Tag Archive: Christopher Nolan


In case you were wondering what Christopher Nolan’s Inception would look like as an Ottoman miniature, the internet has come through yet again:

There are more here, including the likes of Kill Bill, Star Wars and GoodFellas:

Classic Movies in Miniature Style

They were done by a Turkish art student named Murat Palta. They’re all pretty clever; some are better than others. I like the Inception one because of the way it depicts the different levels of the film’s dreamworld on different panels. I also dig the Kill Bill one – love his interpretation of Uma’s signature costume. I do wonder about some of the choices he made – for instance, why is the van in this one a horse and carriage, but the snowmobile is just a boxy-looking snowmobile? Either way it’s fun to study the details in all of them. (Though I skipped over the Scarface one – I really hate that movie and wish people would stop treating it like a classic.)

For great insight into the history of this kind of art (and some brilliant storytelling), read Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s 1998 novel My Name Is Red.


12 of ’10

These are the 12 best films I saw in 2010. They aren’t ranked in any particular order. Or maybe they are.

I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see. These happen to be the films that came into my life and that I loved.



(Semih Kaplanoğlu, Turkey/Germany)

The third installment (following Egg and Milk) in Turkish auteur Semih Kaplanğlu’s “reverse trilogy” about the life of a poet won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, inspiring lots of headlines about, you guessed it, bears and honey. In its evocative Black Sea forest setting, Honey recreates the fragmented, dreamlike world inhabited by all children better than any film I’ve seen. Kaplanğlu employs stillness, ambient sound and painterly technique to make shots of everyday things like a toy wooden boat or a boiling kettle seem thrilling. Though there’s not much dialogue, the relationship of the boy Yusuf with his father is depicted with fine perception and compassion. Melancholy, exquisite, slow as honey pouring out of a jar, but just as satisfying.



OK, Enough, Goodbye

(Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, Lebanon)

A loopy and meandering tale of a selfish, clueless 40-something bachelor’s attempt to live on his own after his mother walks out on him, and a smart and vivid snapshot of life in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli. The debut feature from Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia is a manifesto of sorts for the rights of Middle Eastern films to be weird and funny and personal in a highly politicized world. Its scenes of urban alienation, its long takes of difficult conversations between lonely people, could take place anywhere. But the story’s Jarmuschian quirkiness belies its poignant human insight and subtle commentary on globalism. “OK, Enough, Goodbye” was also year’s funniest and most universally translatable catchphrase.




(Vahid Vakilifar, Iran)

The quietly stunning debut feature from director Vahid Vakilifar tells a loose, naturalistic story of migrant workers at the world’s largest gas field – where they pathetically live in abandoned concrete pipes facing out to the Persian Gulf. Using documentary techniques, Vakilifar captures the field’s vast infrastructure with the transcendent detachment of photographers like Edward Burtynsky, while on the other hand getting right into the pipes with the men to portray the toil and camaraderie in their daily lives with restraint, dry humor and great empathy.



Space Tourists

(Christian Frei, Switzerland)

Impressionistic, slyly ironic documentary about the different ways civilians are involved in space travel, from the spoiled Iranian-American heiress who buys her way onto a space station, to the scavengers in remote Kazakhstan who collect the scrap-metal debris of rocket flights. Jonas Bendiksen’s eerie photos of abandoned cosmonaut training centers set the tone – it’s a beautifully-made film. Weaving different strands together, director Christian Frei avoids conclusions, simply showing us people and things that are very interesting, and often funny. But in revealing the business of space and musing on how we conceive the future, Space Tourists achieves as much impact as any of the heavy-handed docs that litter the market.



Exit Through the Gift Shop

(Banksy, USA/UK)

If Banksy’s much-anticipated debut film had been a boring talking-head doc about his own iconic and incendiary street art, it would’ve been a lot easier for the Twitterverse to digest, and might have sold more tickets to boot. But Banksy doesn’t do anything cheap or easy; this diabolically twisted study of an eccentric scene-hound and would-be artist named Mr Brainwash gleefully trashed expectations, exposing the hypocrisy and stupidity of the contemporary arts scene and causing dumbfounded speculation that it was all a vast hoax. It’s one of the year’s most thought-provoking films, as disturbing as it is freaking hilarious, and establishes Banksy as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with.



