Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Top 10 performances in Christopher Nolan's movies

By s. Wednesday, August 30, 2017 , , , , , , , ,

Christopher Nolan's movies have given us a lot of wonderful things - exceptional sequences, wonderful cinematography, fantastic music. But most of all they have given us wonderful performances, often times the very best from the talented actors who appeared in Nolan's film's. Here's my list of the 10 best of them.

HM: Rebecca Hall in The Prestige, Gary Oldman in The Dark Knight trilogy

10. Tom Hardy as Farrier in Dunkirk

I keep going back and forth between who is MVP of Dunkirk because they all did such an amazing work but I gotta give the edge to Hardy. For the vast majority of time that Hardy worked with Nolan his face was largely obscured. And even so, with 90% of it under a mask and with what is probably about 20 lines, most of which are about fuel, Hardy aided by his character saving the day in the movie's most triumphant moment, has created the character that appears to be everyone's favorite. It's astonishing what he can do with his eyes alone. There is a scene in Bronson where if I recall correctly a girl turns down his proposal and he does that thing with his eyes there. He expresses so much with them. There's the way he looks at Cillian Murphy in shock in the latest season of Peaky Blinders when he hears Murphy's character's son has been captured and he does that thing again. Then there is Mad Max where Hardy mumbles, grunts and fights and still manages to deliver a great performance in large part because of those eyes and expressions he pulls off so well. Not only is he one of the most gifted and charismatic actors these days, but he can really conjure wonders with seemingly so little.

9. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises

It takes courage to take a role of Selina Kyle after Michelle Pfeiffer's take in Batman Returns which to this day remains the best female performance in any comic book movie. But Anne Hathaway put her own spin on the iconic character - part a con artist, part Audrey Hepburn-esque elegant beauty, Hathaway brings spark, warmth and so much heart to the role and makes her character both interesting and a lot of fun to watch.

8. Al Pacino as Will Dormer in Insomnia

I have not seen many of recent Pacino's performances but for me the one in Insomnia is his last truly masterful one. Insomnia is in general very underrated movie and often times I see it positioned somewhere near the end of 'Nolan ranked' lists. It's a shame because it's a chilling, atmospheric thriller with very good performances. It also has some truly inspired editing and cinematography which really makes the audience feel almost how Pacino's Dormer - a cop battling with titular infliction and guilty conscience - feels. The frantic cut aways to the most random objects illustrating just how tired the mind is. Pacino really embodies his character here and he gets several very fun to watch scenes where he takes us back to his performance in Heat as he plays a tough, smart cop getting witnesses to talk.

7. Marion Cotillard as Mal in Inception

I find Inception to be a vastly overrated movie. While the clinical, methodical, clean approach to the world of dreams and human consciousness is certainly unique and original it's quite simply dull. Give me Lynch's surrealism over Nolan's logic any day. That said it is by no means a bad movie and comparing to something as dull as Interstellar it is downright gripping. But the only times the movie truly comes alive are when Marion Cotillard shows up on the screen as ruthless, dangerous and completely unpredictable memory of Cobb's deceased wife. We also get to see Cotillard in flashback sequences which are underwritten like so many things surrounding romances in Nolan's films, but Cotillard is one hell of an actress and she manages to do wonders with the role. There's a scene where her character truly towers over horrendous Ellen Page (awful, awful performance here) that truly shows you a difference between a capable actress and one that is completely lost when her character is underwritten.

6. Matthew McConaughey as Cooper in Interstellar

I will always have so much respect for McConaughey for finding emotional core in Intersellar's absolutely awful script. It's an ambitious film. But that script is horrible. Simultaneously over and under written Interstellar is easily Nolan's worst film. Nolan talking of love is like me talking of sanity - it's simply not his wheelhouse. The notion that McConaughey's and Hathaway's characters are in love that Nolan tries to sell in the ending is preposterous but the father/daughter love is believable in the film because of McConaughey's acting, which also rescues this movie from being a complete disaster. No wonder it took someone who plays ukulele while high and naked to make enough sense out of flying among bookshelves and coding a watch so that Cooper's daughter (a dreadful Jessica Chastain) could...whatever it is she did.

5. Guy Pearce as Leonard n Memento

This remains the role of a lifetime for Pearce, who is unfortunately doing terrible movies these days or wasting his and everyone else's time in Ridley Scott's slow and painful process of killing his own franchise. As Leonard Pearce gets to play a fascinating character that constantly evolves in the audience's perception - what motivates him? How much does he really know? What is he capable of? Pearce embodies this character so profoundly it's truly impossible to imagine someone else playing the role

4. Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie in Memento

Chris Nolan's weakest ability when he writes is the characterization of women. Often the female character and the performance of actress playing her is the worst thing about the film e.g. Olivia in The Prestige and Ariadne in Inception. Carrie Anne-Moss in Memento is a different case all together . If I were to choose the MVP of every single Nolan's film, Moss' performance is for me the most rewatchable and entertaining part of Memento. Her character is like a treacherous serpent and Moss plays the part in a truly chilling way. Nolan excels in showing negative side of humans so much better than positive (at least until Dunkirk) and combined with Moss really getting a hold of her character here they created something wonderful together.

3. Michael Caine as Alfred in The Dark Knight Trilogy

Caine is a veteran when it comes to Nolan's films, having appeared in every single one he made since Batman Begins (even having a voice cameo in Dunkirk) but his best work remains his performance as Bruce Wayne's loyal butler. I think Bale makes a fine Batman but Caine makes a truly wonderful Alfred. Through all of the films you really feel how much this man cares for Bruce. It's Caine who sells some of the trilogy's most emotional moments, including his lovely acting in the brilliant ending of The Dark Knight Rises. But what I always go back to when I think of his role is the tears of desperation, sadness and fear as Alfred drives Wayne home when he has been poisoned. It's such a short moment, but it's unforgettable.

2. Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier in The Prestige

If I were to choose the three best acted moments out of any Christopher Nolan movie other than The Dark Knight they all belong to Jackman here The first being easily "it was the look on their faces" as his delivery gives the tragic character and arguably the villain of the film so much heart in the end - he really did accomplish what he chased. Another being the moment where without thinking he impulsively spits out the truth when Olivia hands him a diary she stole form his rival and tells him this won't bring his wife back. He just says "I don't care about my wife, I just care about his secret" and immediately looks up, realizing he just showed someone how black his heart became because of his obsession. And finally there is the funeral scene where we still see Angier as a good man, now grieving as he lost his wife and asking Borden time and time again which knot did he tie. It's in this moment where he goes from grief to desire for vengeance. It's a lovely, lovely performance - so emotional, magnetic and dedicated. Jackman excels when he plays complicated men who have been through hell yet for some reason keep on going. It's his second best performance, right after the beautiful work in Logan. Also a shout out to Hugh for being so convincing as Root so many people actually thought he was played by another actor. No, it's also Jackman, just with make up, dental prosthesis and false earlobes.

1. Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight

Plenty has been said about that performance and most of it true. There is no denying that Ledger (who in my humble opinion was even better in Brokeback Mountain) created something amazing. It's a different issue that it is so amazing that whenever he is not on the screen what is on it is dull in comparison. The film is riddled with problems - mostly in script with its ferry solution, sonar and mercilessly rushed Two Face arc - and it's often hailed as the best CBM ever (it's not, Logan is) when it's not even Nolan's best Batman film, but it does have Ledger's work going for it. Ledger created something truly fascinating finding the method in madness..He is funny, frightening and the only thing in the movie that is truly unpredictable. On the heels of WB announcing they are making The Joker origin movie, one must ask why they even bother when it's probably impossible for anyone to top Ledger's work. It is easy to imagine a far better movie than The Dark Knight featuring The Joker, but it's impossible to imagine anyone playing the part better than him.


  1. Wow... that is a list I can't really argue with. Nolan does get great work in his actors and this list is no exception. Of course, Heath Ledger would win the list. How can anyone top his performance as the Joker?

  2. We will forever disagree about The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. I think Rises is the worst of the trilogy. However, we do agree that Ledger's performance was phenomenal. And so glad Michael Caine's work as Alfred made the list. Pleasantly surprised to see Carrie-Anne Moss over Guy Pearce for Memento. Both were great, but she did much of the film's heavy lifting. I still need to see Insomnia and Dunkirk.

    Some others I thought were really good:
    Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception
    Christian Bale in The Prestige
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception
    Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises

    1. Oh my God you still haven't seen Dunkirk?! I hope you still get to catch it in theaters!

      All great roles there, especially DiCaprio.

  3. Yay for Guy Pearce!! That really was great. He has done some good stuff semi-recently, but over the last few years the only good film I can recall is The Rover from '14.

    "Nolan talking of love is like me talking of sanity" - this made me almost spit my coffee all over my keyboard =P

    Great list. As an Aussie I really should watch Ledger as the Joker one day. Having not seen it though, I really REALLY want to see more of Leto in that role, but I dunno if that is even happening.

    1. If I were Leto I'd tell them to go fuck themselves over this whole Joker Origin idea that doesn't include him. They already disrespected him enough by having him promote the Squad so much without telling him his scenes were mostly cut

    2. Wait.... they are doing the Joker origin movie and it doesn't include him?? Okay now that is just fucking moronic. 7 minutes of him in the Squad and it was the best 7 minutes of the movie. Goddamn. =/

      He is one of your crushes, what is a lesser known movie of his you'd recommend? I've only seen the obvious ones - fight club, requiem, and the one about him being a really old man or something along those lines. Perhaps I should revisit that one?

      Whaddya reckon?

    3. Yeah I mentioned that in last RF. Now they are saying the want DiCaprio who is obviously gonna tell them to piss off

      That's Mr. Nobody which is a lovely film. Hmm...American Psycho, one of my favorites. Also Dallas Buyers Club, for which he won an Oscar, is amazing

  4. Great list! I can't argue with it. Especially #1. Ledger was just outstanding in that role.

    Insomnia is one I need to re-watch. It always ends up lower on my Nolan list because I watched it before I really started appreciating him as a director.

    1. I really liked this one. Plus it's a curios case because I think it's the only movie Nolan didn't write/co-write

  5. Fantastic post. Nolan always populates his movies with fascinating characters. I enjoy how a lot of them are not what they seem at first.

    1. Thank you! The cast and the intricate stories are usually the best thing about his films..well along with the music

  6. Solid list...I really can't argue it except maybe Tom Hardy's slot, although I don't know who I'd replace him with.

    1. Hardy was just so impressive considering how limited his options here were

  7. This is a great list. I especially loved the inclusion of Cotillard in Inception, a performance that doesn't get praised as much as it should. Great work again!

    1. I'm really surprised by that, I thought her and Zimmer's score were by far the greatest things about the movie

  8. Great list! Can't argue with number one. Ledger's is one the greatest comic book performances of all time. The other one is Jackman's in Logan.

    I loved Guy Pearce in Memento and I'm glad to see he made it to the list.