5 Worst Films Directed By Christopher Nolan

Having seen Inception recently at the Byrd, I can now say what I’ve always detected – Christopher Nolan is the most celebrated, beloved bad director since Ed Wood.

Noland makes impossibly illogical movies that his fans mistake for depth and complexity. Many watch the films repeatedly to derive meaning (often, I bet, under the influence of marijuana). CGI, mystical psychobabble, crushing sound all make for a powerful cinematic rush, but where is character, story, logic? Does this writer/director know how to tell a story without resorting to dreams, time warps, identity deception and CGI? If a protagonist is tied to a railroad track with the train screaming towards him, all he has to do is transmorphe through a CGI dreamscape at the last moment to avoid being pulverized.

At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman clearly has the Joker entrapped, hung upside down off a skyscraper. Does he arrest him? No, they have a brooding philosophical discussion. Next scene: the Joker has escaped? When? How? Where? I’ve asked a hundred people how the Joker escaped and they all give different, albeit enthusiastic, responses.

Don’t get me wrong – I hate formulaic movies where you know everything that is going to happen. I revel in always guessing where a director is taking me. Pedro Almodovar (whose screenwriter, like Nolan, is his brother) is a master at wrapping things up at the end. Nolan has nothing to wrap up because his movies don’t make sense.

Here are my five worst films by America/England’s worst director:

Inception
Leo DiCaprio is so adept at jumping around in people’s minds, his character is able to leap from Shutter Island to this confusing mess. He is some kind of tortured, high paid “mind thief.” Oy Vey.

The Dark Knight
So Batman is a humorless, introspective, life questioning Darth Vader impersonator? Let’s roll out all kinds of famous actors in colorful bit parts and let Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do their veteran magic. At least half of the billion dollars this movie made was for Heath Ledger’s brilliant take on the Joker – the only redeeming thing in Noland’s canon.

Insomnia
Has a movie ever been more aptly named? Dark, brooding, unpleasant. Did Al Pacino rehearse or did he just carry over his raging character from Any Given Sunday?

The Prestige
Visitors arrive at Nikola Tesla’s mountain mansion in a hoary, dreary CGI Euro winter frost. Moments later they are dining on Tesla’s sunny tropical balcony, a palm tree in the background. Was Tesla able to warm whole countrysides with his inventions so he could eat lunch outdoors? This is the closest Nolan has come to telling a traditional tale; but can he leave good alone? Great art direction and atmosphere of the Victorian London magic and illusionist scene devolves into a groan inducing plot twist that explains all the uninteresting things that have come before (no spoilers here).

Memento
This film was tortuously boring and confusing, but since I had never heard of Nolan, I gave him high marks for originality and high concept. Why not have a film unravel backwards, though, without such tortuous side trips through memory loss, murder and other off the wall plot points? I eagerly awaited his next film. What did I get? Insomnia.

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33 Responses to 5 Worst Films Directed By Christopher Nolan

  1. Jeff Roll says:

    Ted … You and Peter should go out bowling sometime with all of the Nolan hating going on between you two .

  2. SEBBY says:

    I agree with all but The Prestige and Insomnia. Those two blew my mind for the plot, if not the film-making. And for the leading men in each. Whose gorgeosity might have blinded me to technical flaws.

  3. Jeff Roll says:

    Nolan should be given credit for creating blockbusters with a brain . I’m on the Nolan defense team .

  4. Jeff Roll says:

    Take this as defense to Chris Nolan . Nolan admitted it himself in a recent EW article . Prediction … Ted screams sacrilege :

    http://www.chud.com/articles/articles/24477/1/NEVER-WAKE-UP-THE-MEANING-AND-SECRET-OF-INCEPTION/Page1.html

  5. Josh Hostetler says:

    I’m not trying to start an argument here, but the idea that these are blockbusters with a brain is absurd to me. They are pseudo-intellectual, pretentious drivel. They seem like blockbusters with a brain because most people think if they don’t get it, it must be deep.