Red Hill

(Patrick Hughes, Australia)

My favorite Australian film of the year rides the trendy resurgence of Ozploitation, but is more ambitious and emotionally engaging than the run of the mill. Debut writer/director Patrick Hughes effectively mashes up horror, western and crime thriller in this tale of an escaped convict gunning for revenge in rural Victoria, drawing on myriad influences from Eastwood to Tarantino to No Country for Old Men. It’s a gritty and violent film, but refreshingly low on pointless blood and gore; Hughes builds suspense with old-fashioned restraint and a flair for Aussie mythmaking, and with help from a good turn by True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten, we end up caring about the characters.




(Belma Baş, Turkey)

“Slow cinema is for fascination and magic,” says director Belma Baş. Her entrancing debut feature illustrates this ethos perfectly – even literally, illuminated as it is with beautiful macro shots of snails along with other fauna and flora of the lush Black Sea region. The sad, slow-burning tale of the troubled relationship between a boyish adolescent and her vagabond mother is set against an elegiac ode to the simple pace and rugged beauty of life in the mountains. As the story unfolds like a fable and the girl’s state of mind unravels, Baş’ transcendentalist touch makes even the disturbing and traumatic seem part of the fabric of nature.




(Christopher Nolan, USA/UK)

Away from the restrictions of the Batman franchise, Christopher Nolan went another level down, constructing a sprawling masterwork of action, suspense and twisted dream logic worthy of comparison to Blade Runner and The Matrix. It’s not a sequel, is not based on a TV show, features no babyfaced stars (unless you count Ellen Page, whom I adore), contains no sex scenes or vampires; it has no R&B on the soundtrack, no song and dance. Furthermore it actually dares to challenge and puzzle the audience. Yet it made truckloads of cash. To me it didn’t so much raise the bar as put it back in place; we’ve always deserved blockbusters this good. Hollywood, get back to work.




(Zamani Esmati, Iran)

This harrowing drama, about a hapless college student who ends up in legal trouble after ending an affair with a shallow older professor, is worth watching for the extended opening sequence alone: director Zamani Esmati brilliantly utilizes the narrow streets and enclosed spaces of the ancient city of Yazd to create tension and claustrophobia, as the girl pays a secret visit to a shady surgeon. Soon she is pulled into a vortex of judgment and mortification in a chillingly existential commentary on contemporary Iran. I don’t favor films based only on their social relevance; but like many other Iranian directors working today, Esmati is able to reflect his nation’s troubles with crucial cinema. And it’s hard to shake the thought of Esmati’s mentor (and uncredited supervising editor) Jafar Panahi, who now languishes as a political prisoner.



The Oath

(Laura Poitras, USA)

An astonishingly intimate portrait of a former Al Qaeda operative named Abu Jandal, who was once a personal bodyguard to Bin Laden. He quit the cause and renounced violence, and now drives a taxi and raises a family in Yemen. Meanwhile his old comrade and brother-in-law is held prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. Director Laura Poitras lets the intrinsic drama unfold organically, with an unobtrusive but steady gaze that also provides a valuable portrait of daily life in an Arab backwater. There are no quick cuts, no voice-overs, no easy conclusions. Much of the film is simply the charismatic Jandal talking to whomever will listen – the Arab media, his customers, Poitras and, presumably, us. He’s adamant and articulate in his beliefs, but also friendly and down-to-earth, and it’s amazing how much he reveals to the camera. Jandal’s chilling war stories draw the viewer in, but his candid guilt about his brother-in-law and his ambivalence about his own extremist past are what make this film so memorable.



