24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Chris Nolan

Will validation-seeking Christopher Nolan fans finally get their wish?

January 10, 2011 |  3:08 pm

This morning's announcement of the five nominees for the Directors Guild of America's top movie prize is not something the average film fan would normally pay much attention to.

But the legions of Christopher Nolan supporters out there salivating for the director's first Oscar nomination -- and eagerly hoping for a chance to see their man stand up at the most-watched film event of the year -- could only be reassured by the announcement. As our sister blog Awards Tracker notes, the list of nominees for the group's outstanding achievement in feature film prize include the "Inception" man, as well as the directors of "The King's Speech," "The Social Network, "Black Swan" and "The Fighter."

Nolanites have reason to feel good. The DGA is about an accurate a predictor of the best director category at the Academy Awards as you can get: It's foretold at least four of the five Oscar nominees in all but two of the past 12 years.

That would seem like great news for those hoping to see "Inception" get some attention in front of the approximately 40 million U.S. television viewers (and many more around the world) at the end of February. To date, Nolan's movies have been nominated mostly in technical categories, and he was nominated once as a screenwriter (for "Memento"), but he has never landed a prized best-director slot, a source of irritation for his many fans. This year, the DGA nomination suggests, could be different.

Except for one problem: One of the rare Oscar names the DGA has not predicted in the past has been ... Christopher Nolan. It happened on two occasions. The director was nominated by the DGA for both "The Dark Knight" and "Memento." But when it came time for the Oscars, the academy decided to use that slot for someone else.

As an original work with its own mythology, "Inception" could stand a better shot with some Oscar voters than the superhero-based "Dark Knight." But the DGAs alone might not predict that.

Meanwhile, fans of Joel and Ethan Coen, whose "True Grit" wasn't nominated by the DGA, might want to reassure themselves in the other direction: That fifth slot is up for grabs, and the directors could still push out someone else when it comes time for the Oscars.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Christopher Nolan at the London premiere of "Inception." Credit: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters


Awards Tracker: DGA nominates five

Awards Tracker: Directors guild nominations: No love for Danny Boyle or the Coen Bros.

Awards Tracker: DGA nominees and Oscars usally disagree...a little bit

Awards Tracker: Christopher Nolan is 'thrilled'


It's a swan, it's a plane...Darren Aronofsky latest name to surface in Superman director search

September 27, 2010 |  1:24 pm

When we interviewed Darren Aronofsky at the start of the Toronto International Film Festival, he had a deadpan answer on the progress of "Robocop," the remake of the 1980s action movie that has been felled by financial problems at MGM.

"I think I'm still attached," he said. "I don't know. I haven't heard from anyone in a while."

Now there's talk that he could make his studio debut with a different classic property: Superman.

Super As he intensifies his search for a director on the Warner Bros. reboot, Christopher Nolan, who's godfathering the new Superman and producing the David Goyer script, has had discussions with Aronofsky about the job, sources say.

Aronfosky's latest, "Black Swan," the hybrid dramatic thriller with Natalie Portman, looks on track to become an art-house hit, if not more, and the idea would be to bring Aronofsky's auteur sensibility to the comic book mythology (much as Nolan has done with Batman).

Of course, Aronofsky is just one name among many. Nolan and producing partner Emma Thomas are casting a net wider than Krypton for the job, with Zack Snyder (a man known for action scenes and physical movement), Matt Reeves (getting heat off this Friday's "Let Me In") and a number of veteran filmmakers also reportedly in the running.

There would also be questions about how the relationship would work between two strong-willed auteurs like Aronosky and Nolan. And the "Wrestler" director has famously resisted taking on bigger-budget studio pictures in the interest of retaining creative control.

Still, it's an enticing idea to bring on an Aronofsky or someone of his ilk. He and Nolan have had similar roots, if vastly different trajectories. Both gained  acclaim for low-budget indies that told fractured stories (Nolan with "Following" and Aronofsky with "Pi") and have continued to maintain an auteur vision even as they worked with bigger stars. If Warner Bros. and financier Legendary are going to give Nolan a significant degree of creative freedom, it makes sense to go with someone who knows how to make the most of that.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Vintage Superman art. Credit: Jack Burnley / Taschen.