    I’ve got nothing against nonsensical films at all, but nonsensical films wrapped in a facade of being anything more than that grate on my nerves extremely. The pretense is so transparent in all of the films I’ve seen by this guy. It’s simply horrifying to me the accolades Inception got by so many people who I trust to see through that stuff.

    I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in this completely. Thanks, Ted, for spearheading my support group.

  6. Sarah says:

    I’ve seen all of these films on this list, and I have to say that while I found The Prestige to be a fun movie, Inception just made me angry and I’m not sure any of the others have really stuck with me. I just remember the Joker hanging upside down off of a building at the end of The Dark Knight, I don’t remember if he got away (oh, like the Christmas song?). Nolan is a competent director in the technical sense, so he’s not exactly an Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau-type of bad director, I just have some doubt over the whether any of these stories are all that compelling. He keeps casting actors I’m quite fond of, and although he ultimately always ends up wasting them, I keep going to see his movies.

    But Inception made me kind of angry. It tried to work within dream logic, but also give it structure by having an “architect” build particular dream worlds, so everyone is dreaming the same thing…which apparently is an action movie. It completely lost me once they got to the mountain fortress scene where it turned into a sequel for the Vin Diesel xXx series. In fact, I kept waiting for Diesel to show up, do an awesome jump on a snowmobile, and high-five someone.

  7. Peter Schilling says:

    Whoops, suddenly Ted is my new hero. You said it all. And Insomnia, which I used to think was fine, utterly, totally pales in comparison to the original, which is brilliant and haunting. And sad–Nolan also has not been able to create a scene of genuine emotional impact once in any of his movies. It’s tempting to go into all the problems with his films here, but you did such a good job I’d rather just bask in your (shared) loathing. Nice job!

  8. Jake Brumfield says:

    Wow Ted it seems you have a personal vendetta against Nolan. I think he’s one of the greatest directors in the past 20 or 30 years. Memento was NOTHING like anything else to come out at that time, not to mention it is a brilliant movie. If you found some of these films confusing and boring, I suggest you watch Michael Bay movies instead. These plots are perfectly understandable if you pay attention and think a little bit. You have almost no backing proof that The Prestige and The Dark Knight are awful films other than pointing a continuity error and sarcastically pointing out a billion dollars was put in just for Heath Ledger. Way to be an individual. I also do not get what you mean by “best worst director”. As for CGI, Nolan has stated himself he uses it sparingly and only when he needs to and thats perfectly fine. There is NOTHING wrong with a little CGI. Plus, last time I checked, every premise in a film does not have to be possible out here in the real world. I could give you countless examples. Entering a dream? Of course it’s not possible, but he does it for our entertainments sake, and actually does make you use your brain and he always wraps them up in a way that makes sense. He keeps you thinking, considering you actually have the attention span which apparently you don’t. That is the joy of Nolan. Going to extremes comparing him to Ed Wood, look at recent M.Night Shyamalan, Rolland Emmerich, Michael Bay, Eli Roth, recent Wes Craven, Uwe Boll, whoever directs those dumb Saw films. I can safely say Inception is better than Armageddon.

  9. Erin says:

    I must agree with the Nolan Defense Team. Would most people think Ledger’s role in Dark Knight was as legendary if he didn’t overdose before it’s premiere? I love Heath but I wouldn’t give all of the credit for the success of Dark Knight to him. I also have to agree with the statement that if you feel his movies are confusing, something simpler may be a better choice as far as directors go for you.
    Nolan’s films do require you to actually follow along with a movie from start to finish but if you want confusing, you should watch Primer.
    No hard feelings though, I feel there are probably many more people who disagree than agree with you.

  10. Ted Salins says:

    With his back to back roles in “BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN” and “THE DARK KNIGHT”, Ledger was clearly demonstrating a breathtaking range – Ennis Del Mar was one of the most affecting, heart felt characterizations in all of filmdom.

