Why Christopher Nolan May Be the Most Important Director in the World Right Now

Seen the reviews for “The Last Airbender” today? You might want to read them if only to wallow in the delight critics seem to be taking at tearing it to shreds. And I thought “Sex And The City 2” got pummeled.

It hasn’t been a great summer for Hollywood. “Eclipse” is about to smash records and “Toy Story 3” continued a predictable run of excellence for Pixar. But apart from those two, gallons upon gallons of ink have already been spilled over how lackluster the offerings have been out of Hollywood this summer. It’s shocking, frankly. Given the momentum that “Avatar” and “Alice In Wonderland” provided, you would have thought Hollywood would be on a roll now. Well, Mr. Shyamalan put that to a quick end.

Looking ahead, everyone agrees that there is only one important release left this summer and that’s “Inception,” the new movie from “Dark Knight” helmer Christopher Nolan. No one knows anything about “Inception” except that it’s about dreams and that it looks AWESOME.

There has been only one other major release this summer that was an original film idea and not a sequel/remake/adaptation. That was “Knight & Day,” and it’s fading fast. “Inception” is something of a last hope, and it might be why Nolan can be considered the most important filmmaker in Hollywood right now.

As well as “Eclipse” and “Toy Story 3” are doing, both films are geared for a younger audience. Yes, grown-ups also love Pixar movies, but Pixar is still aiming squarely at the child within you. Nolan, on the other hand, makes movies that are very adult in nature. I don’t mean that they contain violence or sex. I mean that Nolan is a filmmaker who wants to explore extremely mature ideas. “Memento” was a movie about the nature of memory, and how it can betray us even when we think it’s infallible. “The Dark Knight” was about both the nature of terrorism and how it can corrupt us with the need for extreme vengeance.

These are not kiddie ideas. These are the kind of things you think about when you’re in your 30s and 40s. When you have the kind of self-awareness and life experience to think through really big ideas. Nolan likes to explore serious, nuanced themes like this (much more nuanced than the sledgehammer liberalism of a movie like “Avatar”), yet Nolan does it within movies that also happen to be spectacularly entertaining.

I don’t know that there’s another filmmaker that can get away with this right now -- a filmmaker that can strike such a delicate balance between spectacle and deep thought. Nolan doesn’t make movies with a message as so many other clumsy directors do. He’s only interested in exploring ideas and seeing how they drive a story.

That‘s why “Inception” needs to be good, and to succeed. We need to know that movies can be more than a filmed marketing memo. We need to know there’s something there behind all the stunts and CGI. This summer, it’s been all to easy believe that kind of feeling from big movies may never come back.

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