Christopher Nolan earned his place in the pantheon of great directors. It combines arthouse creativity with mainstream entertainment in a way few filmmakers can. His noir-inspired films are known for their unconventional narrative structures, mind-bending plots, and large-scale special effects. Nolan’s best work is also intellectually ambitious, often grappling with heavy themes and complex characters. His current project, the biopic Oppenheimer featuring Cillian Murphyshould be out next year.
Like most great storytellers, Nolan is a movie buff. Over the years, he has shared many films that have inspired him. His recommendations include deep cuts and forgotten gems that provide insight into Nolan’s development as a director. Chances are, Nolan fans will also find a few of his picks enjoyable.
Bad Timing (1980)
Art Garfunkel, Therese Russell and Harvey Keitel star of this psychological thriller. It documents the tumultuous relationship between Milena and Alex, two young Americans in Vienna. A detective reconstructs the events following Milena’s suicide attempt
bad timing is led by Nicolas Roegwho also made the horror don’t look nowfeaturing Donald Sutherland and Julie Christy. Roeg’s work, particularly his jarring and hard-hitting editing, has been cited as an influence not only by Nolan, but by the directors as well. Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle and Edgar Wright.
Foreign correspondent (1940)
In this spy thriller, an American journalist (John McCrea) in the London races to expose a conspiracy in the months leading up to World War II. The story was aimed at American audiences at a time when the United Kingdom was trying to bring the United States into the war.
Foreign correspondenthas been Alfred Hitchcockis the second Hollywood film after moving from the UK. It’s one of the thriller master’s least iconic works, but it’s definitely worth watching. Nolan said that Dunkirk was particularly influenced by a scene from Foreign correspondent where a plane crashes into the ocean.
Mr. Arkadin (1955)
Mr. Arkadin is part of Orson WellesLesser known movies. As Citizen Kaneit revolves around an enigmatic tycoon, played by Welles (with epic facial hair) who blackmails an American businessman called Zouk (Akim Tamiroff). A small smuggler (Robert Arde) warns Zouk of a plot against him, set in a larger Cold War tale. Although decidedly uneven, Nolan said the film contains “heartbreaking glimpses of the great man’s genius.” There are different versions of Mr. Arkadin floating, but the Criterion mount released in 2006 is probably the best.
Interesting anecdote: it was the film that made the parable of the scorpion and the frog famous in the English-speaking world. Before that, the story was known only in Russia. In the story, a scorpion asks a frog to cross a stream, promising not to sting it. During the journey, the scorpion stings the frog. When the frog asks why, the scorpion replies that it is in its nature.
Ryan’s Daughter (1970)
Set during World War I, Ryan’s Daughter follows the romance between a married Irish woman (Sarah Miles) and a British officer (Robert Mitchum), and the community’s fierce opposition to their relationship. It’s a loose retelling of the classic novel Ms. Bovaire by Gustave Flaubert. With a duration of more than three hours, it is a real epic.
Some have criticized the film’s historical accuracy, particularly the depiction of Irish nationalism, but it’s worth it for the impressive performances and directorial skill of David Leanmost famous for Doctor Zhivago. Nolan praised Ryan’s Daughter for its landscape visuals, notably its shots of Irish beaches and the sea. Its opening shot, in particular, is memorable, showing a tiny figure running along a colossal cliff.
This heist film centers on a plot to steal an emerald-encrusted dagger from an ancient palace in Istanbul. The seemingly ordinary woman Elizabeth (Melina Mercouri) enlists his former criminal lover Walter (Maximilian Schell) for the swindle, and mingles with a gang of thieves.
Topkapi is not as good as the director Jules Dassinit’s classic black Riffifiedbut it will appeal to fans of criminal hugs or those looking for a nostalgic trip to the 60s. Nolan said he was a fan of Peter Ustinovas petty hustler Arthur Simpson, for which Ustinov won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Koyaanisqatsi is an experimental documentary without narrative, without dialogue and without narration. It simply depicts cities and landscapes in the United States, alongside a score by the minimalist composer Philip Glass. It has been called a visual sound poem and makes extensive use of time-lapse and slow motion. Its title means “unbalanced life” in the Hopi language.
The film certainly contains powerful visuals, and many critics interpreted it as a warning of an environmental catastrophe. Nolan praised Koyaanisqatsi not to be didactic and allow the audience to meditate on the images and draw their own conclusions.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)
david bowie stars in this WWII drama from the director Nagisa Oshima about a British soldier held captive in a Japanese POW camp. Ryuichi Sakamoto, also a musician, plays the camp commander. Through the main characters, the film explores issues of culture shock and contrasting views on honor.
Ōshima was a leading figure in the Japanese New Wave, responsible for films including In the realm of the sensesandCeremony. Nolan praised Ōshima for making full use of Bowie’s charisma in this film, which inspired him to cast Bowie in Prestige.
The Blow (1984)
Two hitmen carry a criminal (Terence stamp) to his execution ten years after denouncing the mob. But things don’t go as planned. The shot is a road crime film from the director Stephen Frearswho directed the social thriller pretty dirty things and dramatic comedy Philomene featuring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
Nolan praised The shot like a story about what desperate men are capable of. injured john is great as hitman Braddock, as is Tim Roth like his sidekick Myron, in his film debut. The cinematography of Mike Molloyall dreary landscapes and catastrophic interiors, adds to the intensity.
Crocodile Street (1986)
crocodile street is a stop motion short film by the Quay of the Brothers, a pair of twin animators. He follows a puppet freed from its strings and goes to explore its surroundings, but finds it desolate and lonely. It’s a dark story, but one full of intriguing visuals. The filmmakers use various props, objects and toys to populate the puppet universe.
The camerawork and editing is also deft and elegant, with interesting use of focus and depth of field. The spooky visuals are held together by an evocative score, creating a dark, meditative vision. crocodile street is also a favorite of the filmmaker terry gilliam and the band Nine inch nailswho reference the film in their “Closure” music video.
For All Mankind (1989)
This documentary uses original footage from the Apollo program to tell the story of the moon landing and the technology associated with it. Director Al Reinert combed through 80 hours of interviews and absurd amounts of footage. He stitches shots of various journeys together to make them look like a single journey and manages to distill the source material into an effective story.
The documentary isn’t even 90 minutes long, but manages to give great insight into one of mankind’s greatest technical feats. The space and moon visuals are beautiful and otherworldly. It highlights the enormous distance and gravity challenges the engineers and crew had to overcome. The imagery is complemented by the veteran producer’s soundtrack Brian Eno. It’s clear that the moon landing was a big inspiration for Nolan, especially for his movie. Interstellar.
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