    Perhaps “INCEPTION” was too complex for me, but why then can’t anyone tell me what it is about? Go Erin. You’re on. Don’t say ‘It’s about a mind thief who is hired by an Asian client to “incept” instead of “intercept” and he’s heartbroken because he’s lost his family….etc. etc. etc.’ – I know that. I saw the movie. What was it about? What is” THE DARK KNIGHT” about? Why should I care for DeCaprio’s character as much as I did for Ennis Del Mar? This should be “simple”.

  11. Peter Schilling says:

    I actually don’t have a problem following Nolan’s films. My problem, and it’s a personal one, is that I find them boring, because I find puzzles boring. If you look at the complex work of, say, David Lynch, films like “Mulholland Dr.” contain multitudes, personal stories of loss and despair. “Inception” is very much like a Rubik’s cube–sure it’s difficult and challenging, but it’s not thought-provoking in any way. And it simply does not make any sense.

    There’s not only a slew of continuity errors in Nolan’s films, there’s also a need to overwhelm his audience with brilliant effects that emotionally do not have any impact. Let’s look at one of the great scenes in “Inception”. The battle between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and that Bad Guy With No Name–you know, the one where the car in ‘real life’ (yes, I know it was in one level of a dream) is flying off a bridge, so Gordon-Levitt and BGWNN are also flying around in that hotel’s hallway. Nitpicking would be to say that you can be asleep on a ship or in a car and the movement does not actually make you move around in a dream. That’s a fair cop, but I’m interested in deeper things. Compare this scene to the battles in “The Matrix”, a movie I don’t particularly like, but which is a hundred times more effective than “Inception”. At the climax between Agent Smith and Neo (I think those are their names), there is a pitched battle similar to the one in “Inception”–two men, with weapons, doing things that fly in the face of physics, to create a visually stunning and exciting battle, right? Except that in “The Matrix” we have reached the climax of a plot, and we’ve come to know two characters, totally at odds with one another, and so not only are we dazzled by the effects, we know that Agent Smith is deadly on his own, know that Neo has begun to understand the tremendous powers he’s got, and that adds to the tension. It’s the classic meeting of good guy v. bad.

    Not so in “Inception”. Who is the bad guy? We don’t know, he’s just a dream fellow that the dreamer has come up with. We don’t know what the guy is capable of. We know what Joseph Gordon-Levitt is capable of, but this guy he’s fighting with is just a face, just muscles, without personality or even the benefit of some badass skills.

    This runs rampant throughout “Inception”, a place whose dream world is so lacking in imagination it is stunning. Nolan seems to think that the only great thing in dreams are incredible special effects. The only way to protect information in dreams is to lock them in a safe. Only guys with guns can stop you in a dream. Sorry, but I’ll take the $10,000 budgeted “Eraserhead” for my cinematic dreaming. At least Lynch understands people. Nolan understands CGI.

    • kjtankit says:

      well that means you didn’t get the “thought provoking” aspect of inception…. because you said you got the meaning of mulholland firve but didnt get within inception,… man your lousy because inception is simple

      • Ted Salins says:

        kjtankit – “Mulholland Drive” was surrealistic, certainly, yet one could derive meaning from it. “Inception” is not so; it means to be narrative; the protagonists have super mental powers but they are not abstracted representations as many of Lynch’s characters usually are. If you IM’ed this from a small device, I guess I understand, but if you criticize someone’s intellect, you should check your spelling, apostrophes (“you’re” not “your”), capitalization etc. I would not criticize your grammar otherwise.

  12. Josh Hostetler says:

    To those suggesting we who think these films are boring should stick to simpler fare, I think you’ve misunderstood. It’s not that complexity is a problem. I have never had a problem following complex films, and even ones that honestly make no sense at all are fine by me a lot of the time.

    Generally, though, these films have something going for them other than some sort of wow-factor.

