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Directors I Heart, Part One: Christopher Nolan

Ever since I saw Memento back in 2000, Christopher Nolan's name has been burned into my brain. Based on his brother's short story, Memento is the tale of a man unable to form new short-term memories after an attack but who is somehow hell-bent on finding the man responsible for his condition and the death of his wife. The mind-blowing part is that it's filmed backward. As in, you see the ending first, and subsequent scenes play in reverse order. Earth. Shattering.

His next film, Insomnia (2002), sees a Los Angeles Police Department vet shipped to Alaska to solve a murder, but his questionable ethics--and inability to sleep--get in the way. It's difficult to watch because the supposed hero is thoroughly un-heroic. In fact, there's nobody to root for at all. As such, this one wasn't my favorite, but again, I give Nolan credit--he's good at messing with my head.

In 2005, he rebuilt an all-too-familiar comic-book film franchise with Batman Begins. With a beefed-up cast and scripting help from David S. Goyer, Nolan breathed new dramatic life into what was once a caricature.

The following year, he re-teamed with his brother (who co-wrote the script) and Christian Bale to bring Christopher Priest's The Prestige to life. In this science fiction period piece, Nolan probed the depths of one man's hunger for success in the art of illusion at any cost. The special effects were ramped up, but the results were the same: refried mind.

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Just last year, the Batman crew reassembled for a sequel: The Dark Knight. If you hadn't heard, it was nominated for eight Oscars (though severely slighted without a Best Picture nod), winning two. Nolan turned a superhero movie into a legitimate crime drama. And he helped transform Heath Ledger into a post-mortem legend.

To round out my experience, this week I watched Nolan's original three-minute short film Doodlebug (1997) on YouTube and rented his first feature film, Following (1998). Neither black-and-white film is necessarily explosive to watch, but they both show budding talent. His resume reminds me of a Polaroid snapshot. With each shake of the picture--with every new film he makes--more and more of his genius comes into focus.

Whether it's with psychology, superheroes or sci-fi, if a project has Nolan's name on it, it will be interesting. The hard part is waiting to see what he comes up with next. Lucky for me--and now you--his next film, Inception, is due out in 2010.

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