Syncopy: The Perfect Shots of Christopher Nolan

The most memorable moments from some of the century’s best films.
By  · Published on July 18th, 2017

The most memorable moments from some of the century’s best films.

This week director Christopher Nolan will release his 10th feature film, Dunkirk, which is his first war film, and his first film since 2002’s Insomnia that isn’t based on either a science-fiction premise or a comic book character. To say the stakes are high is nothing new, because the stakes are always high for a Christopher Nolan film: Following is one of the most daring film debuts in recent memory, Memento altered the rules of cinematic thrillers, The Dark Knight Trilogy revolutionized one of our country’s most iconic characters and is directly responsible for the superhero-dominant film era in which we currently find ourselves, Inception took the term “psychological thriller” to a whole new level, and Interstellar was the trippiest mainstream sci-fi epic since 2001: A Space Odyssey. And all that’s without even going into details about Insomnia or The Prestige.

Bottom line, Christopher Nolan has been one of the most intriguing and intelligent filmmakers working since the first frame of Doodlebug, his short that pre-dates Following, and as such his films are chockful of what we call here “perfect shots,” shots that are more than just pretty or well-composed, they do as much as the characters or dialogue at presenting the world of the film, or advancing the plot.

Shots like the close-up in Memento of the side of Leonard’s hand with the words “remember sammy jankis” tattooed there, or the wide shot in Inception of a cityscape folding in on itself, or The Joker in The Dark Knight, back to the camera at a crosswalk, clown mask in one hand, duffel bag slung over his other shoulder. Each of these shots and 29 others you’re about to see are more than mere cinematography, they are examples of first-rate visual storytelling, and they come from only three sources: Nolan himself, who was his own cinematographer on Following, four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner Wally Pfister, who shot everything from Memento through The Dark Knight Rises before embarking on a directing career of his own, and two-time BAFTA nominee Hoyte Van Hoytema, who shot Interstellar and Dunkirk, both in 70mm.

So before you head out this weekend to see the director’s latest masterpiece, spend some time strolling down memory lane courtesy of this gallery of the perfect shots of Christopher Nolan.


MEMENTO (2000)




Nolan Nolan







DUNKIRK (2017)


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