Black Swan gets its academy dry run

Black Swan's passionate dance

Christoper Nolan takes flight with Superman

Will Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' become a phenomenon?

July 19, 2010 | 12:34 pm

"Inception's" stellar opening weekend is reassuring news for Warner Bros. and ardent Christopher Nolan fans. But it's not, given the film's pre-release interest, a huge surprise.

The bigger question, both financially and culturally, will be how the Leonardo DiCaprio movie holds up in the coming weeks. Getting Americans excited about seeing the puzzle-heavy acton movie was one hurdle, and the studio jumped over it nicely (with the help of many of the online pundits to whom the studio showed the film early and who went gaga for it). Maintaining strong word-of-mouth, however, will be trickier, especially since many of the opening-weekend impressions were mixed.

Critics, for instance, were lukewarm, as many in the mainstream print media piled on the movie as a triumph of the technical and conceptual over the narrative and emotional. (More on the two waves of interest -- the flattering early hosannas and the decidedly cool critical reaction, one of the sharpest swings we've seen in a long time, in our article "The Rise and Reassessment of 'Inception.' ")

And the overall reaction from filmgoers wasn't effusive; the movie's CinemaScore, a kind of exit poll of opening-weekend audiences, came in at B+, solid but hardly the stuff of which long-running phenomena are made. In fact, older filmgoers — the demographic that usually carries a movie beyond its opening weekend — were noticeably chillier to the film, grading it a B-, compared with the A given to it by filmgoers younger than 25. (That, incidentally, is a mystery in its own right, since the early talk about the film's complexity had it that "Inception" may play better to audience members in their 30s and 40s than to, say, teenagers.)

What all of this adds up to is still, well, a puzzle. The threshold for a big-budget summer movie to be considered a domestic hit is probably a gross between $150 million and $200 million, a figure that’s within reach for “Inception,” even if it may take some stretching to get to the higher end of that range.

But that's only part of the question. Several of Nolan's previous films, including "Memento" and "The Dark Knight," became full-blown cultural phenomena, with op-eds about the topics they engaged with, buzz about awards and a life that extended far beyond their run in the theaters. "Inception" had a nice weekend, and it's certainly a hit with the young and the fanboy, but there's little evidence at the moment to think it will become more than that.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Poster for "Inception." Credit: Warner Bros.


The rise and reassessment of 'Inception'

'Inception' tops box office

The season of 'Inception' begins, but where will it end?

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

The season of 'Inception' begins, but where will it end?

July 16, 2010 |  8:02 pm


The A-list critics on Friday weighed in on "Inception," and their reaction has been ... diverse. The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan embraced the film ("If you're searching for smart and nervy popular entertainment, this is what it looks like"), while the New York Times' A.O. Scott was more lukewarm. (It "gestures in the direction of mighty philosophical questions that Mr. Nolan is finally too tactful, too timid or perhaps just too busy to engage. ... The accomplishments of 'Inception' are mainly technical.") And so it goes.

All of this come as expectations for the film's commercial performance climb ever-higher. My colleague Ben Fritz notes that box office receipts this weekend could reach $45 million. Several experts we've dropped the question on say it could go as high as $55 million or even $60 million -- a number that would make it the fifth-highest-grossing movie of the summer and serve as an unusual testament to the power of a name-brand director.

Key to the film reaching that figure will be how it fares among some of the groups with which it has shown weakness in pre-release tracking, particularly older women.

Earlier this week, at the film's premiere in Hollywood, the stars told my colleague Amy Kaufman that they feel the hype attendant to Nolan's film. "I think there are probably expectations," said co-star Cillian Murphy, "but I think the film will definitely live up to those because it does deliver on so many different levels."

How much those expectations help or hurt it remain to be seen. Certainly they drive opening-weekend curiosity. After that, it's the film's buzz that usually takes over. And that's where things get tricky. The movie's complexity could, on one hand (level?), put a damper on word-of-mouth, even as the conversation that complexity spurs could drive people to see what the fuss is all about. For a movie whose reception and interpretations have been all over the map, it only stands to reason that its commercial prospects follow suit.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in "Inception." Credit: Warner Bros.


