Cinema Chatter #9 – Personality

There’s a film coming out this week and it has a lot of people talking, including me. With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan completes his Batman trilogy, much to the bittersweet delight of his legions of fans. Nolan’s reputation amongst cinephiles is an oddity. There are his early pictures, Following and Memento, which navigate through a tricky narrative web while succumbing to the restraints found in independent pictures. Then there are his Batman pictures, along with Inception, that disregard budgetary issues and produce great visual spectacles. His development as a directorial force has been an interesting one, as the limits and expansion of his budgetary stroke has had an adverse effect on how he presents his material. Whether it’s the flexibility of memory interpretation in Memento, the dreamscapes of Inception, or moral tests associated with being a hero in the Batman films, Nolan incessantly casts a huge net on whatever his theme he addresses. Unfortunately, by doing this, he loses a sense of personality. I use the word personality to address a micro level of empathy- the larger his films get, the more they begin to feel like engineered pieces of work as opposed to humanistic efforts.

This lack of personal appeal is why I’ve never been swept up by his films. It’s also probably why I find Memento to be his best work. I first saw the picture in my teens and was immediately drawn by its visceral qualities. It has a natural appeal that undoubtedly pulls impressionable viewers. The mystery and allure of its nonlinear storytelling still has significant pull even when you know the twists and turns.  And for a film of its type, it’s expertly-crafted. Rewatching the film as a way to jog my memory, I found myself immersed in its narrative trickery. It’s not the sort of thing that I go for nowadays, but I’ll admit that found it to an enjoyable rewatch.

Memento was Christopher Nolan’s first brush with the Academy Awards. Rightfully nominated for his screenplay, his presence would not be felt until ten years later with his co-writing in Inception. Much to the disappointment of his fans, he has yet to be nominated for Best Director. Inception has been his only film to be nominated for Best Picture, and that in itself carries an asterisk given that field had expanded to ten. The Dark Knight has been credited as the film to do away with the standard five nominees – that in itself is purely speculative.

My belief that The Dark Knight Rises and Christopher Nolan will not be nominated for any major awards is also purely speculative – so let’s not get any death threats here.  But unlike The Dark Knight, the picture is not universally accepted. It’s obvious from the somber tone that it is going to push people away. Gone is the bombastic energy that Heath Ledger brought into the fold. I’ll reserve judgment (as I always do) until I see The Dark Knight Rises, but the energy around it is clouded. With very few exceptions, the films that garner Best Picture talk are those that possess lightness and hope. It’s not 2007 where films like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were in contention. Pictures like The Artist and The King’s Speech dominate; pictures with a sense of personal redemption.  Are people going to relate to the physical tests placed before a superhero?

Inception and Memento brought Christopher Nolan into awards contention. They are pictures of personal journeys where people can transplant their own feelings about memories and dreams. It’s a personal touch that gets awards attention – films that balance scope with personality.

My updated Oscar predictions can be found on the sidebar. For analysis on individual categories, check out the Oscar Predictions page.