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Thanks to his stylized, time-bending renovation of film noir conventions, director Christopher Nolan established himself as a creator of psychologically demanding films that defied classification. Though he made his feature debut with the ultra-low budget indie, "Following" (1998), Nolan put himself on the map with "Memento" (2000), a classic revenge story with the unique twist of being told backwards. Hailed by many critics and - by indie standards - made successful by a rabid audience, "Memento" quickly turned Nolan's fortunes, establishing him as a highly sought-after talent. He soon followed with the less imaginative, but no less engaging thriller, "Insomnia" (2002), starring heavy-hitters Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and Robin Williams. But it was the blockbuster "Batman Begins" (2005) - a reimagined take on a long-defunct film franchise - that propelled Nolan to the upper tier of Hollywood directors. His dark, brooding take on the avenging crusader was much more aligned with its original intention than any other subsequent incarnation had been, earning critical praise, audience admiration and a large chunk of box office dollars. With "The Prestige" (2006), "The Dark Knight" (2008) and "Inception"...
Thanks to his stylized, time-bending renovation of film noir conventions, director Christopher Nolan established himself as a creator of psychologically demanding films that defied classification. Though he made his feature debut with the ultra-low budget indie, "Following" (1998), Nolan put himself on the map with "Memento" (2000), a classic revenge story with the unique twist of being told backwards. Hailed by many critics and - by indie standards - made successful by a rabid audience, "Memento" quickly turned Nolan's fortunes, establishing him as a highly sought-after talent. He soon followed with the less imaginative, but no less engaging thriller, "Insomnia" (2002), starring heavy-hitters Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and Robin Williams. But it was the blockbuster "Batman Begins" (2005) - a reimagined take on a long-defunct film franchise - that propelled Nolan to the upper tier of Hollywood directors. His dark, brooding take on the avenging crusader was much more aligned with its original intention than any other subsequent incarnation had been, earning critical praise, audience admiration and a large chunk of box office dollars. With "The Prestige" (2006), "The Dark Knight" (2008) and "Inception" (2010), his reputation as an auteur working in a blockbuster world was firmly cemented.
Born July 30, 1971 in England, Nolan moved to Chicago, IL with his British father and American mother during his formative years. Like many future filmmakers, Nolan began making amateur movies at an early age, playing around with a Super 8mm camera that belonged to his father. After returning to England to attend boarding school at Haileybury College, he matriculated at University College in London to study literature. During his time at University College, Nolan began to take an interest in film, shooting several shorts for the college film society, including "Tarantella" (1989), which was showcased in the United States on PBS. By the mid-1990s, he began working with actor Jeremy Theobold, who appeared in the shorts "Larceny" and "Doodlebug." Nolan then made his feature debut with "Following" (1998), a 16mm black-and-white film noir he spent a year shooting on weekends with a budget of $6,000. "Following" told the tale of a blocked writer (Theobold) who spends his days stalking strangers with the hope of jump-starting his imagination. But when one of his so-called victims (Alex Haw) turns the tables, the scribe suddenly finds himself as the fall-guy in a series of break-ins. Juggling time via flashbacks and flash forwards, Nolan established a key signature of his work in which chronology takes a back seat to character.
Nolan took a giant leap forward with his second film, "Memento" (2000), working from an unpublished short story written by his brother Jonathan. An intriguing twist on the conventional film noir, "Memento" centered on Leonard Selby (Guy Pearce), a former insurance adjuster suffering from anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents him from forming new memories. With the help of a man claiming to be his friend (Joe Pantoliano), a sympathetic barmaid (Carrie-Anne Moss) and several tattoos on his body that serve as reminders, Leonard hunts down the man who raped and killed his wife. While the heart of the piece was a conventional revenge drama, the chronology of the story was backwards, starting with a brilliant opening scene with a murder shown in reverse. Both fascinating and complex, "Memento" earned great critical acclaim when it opened at the 2000 Venice International Film Festival and ended its promotional run at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, where Nolan won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Despite being based on his brother's fiction, Nolan's screenplay was nominated by the Academy for Best Original Screenplay. The film subsequently earned four Independent Spirit Award wins in 2002, including Best Feature. Capitalizing on his newfound success, Nolan directed the English-language remake of the 1997 Norwegian crime thriller, "Insomnia" (2002), a slick neo-noir thriller about a legendary Los Angeles detective (Al Pacino) who goes to a small Alaskan town to investigate the disturbing murder of a 17-year-old girl, while at the same time, suffering sleep deprivation caused by a relentless Midnight Sun. While he gets help from a bright, but green local officer (Hilary Swank), the detective finds himself struggling against a wily adversary (Robin Williams) and his own deteriorating stability. Though not nearly as hailed as "Momento," Nolan's third film earned substantial praise and a decent box office take.
Though content with his body of work, Nolan wanted a shot at directing a big Hollywood blockbuster. He got his wish after making a passionate pitch to Warner Bros. on reviving their floundered "Batman" franchise, which suffered humiliation after two flamboyantly over-the-top installments directed Joel Schumacher. Joining screenwriter and comic book author David S. Goyer, Nolan took the film series 180 degrees from Schumacher's gaudy direction, envisioning "Batman Begins" (2005) as a pitch-black psychological exploration into the origins of the avenging knight. Taking inspiration from the post-"Dark Knight Returns" era of comics, Nolan's film traced the journey of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) from orphaned millionaire to intensely skilled crime fighter. Taking great pains to craft both a Gotham City and an outer world that was as realistic as its pulpy source material would allow, Nolan eschewed campy theatrics and computer-generated effects in favor of nuanced acting and old-fashioned stunt work. Meanwhile, Nolan attracted an all-star cast, including Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson. Though the film lacked some of the darkly manic pop inspiration that characterized the Tim Burton films, "Batman Begins" was a breath of fresh air for loyal fans and moviegoers, while the film proved to be both a critical and commercial success.