    I definitely would lump Nolan together with Michael Bay, M Night Shyamalan, and all those other Blockbuster-makers who rely on the general intellectual feebleness of the populace-at-large. It seems their shtick is to use huge budgets and unnecessary convolution to blow the minds of people who are easily entertained.

    They do serve a very great purpose in this society: they make people who generally don’t get to feel smart feel smart, and that’s a wonderful gift. (I’m not saying you guys are these people by the way…)

    What I was trying to say in my original comment, and I think what Ted is trying to say as well is not that the films are hard to follow because they are complex, but rather that they are too simple.

    I had a pothead neighbor on Grace Street years ago who was completely baked all the time. He used to knock on my door wielding a book of ambiguous sentences and, when I answered the door, he’d say, “Dude. Check this out: ‘This is not a sentence.’ No, no… Wait wait wait… Listen: ‘This is not a sentence!’ Is your mind blown yet?”

    That’s what these movies are like to me. They’re like a fried neo-hippie trying to get me to think by throwing anti-substance in my face.

    They pull coins from behind our ears a call it a miracle.

  13. Pingback: Five Film Favorites: Blockbusters | James River Film Journal

  14. naresh says:

    only people who don have brains hate chris!!!!!
    only one shot why do u people go n watch sum teenage movies if u wan humor,nudity etccc,,,,,

  15. naresh says:

    i don no who runs dis website but he is a mindless freak,,,absolutely wit no brain ,,,A**hole
    f***OFF!!!

  16. Ted Salins says:

    Speaking of mindless freaks naresh….

  17. john says:

    you idiot .you dickhead.do you even understand what the movies are about?
    please stop trying to criticize things that are beyond your level of comprehension.

  18. Paul Moore says:

    Ted, I’ve heard all of your arguments, all of the counter-arguments, and everything in between (including John’s magnificent commentary to which even Voltaire himself could not dare compare himself, were he alive today), and I have to say that I am in the Nolan camp here. In an interview, he admitted that his aim was to mix the thrilling action of films like Michael Bay’s Transformers films with the artistic integrity of more substantial cinema. So far, I find that he has accomplished just that. With Memento, his storytelling was innovative for its time and still catches first-time viewers off-guard. In his following film, Insomnia, he delves further into the psyche of the typical noiresque anti-hero with massive support from Wally Pfister’s inspired and highly introspective cinematography. In The Prestige, he brings us back to his ability to fool us throughout on the first viewing while still leaving a number of signs and innuendo for return customers to pick up on. In The Dark Knight, your only complaint seems to be that the Joker escaped from hanging from hanging off a building. I’ve seen the film countless times, and I can tell you, with absolute certainty, he did not escape from that. It was at the end of the film, and it is pretty heavily implied that he is indeed captured by the SWAT team. I fail to see any complaints or anything short of a groundless temper tantrum in your review of Inception (and might I be hinting a tinge of blind loyalty to Scorcese?). You claim that he cannot tell a realistic story. Well, his next film following The Dark Knight Rises is set to be a bio-pic on Howard Hughes, so you might just get your wish. However, if that is your only criteria for a good film, then perhaps you should stick to watching documentaries on Animal Planet and leave the film analysis to those of us with some shred of imagination and appreciation for the artistic expression of such.

    Love and peace. You know where to find me.

    • Ted Salins says:

      Paul – appreciate your thoughtful defense.

      I assure you, I’ve watched everyone of these films with utmost attention. I get a sustenance from movies my religion never proffered. I simply felt assaulted after “BLACK KNIGHT” and “INCEPTION”. Certainly, my post was purposefully flippant, but that is because I had already encountered many like “John” who treat Nolan as if he is a Timothy Leary style spiritual leader. The guy has a lot of facility – directing, producing is no easy task. I admired “MEMENTO”, just found it morose. The foibles of the character played by Stephen Tobolowski led me to believe Nolan and his brother had a penchant for convolution, but I eagerly awaited “INSOMNIA”.