The expectations keep ratcheting up for "Inception"

Movie Review: "Inception"

"Inception" should hit No. 1

'Inception' is absorbing and provocative, but probably not a masterpiece

July 12, 2010 |  7:00 am


The noise for the summer's most anticipated movie is starting to hit a crescendo, as Warner Bros. prepares to release Christopher Nolan's warped-reality action picture "Inception" this weekend.

We're not critics here at 24 Frames, so no review in this space -- look for The Times' critical take later in the week in the paper and on our website.  But given the level of interest in the film, and the fact that everyone and their therapist has begun to offer their online assessment, we did want to react to some key elements in the film. Because this isn't a review, we'll leave plot details out -- apart from noting the basic premise of a dream-invader (Leonardo DiCaprio) who tries the difficult feat of implanting an idea in someone else's mind -- and also assume you either know many of those details already or don't want to know any of them at all.

What we will say is that "Inception" is an impressive movie with notable flaws. On a purely visceral level, the film is an exciting experience. Nolan creates a fully (sometimes overly) realized conceptual world and pairs it with intricate visual detail.  His cinematic method for literalizing dreams -- hardly the easiest trick in the handbook -- looks spectacular and feels accurate. Elaborately devised and conceived, "Inception" achieves the primary aim of all big-budget films: it takes all that money and puts in the service of a deep and sprawling vision, the kind of combination that can, at least on a surface level, make for a fulfilling time at the movies. Few films slather on so much conceptual ambition while delivering this much effects firepower.
Continue reading »

The expectations keep ratcheting up for 'Inception.' Can they go too high?

July 6, 2010 |  3:09 pm

It used to be that audiences' interest in a film was an unequivocal boon for it -- mostly since that interest came after the movie began playing and could actually spur people to buy tickets.

But over the last few years, when development and production began getting scrutinized like a paramecium in a microbiology lab -- and since blogger reviews and fan sites started stoking/killing interest months before a single frame was ever shown -- expectations became a more complicated organism. You can, it turns out, have too much early buzz. That's probably what happened with "Snakes on a Plane," and almost certainly happened with "Kick-Ass" and "Watchmen."

Sure, a studio can convert pent-up energy into ticket sales as it did with "Cloverfield," "The Blair Witch Project" and plenty of others. But pre-release hype can lead the people distributing a film to believe they have a bigger hit than they do, and lead the moviegoing public to believe they're going to see a better movie than they are.

All this comes to mind given the two-headed situation in which Warner Bros. increasingly finds itself with "Inception." Chris Nolan's new movie comes with insanely high expectations -- namely, the hope that it will save the summer and, perhaps, big-studio cinema as we know it.

If you hang out with film-fan friends, you've probably been hearing/talking about the movie -- in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a dream-stalking character named the Extractor who tries the bold move of implanting an idea in someone's subconscious -- for months. The services that track the pre-release mood show strong anticipation among a host of demographic groups, including a few you wouldn't necessarily associate with this movie. (There are nearly as many older women harboring definite interest, for instance, as there are teenage boys.)

So great is the anticipation that the "Inception" legend has grown even when there hasn't been a shred of new information about it. With every new limp summer effort that comes out, Nolan's movie gets more drool. "Yes, [interchangeable summer movie] made me depressed, but at least we'll have 'Inception," goes the refrain.

The panting got even heavier over the weekend, as trade reviewers, consumer reviewers and awards bloggers began to weigh in. The idea might have been to let some of that buzz get more grounded, but it may have soared even higher; if the frenzy had reached fever pitch before, it is, at 10 days before release, at dog-only levels now.

Rolling Stone's Pete Travers called the film "the mind-blowing movie event of the summer." Indiewire's Anne Thompson described it as a "Kubrickian masterpiece" and said it will "wow moviegoers all over the world." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt suggested that he believes "Inception" is better than arguably the best big-budget movie in years. ("Following up on such ingenious and intriguing films as 'The Dark Knight' and 'Memento,' Nolan has outdone himself," Honeycutt writes.) In Variety, Justin Chang, in a line sure to play well in movie posters aimed at teenagers, called "Inception" "a heist thriller for surrealists, a Jungian's 'Rififi." God bless Movieline, which conducted its own is-it-real-or-is-it-Memorex test for the hype.

There's reason, to be sure, to think that "Inception" will rise to the hyperbole. The premise shows promise, the trailer is intriguing, and if anyone has earned this kind of pre-release love, it's Nolan, who's never made a bad film and has made several legitimately great ones.