For his next feature, "The Prestige" (2006), Nolan returned to his indie roots with this supernatural thriller about two Victorian-era magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) engaged in a powerful rivalry involving a dangerously escalating tit-for-tat competition in order to uncover one another's trade secrets. Despite a cold, measured approach, Nolan nonetheless dazzled audiences with an engaging, even thrilling display of visual trickery, time-jumping edits and elaborate showmanship. Perhaps not as dynamic as "Batman Returns" or as revered as "Memento," "The Prestige" helped cement Nolan as a bona fide talent. Meanwhile, he directed the second installment of the revived "Batman" series, "The Dark Knight" (2008), which starred a returning Bale and Heath Ledger as the iconic Gotham villain, The Joker. The hype and anticipation for the film, and particularly for Ledger's performance, was at an all-time high when tragedy struck. On Jan. 22, 2008, Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment of what would later be deemed an accidental prescription drug overdose. Originally, Warner Bros. marketed the film with a haunting poster of Ledger as The Joker scrawling "Why So Serious?" in blood, but his death forced the studio to stop using the ads and figure out how to market a film in the wake of the shocking death of one of its lead stars. Meanwhile, Nolan - along with many others in the business - offered his heartfelt condolences to Ledger's family and friends, and promised the film would be a final, fitting tribute to Ledger. While Ledger was honored with a posthumous Oscar for his compelling performance, Nolan was largely shut out of the awards race due in part to "The Dark Knight" being a tent pole studio film based on a comic book. For the following year's Academy Awards ceremony, a grand total of 10 Best Picture nominations were presented as a way of opening up the competition to films like "The Dark Knight," though the gesture came too late for Nolan's efforts.
He moved on to direct one of the most talked about movies in years, "Inception" (2010), a richly textured and visually stunning heist thriller set in the world of lucid dreaming. Nolan conceived of the idea a decade before making the film, but needed time to build more clout before tackling such an ambitious project. The movie centered on Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a professional thief who can plunge into the minds of unwitting targets in order to carry out various missions of sabotage and espionage. Haunted by the death of his wife (Marion Cotillard), Cobb assembles a crack team that includes a fresh-faced dream architect (Ellen Page) to implant a fake idea into the mind of the heir (Cillian Murphy) to a corporate empire at the behest of a Japanese rival (Ken Watanabe). Far and away the most original film to emerge from a major Hollywood studio in years, "Inception" was widely hailed for its visionary style and innovative storytelling, which included a multi-layered dream sequence wrapped inside a daring heist. All told, "Inception" was a box office phenomenon, earning close to $900 million worldwide. It also landed on many year-end Top Ten lists while amassing numerous award nominations, including Golden Globe nods for Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Screenplay and Best Director for Nolan. Although he was shut out of the Best Director category, Nolan earned an Academy Award nod for Best Original Screenplay and as the film's co-producer, shared in a Best Picture nomination as well.
To follow up, of course, Nolan wrote and directed the third and final installment in his Batman trilogy, "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012), which once again featured Bale as the Caped Crusader. This time, Batman does battle with Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and the lesser-known Bane (Tom Hardy), a Mad Max-like terrorist leader intent on destroying Gotham City. Anticipated to be an even bigger box office smash than the previous two films, "The Dark Knight Rises" ran into a bit of trouble prior to release when fans reacted in ugly fashion to negative reviews on the website Rotten Tomatoes - which was owned by Warner Bros. subsidiary Flixter - prompting the site to suspend user comments after threats of violence and web attacks against critics. Meanwhile, the film opened at midnight on Thursday across the country and wracked up over $30 million from those showings alone. But any good feelings toward the film and its potential for record-breaking box office were shattered in Aurora, CO, where a lone gunman wearing a gas mask and body armor entered a showing at a Century 16 theater, where he set off two canisters of tear gas and opened fire with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. As major news stations across the world ran 24-hour coverage on the horrific event, Warner Bros. quickly reacted with a statement expressing collective sadness over what has been deemed one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. The studio immediately canceled gala premieres in France, Mexico and Japan, the stars of the film bowed out of press functions, advertisements were pulled, and box office earnings were not released. For his part, Nolan released a statement on behalf of the cast and crew calling the shootings "savage," while expressing his sorrow at the violation of the innocent act of going to the movies.
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"I'm interested in films that you want to come back to multiple times." --Christopher Nolan quoted in Daily Variety, January 17, 2001.
In response to a query about the problems of adapting a short story as a film, Nolan told Will McKenzie of www.6degrees.co.uk (October 2000): "Well I think the problems in the case of a highly conceptual piece of material is to come up with a story that can hold the attention for a couple of hours without losing the simplicity. It is a very simple concept and it's very challenging to create a two-hour story where everything keeps on coming back to that concept. Very often the temptation as a filmmaker is to take the concept of the story and go somewhere different. I tried to take the story that was an organic expansion of the concept. That was the biggest challenge."
"I get annoyed when I see films and I end up questioning where the camera has been placed. When I shoot a film, I want to know in every shot whose point of view we're seeing." --Christopher Nolan, quoted in the Daily Varsity (www.varsity.cam.ca.uk), October 19, 2000.
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