Certified Copy

(Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy)

In his first film made outside of Iran, starring smoking-hot Cannes poster girl Juliette Binoche, beloved auteur Abbas Kiarostami utilizes his cool, über-naturalistic style to deconstruct a vaguely romantic story about an art collector and a writer who meet, flirt and spontaneously take a road trip in the Tuscan countryside. The screenplay revolves around ideas of art, authorship and authenticity; and on the surface, it’s meant to be a pisstake, Kiarostami toying with narrative convention. But what begins as a cerebral, talky exercise grows more compelling and eerily enigmatic as the journey continues, and becomes wrenchingly emotional in the end. As lean and original as the best kind of indie, but it resonates like a classic; I couldn’t get it off my mind for days.



Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

(Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)

The Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival is often bestowed on films that are accessible to large audiences (Pulp Fiction, The Piano). But not this year: “Joe” Weerasethakul’s meditation on death, memory and regret in rural Thailand is oblique and ponderous and weird as it wanna be. But I was never bored. (Well, give or take a couple of extended shots of people doing nothing.) I just sat back and let myself be pulled into the exquisitely composed vision  – greatly enhanced by some really cool, Miyazaki-esque ghosts and fantasy sequences. I compare this kind of work to the deceptively “ambient” music of Brian Eno or Kompakt Records: abstract, slow and quiet, yes. But also powerful, dreamlike, switched on, creating space for many emotions from dread to euphoria.



Honorable mentions:

The Tree

The Life of Fish

Toy Story 3

Police, Adjective



Road, Movie

I Am Love

Nostalgia for the Light

True Grit

Last Train Home

Cirkus Columbia

The Furious Force of Rhymes

Inception Gold Class

Last night I saw Inception. (You might have heard of it.) A friend called and offered us last-minute tickets to a screening at Marina Mall here in Abu Dhabi. Thursday night here is like Friday night in the west, and the malls and cinemas can be very crowded, especially at Ramadan when people are much more active at night. I wouldn’t likely have initiated such a plan myself, but I’d been wanting to see this movie and I could not turn down the serendipity of it, not to mention my friend’s kind offer.

She described the tickets as “Inception Gold Class” — and kept repeating that phrase: Inception Gold Class. I figured it was a reserved-seating screening, and maybe we had good seats, but I wasn’t sure why she kept emphasizing that.

Since my wife was tired, I invited a colleague from the film festival to take the other ticket. By the time we got to the multiplex, collected our tickets, and found our theater, we were in for some hilarity — and we found out why our benefactor was so specific. Turns out Gold Class is an entirely separate theater unto itself with special service, much like first class on a jetliner. The theater is rather small, with a small screen, and seats perhaps forty, in black leather reclining lounge chairs with little end tables for food and beverages. There are plenty of staff on hand to wait on the patrons so they don’t have to lift themselves out of those chairs. The overall vibe is like a Hollywood executive’s private screening room. There’s also a separate lounge along with separate toilets and more decadent snacks (did I see beer there too?) — everything to separate Gold Class patrons from the unwashed masses barring a private elevator from the parking garage up to the cineplex.

My friend and I were so beside ourselves with this patrician scene we failed to take much advantage of it; we didn’t order any nachos or put the staff out of their way at all. Honestly I think we both felt a little out of place. So the Gold Class experience for us was simply watching a good movie in very comfy chairs (with almost no company; there were only three other guys in the room with us). Anyway Inception is not exactly the kind of film you want to interrupt to call out, “Hey, could you get me some ice cream? Rocky Road?” A Judd Apatow film or something Bollywood, maybe.

Check out CineStar’s Gold Class page. The Filipina serving the Emirati guy a plate of nachos pretty much sums up the UAE.

As for the film itself: what can I say that hasn’t already been said? I thought it was terrific. It’s perhaps not the life-altering experience I was hoping for (dreaming of?) after all the hype. There are a couple of  weak points, especially during the clunky exposition where we find out all about the mechanics of dreams, and again during the almost A-Team-like mission planning. And of course a number of crucial plot devices make no sense. (And don’t tell me that’s because it’s about dreams. All films are dreams; we only ask that they are internally consistent.)