But there's also a chance -- let's face it, a not insignificant one -- that those expecting an effects-era second-coming of "Citizen Kane" and "The Godfather" won't get all they had hoped for, especially if some of the expository scenes get a little windy, as some who've seen the film say they have. That's when all the hype will come back to bite, as those of us who would have been inclined to like a movie if we came in expectation-free will spend too much of our time trying to decide if it measures up.

Any film fan likes sitting down to a movie with a certain amount of hope, especially in a summer so conspicuously lacking in it. But guarded optimism can be the preferable way to go. It certainly was with "Avatar," which actually played better because it washed away our doubts instead of struggling to live up to our expectations.

Sure, we suppose "Inception" could turn out to be the best movie to hit the multiplex in years. But it's in the studio's interest -- and in ours -- not to think of it that way.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Inception poster. Credit: Warner Bros.

Chris Nolan and J.J. Abrams trailers, under lock and key

Will there be an Inception backlash even before the film opens?

Christopher Nolan's dim view of a Hollywood craze

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Chris Nolan and J.J. Abrams trailers, under lock and key

May 7, 2010 |  9:18 pm

When did trailers for action movies get good? And when did they go behind the velvet rope? Two new trailers for two secretive projects come attached to "Iron Man 2": for Christopher Nolan's "Inception" and J.J. Abrams' "Super 8." (Is there a movie on Earth that wouldn't want to be in that pre-Robert Downey Jr. slot? The rich indeed get richer.)

The "Inception" piece, featured above, is the better of the two, not least because it finally casts light on what the movie is about (dream policing and subconscious thievery, it turns out). You can watch it here, though it's meant to be discovered and watched only after one plays this online game. Movie marketers might wonder why in the name of Catwoman a studio would cut a trailer and then hide it inside a video game. But when your name is Chris Nolan, less is often more, and a velvet rope may be the best invitation of all.

The other trailer, for Abrams' "Super 8," is less persuasive. Little is given away in this initial teaser about this recently announced 2011 creature movie that may or may not be a follow-up to "Cloverfield" (it probably isn't); it basically lets you know that someone or something scary once escaped after a train crash near Area 51. But we don't see much beyond the train crash, except for said something trying to bust its way out of a crate, which makes the "It Arrives" pronouncement that accompanies it feel a little overblown, or even cliche (though the "Super 8" closing is intriguing enough).

The trailer's popped up on YouTube, but Paramount has done its best to remove it, or at least not to offer it online yet. (The versions that do exist were clearly pirated with a hand-held camera from inside a movie theater, so we won't link to it). But the strategy is a little perplexing.

Unless you're trying to get people into theaters to see "Iron Man 2" because of the trailer, why not make it available? From the looks of it, it's more gritty than cinematic, and doesn't absolutely need to be seen on a big screen. And a trailer isn't a piece of content you're trying to get people to pay for, like a "Daily Show" episode. It's a piece of marketing. What's the point of withholding it?

In any event, the marketing for the closely watched film has begun. Or not begun.

-- Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

With 'Batman 3' release date, 2012 will see a superhero summer showdown

April 30, 2010 |  4:29 pm

Chris Nolan is staying on a biannual schedule. With the director's "The Dark Knight"

Warner Bros. confirmed today that "Batman 3" (not its final title, obviously) will come out in the summer of 2012, on July 20. In addition to making fanboys the world over salivate with eager anticipation, that also sets up a box-office rematch of sorts between Nolan's Batman franchise, a DC creation, and the movies from Marvel's stable of characters, as "The Avengers," the supergroup of superhero Marvel movies, comes out a few months earlier (in May).

When the first round of that slugfest went down, in the summer of 2008, "The Dark Knight" trumped "Iron Man" handily, grossing $215 million more in the U.S. But "Iron Man" wasn't yet a cultural juggernaut back then. In 2012 the landscape could look a little different, as Marvel characters have continued to gain traction.

"Avengers" will also have the benefit of Thor, Captain America and other characters from its film appearing in their own movies the summer before.  And all this after "Iron Man 2" looks to break the opening-weekend record of "The Dark Knight" next week. The high-tech weaponry, she is flying.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "The Dark Knight." Credit: Warner Bros.

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.


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