      I was not impressed with “THE PRESTIGE”. When I found that the Bale character had a twin brother, I felt disappointment; seemed like an easy out for the mystery that preceded (I felt the same way when I learned that the Bruce Willis character was dead in “THE SIXTH SENSE”). I was swept away by the similar “THE ILLUSIONIST” (also, like “THE PRESTIGE” technically supervised by Ricky Jay).

      I like movies that you have to watch over and over to ‘peel the onion skin” away; Clearly you are someone who’s opinion I respect just from one communication but “BLACK KNIGHT” and “INCEPTION” just did not engage me. There are many who agree but those who don’t were in the league of “you’re not smart enough to comprehend complexity” or “you don’t appreciate slow” movies (I’m one of the 42 or 43 people that liked “EYES WIDE SHUT” so that is untrue!) When someone like “John” claims sophistication and intelligence – well – that’s the reason I wrote the piece in the first place.

      Speaking of slow films that take patience but deliver an strong emotional wallop – did you see “EVERYTHING MUST GO” with a fine dramatic turn by Will Ferrell? Also – I’ve been exploring “MARGIN CALL” on Showtime(?) the last couple of days – have you seen that? Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore about the financial meltdown in ’08?

      Thanks Paul – look forward to you critiquing me anytime!

      Ted

      • Paul Moore says:

        Ted,

        I appreciate your response, and I apologize for the jab at the end of my own post. I was a bit tired at the time and, as a result, just a little crabby. I’ve noticed, over years of discussion revolving around film, that everyone has their own tastes and that “bad” is a highly subjective term when one is talking about one’s film. It always catches me off-guard how easily we (myself included) forget that or simply are not aware of the fact in the first place, which typically leads from the respectful sharing of opinions to attacks on one another’s character.

        I have actually been meaning to see Everything Must Go. Good to know it’s worthwhile. I’ll be sure to push it forward in my Netflix queue. I will admit that I have never heard of Margin Call, but the cast alone is enough to entice me. I’ll have to give it a look.

        I’m interested to know your personal take on The Avengers, given your apparent aversion to what one might call “popcorn movies”, which just happens to be where my tastes tend to lie. I’ve run into a number of people who claim to have “hated it” but none who can form a reasonable argument for their displeasure.

        I’m ashamed to say I don’t have any recommendations in return for yours. I haven’t been exploring the far reaches of Netflix as deeply as I should be. The Great Gatsby is coming up, and I’m intrigued to see if it succeeds or flops. The fact that it is going to stem from the same mind who conceived Moulin Rouge both excites and terrifies me, and I’m concerned about the casting of Tobey Maguire but we’ll just have to see if he can pull it off.

        Love and Peace.

  19. Ted says:

    Paul – Thanks – no problem, My original piece was meant to be provocative; Obviously and I’ve enjoyed the responses and arguments

    I don’t dislike popcorn movies, I just find so many predictable and routine; I love “ROBOCOP”; “SUPER 8” had the lovely story of the young filmmaking kids and their parental issues – quite liked that. I’m a fan of “SOURCE CODE” – another movie that’s fun to watch over and over to parse a purposefully enigmatic plot – which I think is the pleasure many have with “INCEPTION”, so I’m not averse. I just don’t like CGI. I watched about a half hour of “THOR” at a $2.00 theater and walked out. I could not tell one warring faction from the other and the loud clashing and bombast… My favorite use of CGI was Clint Eastwood’s “CHANGELING” where he simply needed to recreate 1930s Los Angeles, the effects were used to serve the story. Not a fan of Robert Downey Jr.’s take on “IRONMAN” – I was unusual for a kid – did not read comic books, so “THE AVENGERS” is not on my radar.