But all of it can be forgiven; Inception is a splendid artifact. It has everything we’re always looking for in Hollywood’s ceaselessly churning outpour and very little of the bad. It’s intelligent, fun, epic, sentimental, and disturbing by turn. The acting is fine. The filmmaking is as tight and smart as it should be — this is Chrisopher Nolan we’re talking about. It’s not based on an 80s TV show. There’s no gratuitous romance or R&B. The special effects serve the plot.

And what a plot. It’s conceived as elegantly and ingeniously as the dreamworlds constructed by its protagonists — as simple as a maze made for a child, but always unfolding and revealing new aspects. There’s a moment at about the start of the last reel — about the time a certain van is tipping over a certain bridge — when you have that spine-tingling feeling, so rare in commercial films anymore: the thrill of the plot as a thing of beauty, total involvement in suspense, and the euphoric certainty that they aren’t going to screw this up.

One thing occurred to me afterwards: people, including me, are talking up this film because it’s so much better, and especially so much smarter, than most blockbusters. But really, Inception is not revolutionary; it’s just what other Hollywood films should be. It only brings the bar up to where it belongs in the first place. I have a sense of entitlement: I deserve to see better movies. It reminds me of what Roger Ebert wrote about good cinematography. In a review of Jeremiah Johnson, a 1970s Robert Redford western, Ebert rejected the idea that anyone should see it for its spectacular mountain scenery. That’s like praising a car for having four wheels, he wrote — all movies should look good.

But I’m realistic enough to know that most movies aren’t this good, and I’m happy to see it doing so well. I especially like the way Nolan doesn’t play down to the audience. Like other great and popular filmmakers including Hitchcock and Scorcese, he seems to assume that most people will want to watch a smart, intricate film if they are given a chance. Inception gave me a feeling I hadn’t had for years but took for granted when I was younger, in the days of The Silence of the Lambs and GoodFellas and early Tarantino: the experience of plunging wholeheartedly into a big, bang-up American film, one that we can all agree on.

OK Hollywood, here’s an example of a smart blockbuster — how all the money and marketing can finally pay off. Now get back to work.

Other thoughts:

  • Ellen Page is hot. Or do I just think she’s hot because she’s Juno? I can’t tell. Whatever. Hot.
  • All of the tributes and references to The Matrix could probably fill up another post. Some may say it owes a heavy debt; but I find it’s a welcome riff on a theme. Inception is one of the very few commercial films since The Matrix with the insidious but delicious power to make the viewer ponder the meaning of perception and reality. You know the feeling when you’re on the way home and you’re still locked in the world of the film? Thinking about how your own life is like a dream? Nolan, of course, already showed that rare skill with Memento; with a big budget and effects at his disposal he does not let us down.
  • Di Caprio’s spinning top reminded me of the origami in Blade Runner — it became my totem, so to speak, for thinking of that film while I was watching this one; and again, I imagine it’s meant as a tribute to another classic.
  • The only major flaw is Hans Zimmer’s score. I had this problem with both of Nolan’s Batman films as well. I think there’s not a minute of screen time without music, but it’s not really interesting and doesn’t do anything. Neither is it ambient enough to ignore. It’s just sort of constantly wheezing and grinding away in the background, providing an unfortunate ongoing cognitive dissonance. It reminds me of video game music (especially the kind in first-person shooters) in the way it almost mindlessly keeps repeating the same portentious but bland refrain.
  • I loved the sequence in Mombassa because it shows the extravagance of creativity and storytelling verve that happens when a good thriller is really working. In all of the intrigue and artifice, there’s still room for an Indiana Jones-style chase, with an overturned fruit cart and everything — and it feels fun, not gratuitous, the way those kinds of scenes felt when I was a kid.
  • I just compared this film to Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Indiana Jones. Yep.
  • Why I think Nolan is a good filmmaker and storyteller: you’ve got this Byzantine contraption of a plot, but the entire thing hinges on a man wanting to see the faces of his children. We spend the whole film seeing the backs of their little sandy-haired heads in dreams and flashbacks, and eventually the unseen faces of those kids become the central motive, the thread that connects everything for us. A yearning for innocence, but also a queasy reminder of life’s disappointments. So many great films have something that simple (and visual) at their heart. It’s just the right amount of eerie and touching melodrama.