4. Dunkirk (2017)
Telling the story of the Dunkirk evacuations of World War II from three different perspectives – land, sea, and air – Christopher Nolan’s appropriately titled war thriller Dunkirk was a unique combination of the time-bending philosophical undertakings of the likes of Memento and the more classic cinematic architecture you might find in the films of Stanley Kubrick.
Fronted by the relatively untested talents of Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, but supported by an ensemble of all-stars including regular collaborators Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk was able to capture the relentless horrors of warfare and the humanity at the heart of the real event while still being different to the films that had made the war movie a tired and overplayed genre in the aftermath of its early 21st century resurgence.
Perhaps the first of Hollywood’s post-modern war movies, arguably paving the way for the Oscar-winning 1917, Dunkirk earned Christopher Nolan a new crowd of older filmgoers to join his swathes of already existing converts.
3. Oppenheimer (2023)
Christopher Nolan adapted the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” to tell another tale of a man struggling against the tides of his environment. This time centred upon the real-life scientist who fronted the United States’ pursuit of developing the atom bomb, and exploring the filmmaker’s regular themes of responsibility, duty and guilt, Nolan captures contemporary anxieties of mutual annihilation and transposes them to a period piece more focused on character than any of his previous efforts.
Time remains an intrinsic and foundational aspect of his work here – in this case the dread that can come from having the benefit of hindsight, as well as the realisation that humanity’s self-destructive tendencies have hardly softened over time – but Nolan offers more conclusions than ever before. Rather than conceptualising philosophical thought, and presenting it through an often hopeful lens suited to mass consumption, Oppenheimer is direct, and it is as dark and as tragic as the most famous tales of old.
Oppenheimer is a brilliant character study, one that is so tightly focused upon Cillian Murphy’s year-topping turn as the titular Oppenheimer that it bears little resemblance to the filmmaker’s ensemble-led films, such as Dunkirk and Inception. With flourishes of unique artistry across the board, and propelled by unrelenting momentum captured as only Nolan can, Oppenheimer is one of the director’s greatest films.