots fairly quickly (except for big action set pieces) and doesn't spend a lot of time composing shots or introducing any characteristic visual style. (Nolan's visual style is probably intentionally plain so it won't obscure the narrative further.) But when he goes into the editing room his artistry emerges as he cuts together intricate puzzle structures that make you work to decipher what is going on when. So if you like figuring out puzzles you'll probably like his films.

Incidentally, I love David Bordwell. He writes like a scientist, proposing a theory, then backing it up with actual examples from movies, then dealing with objections and alternate interpretations of the evidence. Reading him makes me feel like I actually learned something today, which is rare on the Internet.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:44 PM on August 21, 2012


Christopher Nolan is a god if you compare him to Brett Ratner. If you compare him to David Cronenberg, he's an artschool M. Night who made some Batman movies. Is he an auteur? Criterion's done editions of Michael Bay movies; anyone can be an auteur.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:52 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I almost included Alfonso Cuarón on my example list of 3 auteurs (I think Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien are both masterpieces) but he has a lot of straight Hollywood cluttering up his filmography that makes it difficult. When he's at his best he has an unmistakable vision though. I actually think, in time, Children of Men may be recognized as the best film of the 2000s.

Children Of Men is breathtakingly good. Mr hippybear was raving about it, and then I watched, it, and then I started raving about it. I haven't had a film experience that intelligent, well-made, and somehow personally transformative since The Usual Suspects.

Anyway, even Cuarón's mainstream films are above their competition. He did the 3rd Harry Potter film, which is arguably the one out of the series which has the most forward momentum and strongest visual and thematic threads running through it. The other directors involved in that series were doing films based on books. Cuarón took a book and made it into his own film.
posted by hippybear at 6:34 PM on August 21, 2012


We don't count Herzog an auteur for some reason?
posted by Evstar at 7:56 PM on August 21, 2012


kittens for breakfast: "Christopher Nolan is a god if you compare him to Brett Ratner. If you compare him to David Cronenberg, he's an artschool M. Night who made some Batman movies. Is he an auteur? Criterion's done editions of Michael Bay movies; anyone can be an auteur."

You could easily make the argument that Bay is an auteur. Not that he doesn't make truly awful movies but he does have a very distinctive and identifiable style. No one would mistake Bad Boys II for a good movie but no one's going to mistake it for anything but a Michael Bay movie either.
posted by octothorpe at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2012


The Cell was th center of a GIANTIC SHITSTORM between the director, the star, and the studio. That it got made at all is kind of a miracle. My opinion of it shifts depending on my mood but it helped The Fall get made which justifies almost anything short of mass murder.

D'oh, I was thinking of The Fall when I wrote earlier. The Cell is interesting enough, but also something of a giant mess.
posted by psoas at 8:19 PM on August 21, 2012


Sex, Anarchy, and Robert Pattinson’s Hair Haunt David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis
posted by homunculus at 11:18 AM on August 25, 2012


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