    May I suggest if you haven’t seen them, the films of one of the most underrated film directors of all time? Robert Downey Sr. (yep – Ironman’s Dad). His provocative films “CHAFED ELBOWS”, “PUTNEY SWOPE”, “POUND” and “GREASER’S PALACE” helped define American independent film in the late 60s and early 70s, often feature the young actor/son, were huge hits, absolutely hilarious, challenging and are almost completely forgotten. They are wonderful, low budget and ground breaking.

    Continue to keep me honest Paul!

    • Paul Moore says:

      Ted,
      Sorry for the delayed response. Life knocked at my door, and I had to take it to do some errands. Anyway, the reason you gave for loving Super 8 is actually the kind of story I enjoy writing the most. I find it interesting that you enjoyed Source Code and not Inception, but that may be because most of the hints in Source Code were written into the film’s plot, whereas I believe the clues in Inception were scattered a bit more wildly. I could be wrong, though. I still hold that Inception used very little, if any, CGI. (That city folding trick was not CGI, I know that, and the rotating/anti-gravity hallway as well.) Your argument for Changeling indicates that you might at least enjoy the first half or so of Captain America: The First Avenger. Their recreation of a mid-WWII era New York is very well done, in my eyes, and gets very tricky when they start a mad chase that feels far more immersive than any backlot set could ever achieve. The first Sherlock Holmes starring the very Robert Downey Jr. you mentioned intrigued me similarly with its highly immersive setting. I will have to keep my eye out for some of his father’s films. Thanks for the tip.

      Love and Peace.

  20. GD says:

    I’m so glad others think he’s not a great director. Plenty of room for his films in the action genre, though, as they stand pretty tall there, and Memento was fine for an early effort, but Inception is embarrassing to sit through. He handles the subject of the human mind so clumsily, and once you’ve seen Mulholland Drive and its wonderful dichotomy of real and dream, and what connects them, the parts of Inception that are meant to be a dream don’t seem dreamlike at all. It’s offensive to me that I’m required to think that people would have such clarity of self-image and memory of their daily environments while in a dream state. And doubly offensive when you realise Nolan probably intentionally kept it that way to allow for major confusion about whether certain things in the film are real or not, which is the only thing people talk about now if you discuss it. I had no problem with following the plot by the way – as that seems to be the fashionable counter attack for angry Nolan fans.
    But there’s loads of emperor’s new clothes films out there that I could pick at, it’s just that my usual trusted review sites like RuthlessReviews loved it (“Summer has now seen that NEXT shit” they exclaimed – yeah, right), and I went into it expecting something great. It was just a film for teenagers. I got conned.

    • Paul Moore says:

      Honestly, who are you to objectively cast a ruling on what a dream feels like? Personally, I feel like Nolan achieved the feeling of what a lucid dream would feel like, but that’s probably because I dream differently than you. Dreams are highly subjective because they’re unique to the mind of the individual who has them. Anyone who believes otherwise is just kidding themselves. You talk about films strolling around in their emperor’s new clothes, but you’ve got a bit more skin showing than most of them, GD.

      I also love that you immediately ran to David Lynch (the original “true artist that popcorn-movie goers cling to for pretension”) to prove your point, as there are plenty of other films that deal with dreams much more intriguingly. Take Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream or Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, for just a few examples.

      • Neil Summers says:

        Whoever is against Nolan better watch McG ruining Terminator…
        I am a big fan of Nolan and the best part of his movies is when it ends…I stand up nd clap with a smile whether I am home or in a Cinema Hall…
        He is the most sensible director I have ever seen..

  21. James Moore says:

    The Prestige had a dissapointing twist at the end, and I wanted to yell at Michael Caine for doing it to begin with. I actually liked Nolan’s Batman movies, having read the comic books and liking his handling of various story arcs. That’s the comic nerd in me, but it meshed together in a matafictional type of way, which worked for me.

    For a movie that is trying to be something other than what it is, I hated LOGAN’S RUN. It was much like a Roger Corman B-movie, but with a higher budget and none of the charm.

    What are your thoughts on Quentin Tarantino and his films? Do you think he’s good at all?

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