A Christopher Nolan odyssey: four of the filmmaker’s finest

By Stephen Aspeling15 May 2024

A Christopher Nolan odyssey: four of the filmmaker’s finest

When Christopher Nolan releases a movie the world stops and takes notice… a cinematic event with a ripple effect. The acclaimed director started making films when he was just seven years old and over 45 years on he’s still doing what he loves with only 12 feature-length films to date. A moderate filmography by Hollywood standards, different rules apply when it comes to auteurs. After all, legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick only made 16 films in five decades. While comparable with Kubrick, Nolan’s films have managed to bridge the great divide, fusing blockbuster allure with art house finesse. It seems as though he can’t go wrong with his dark surge of titanic and revolutionary films that have raised the bar when it comes to filmmaking. 

Now a household name, Christopher Nolan’s trademark style is dark, brooding, clinical, heavy, elegant and powerful. A visionary director, he’s become respected not only for his substantial output but his methodology, getting the most from his cast and crew by adopting a business-like mentality. Film is entertainment, but Nolan realises that in order to turn a profit and get the best results, creating a clinical, professional and focused atmosphere on set helps the team do their best work. His outlook is old school, opposing 3D and the use of phones on set. While his style is recognisable, it seems that every film he creates aspires to be the quintessential genre film. Here are four of his best films, now streaming on Showmax


Oppenheimer on Showmax

Having worked with Cillian Murphy again and again, Christopher Nolan considers him to be “the greatest actor of his generation”. An instantly recognisable yet humble talent, the Irish actor’s pivotal Oscar-winning role as the complex and conflicted physicist J Robert Oppenheimer is the one to clinch him an Oscar in this devastating black-and-white historical biopic about the Manhattan Project. While it grapples with a quagmire of a character portrait, Oppenheimer is a visual spectacle in its foray into the atomic bomb’s development and deployment. Known for his dark, powerful and colossal films, Nolan tries to get a handle on the world-altering implications and moral consequences of creating a weapon of mass destruction.  

A much-anticipated historical epic with far-reaching effects against the backdrop of World War II, this haunting and provocative masterpiece is further compelled by an outstanding cast. Cillian Murphy is supported by a who’s-who Hollywood ensemble, including Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh and Matt Damon, with an Oscar-winning turn by Robert Downey Jr. Oscillating between back room, courtroom, research and bedroom politics, the stakes escalate along with slow-burning tension as Oppenheimer’s allegiances are called into question and the gravity of a world-ending event weighs heavy on the shoulders of reluctant history-makers. 


Inception on Showmax

Inception is a Matrix within a matrix, a mind-heist classic that creates suspense as its dream/reality pendulum swings between worlds. With the script having taken eight years to complete, this isn’t a run-of-the-mill film, as evidenced by the quality of the production. From its powerful soundtrack, derived by playing Edith Piaf’s music backwards for a surreal effect to its stellar cast, it mirrors the filmmaking process as a story about infiltrating the subconscious of the unsuspecting to coerce and influence history. 

An unsettling, paradigm-shifting and timeless sci-fi caper in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, the world of Inception is precise, clean and surreal, laced together by fine performances. This team effort is led by Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s supported by serious acting talents in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine. Inception relies on visual effects and to Nolan’s credit, he ran through each frame to ensure the warped environment’s authenticity and a seamless flow. In this visually arresting film with a strong visual aesthetic and sense of gravity, Nolan pulls every department and breath-taking scene together with precision and purpose like a symphony conductor. 


Dunkirk on Showmax

Land, sea and air… Dunkirk isn’t a typical war film, dealing with a mass evacuation of British and French Allied troops from Dunkirk. Comparable with Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg’s intense and visceral opening landing sequence is flipped around so that there are only 15 minutes of respite in this intense and stirring war movie. Instead of Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, Dunkirk tones down star power with its team of unsung heroes in Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Cillian Murphy with Fionn Whitehead as a gateway lead. 

Taking the story from a minute, an hour and a day, the story’s multi-perspective weaves into a taut ticking time-bomb scenario as breathless pacing and suspense drives this sparsely scripted game of survival. Dunkirk is realistic to the point of being an assault on the senses, which offers a vicarious and deep-seated “war is hell” authenticity as Nolan wields this unsettling and monolithic war drama thriller. A relentless score from Hans Zimmer drives the tension and psychological pressure as breath-taking moments of despair and doom play out against an anonymous enemy. Sure to garner renewed interest in World War II history, Dunkirk demands your attention and earns it through masterful direction, experiential entertainment, thought-provoking moments and a selfless sentiment. 


Interstellar on Showmax

Inspired by the work of Stanley Kubrick, it’s not surprising to learn how strong an influence 2001: A Space Odyssey is on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Going beyond the beyond, this warped space-time environment also tips the hat to Blade Runner, Star Wars and is based on the works of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. Matthew McConaughey continues his streak of brilliant performances after Dallas Buyer’s Club, The Wolf of Wall Street and True Detective alongside Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and Casey Affleck, to name a few. The charming actor continues his “McConnaissance” into the mesmerising time travel sci-fi drama as the resourceful and resilient Cooper.   

He takes on the heroic and self-sacrificial role of team leader on an extended fact-finding expedition into deepest space. An immersive sight-and-sound cinematic experience, Nolan taps into the heart and soul of a misplaced parent-child relationship and explores the loneliness of humanity. Tackling the complexity of emotion and the human condition, Interstellar teleports us to another dimension through atmosphere, aesthetic and heavyweight themes. Another clinical and precise film from the visionary director, this deep space sci-fi drama is an ambitious, unwieldy yet inspiring masterpiece.