Today! Because you’re waiting for a train, a train that’ll take you far away –
Directed by Christopher Nolan (x3)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (x6), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (x3), Ellen Page, Tom Hardy (x2), Marion Cotillard (x3), Michael Caine (x6), Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy (x2), Tom Berenger, Pete Postlethwaite (x2), Lukas Haas (x3), Dileep Rao
The two greatest summer moviegoing spectacles of the last twenty years both came from the same director, within two years of each other. And this was the second – a head-trippy, effects masterpiece tackling concepts of love, loyalty, aging, and family, and high powered explosives, crashing trains, and weightless fisticuffs. Inception is so spectacularly high concept that it doesn’t seem like much would’ve needed to happen to derail this film into nonsense and self-parody, but in the capable hands of Christopher Nolan – the greatest popcorn movie director this side of Spielberg – it delivers marvelously.
I realize denigrating Nolan as a “popcorn” director is hugely unfair, but even Spielberg eventually got the retroactive credit he deserved for his crowd pleasing efforts (once he made dour war pictures and the like, because apparently that’s the path one needs to take for respect). No doubt in the next 8 to 10 years Nolan will make the somber, awards-sweeping masterpiece that’ll have to be mentioned alongside his Batman movies and Memento and Inception – hell, it was almost Dunkirk – but for now we can content ourselves with the knowledge that we’re living through one of the greatest stretches of cinematic bombast from a hugely talented auteur in history. And as great as his other films are, will he ever manage to creatively top Inception?
Figure, the Batman movies already had the built in benefit of featuring, you know, Batman. All the requisite skill and structure to elevate them above mere comic book adventures was nice, but they didn’t have to create much from the ground up – most of the pieces had been there for multiple decades. Inception concocts an insane dream world of sound logic and in-depth characters, which never flags in momentum whilst needing to explain some tricky-ass concepts to a summer audience. It’s globe trotting while also small and personal enough to develop the little team and their interactions. It’s part spy movie, part full-blown science fiction, part straight crime thriller, and part heart-wrenching romance. Plus, man, that ending!
With the possible exception of Blade Runner (before the sequel more or less solved the argument), this is the most discussed film ending in history, right? Like, there are some movies that I have no idea what was going on the whole way across – David Lynch movies all spring to mind – but this one is straightforward, with a finale entirely left open to interpretation. It’s the Sopranos finale of filmdom. You can watch it again and again and come to different ideas about what the final moments actually mean. And that’s great, right? And in a big summer film! Really, is the best thing to come out of The Dark Knight‘s very existence the fact that Nolan got carte blanche to make whatever the hell he wanted, and thus we received this big budget art film classic? Thank God for the Joker!
The rare science-fiction Best Picture nominee, Inception was up for eight Oscars in total, winning four – Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects, while Nolan received his second and third nominations for producing and writing the film (his first nod was for the Memento screenplay; he got two more – producing and directing – on Dunkirk). It was also up for four Globes – Drama Picture, Director, Screenplay, Score – but won no major awards pretty much anywhere. 2010, a pretty decent year overall, had a lot of King’s Speech/Social Network hurdles for movies to get past. And there’s still that sturdy bias against science fiction.
But in that true barometer of film greatness, Inception scores very high – currently 14th all-time in IMDB ratings. Fun fact – 17 of the top 19 films on the IMDB list (as of this writing) made this list. The two that didn’t? Not to spoil anything for fans who’ve come this far in blind hope, but Schindler’s List and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are not included. Sorry! There’s a big discrepancy after the top 19, too- 94 of the top 100 were eligible for this list, and only 33 of the next 75 movies got the inclusion. Suck it, Amélie!
This is Nolan’s third film on the list – following #139 The Dark Knight Rises and #347 Memento – and obviously has one still to come. We’ve had fully 36 Three-Timer directors so far, including such purported monsters as Bryan Singer and John McTiernan! Eeeesh! We also usher in two new Six-Timers from the cast – Academy Award winner Leo (#296 Titanic, #96 Django Unchained, #80 The Departed, #388 The Wolf of Wall Street, #167 Gangs of New York) and two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises, #220 Without a Clue, #140 Noises Off, #188 Muppet Christmas Carol, #180 Hannah and Her Sisters)! Spotlight!