Here is my ranking of Christopher Nolan’s films. Feel free to create your own ranking or disagree with mine.
1. The Dark Knight – This probably gets my top vote because I am foremost a Batman fan than a Christopher Nolan fan, and this is the definitive Batman movie. I can watch this movie over and over and never tire. I can also watch this movie sequentially: the bank robbery, Batman’s introduction, the Hong Kong sequence, the scene leading up to The Joker crashing Bruce Wayne’s fund-raising party, the convoy chase down Lower Wacker and LaSalle, etc. The movie is terrific as a whole but also has a lot of fantastic individual sequences.
2. Insomnia – This was the first Christopher Nolan movie I’ve ever seen, so it has a special resonance in my heart. For some reason I was really able to connect to this film. All of the performances — Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank — are top notch and Nolan really sets a wonderful mood and atmosphere. The setting really helps set the mood, but everything else is drenched in this very specific atmosphere and Nolan absolutely lures you into Dormer’s mindset. That’s what Nolan really does best: he brings you into the mind of the characters you’re seeing, and on that level Insomnia succeeds exceptionally. This might be Chris Nolan’s most straight-forward and procedural movie, but it is also his most emotionally satisfying outside of possibly Inception.
3. Batman Begins – While The Dark Knight might have been the definitive Batman movie, this is really the definitive movie about Bruce Wayne. After four consecutive movies where it seemed they were more concerned with the villains rather than Batman himself, the movie finally delves into the psychological nature that drives Batman. The same approach Nolan took with Insomnia — bringing you into the mindset of Dormer — is applied here and you really get into Bruce Wayne’s head.
4. Inception – I’ve seen almost every Nolan movie countless times, and I’ve only seen Inception twice so this might make its way up higher on my list in the months and years to come, but while this might’ve been the most conceptually interesting film Nolan has done since Memento, I think I need to see it more and absorb it more to say that it is his best film. I absolutely love this movie for the meditations it has on letting go of grief, the distinctions between reality and fantasy and ultimately choosing between the two, but for some reason I have yet to ascertain and determine if I am entirely captivated by it to rank it higher on my list… yet. I definitely need to see it more.
5. Memento – For a movie that is probably Christopher Nolan’s first call-to-fame and his most famous/acclaimed, I had a hard time understanding and getting absorbed into the nature not only of the storytelling but of the characters. People have criticized Nolan’s work of being slightly cold and artificial — entirely concerned with the mechanics of the plot rather than the emotionalism of the characters — and I think that’s most true with Memento. I could relate to Dormer in Insomnia or Wayne in Batman Begins or even Cobb in Inception but I had a hard time relating to Leonard. However, I have significantly warmed up to this movie since my initial viewing. I don’t think it works as well as Nolan might have intended, but the ending is a real dozy and completely alters the way you view the film and Leonard as a character. As a matter of fact Nolan has a fascination with endings of circumstance — just take into account the endings for Following, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception. They define those movies, and the ending for Memento pretty much defines the movie on a whole.
6. Following – Surprise it may be, but I’ve only seen this movie once (or twice — not entirely sure). It’s the one Christopher Nolan movie I’m least familiar with. For what it is, it’s an impressive accomplishment — a 70 minute film made for only $11,000 that has all of the trademarks Nolan will come to brand — a complicated, psychologically dense plot with a flawed lead character and a non-linear storyline. It’s pretty noteworthy especially considering this was Nolan’s first feature-length movie and he wrote, produced, edited, shot and directed it. This didn’t leave quite the impression on me that Nolan’s other movies have, but it’s a really inspiring beginning to his career and very curious to watch if you want to witness the beginnings of Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker and all of the trademarks that’ll pop up in all of his movies since.
7. The Prestige – This is probably my least favorite Christopher Nolan film probably because I feel like it is his most artificial. I couldn’t really get into the story as much as I wanted to (and believe me, I tried) and none of the characters really seemed all that genuine or interesting. I understood what Nolan was trying to do with the Borden and Angiers characters and once again he excels at tapping into the obsessive nature of people (and he does do an excellent job at convincingly creating this rivalry between them…) but something about the film just didn’t quite connect me with as much as I had hoped. It’s still a great film…. beautifully shot by Wally Pfister, with a great atmospheric score by David Julyan and some excellent acting, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into this film unlike the others Nolan has done.