Christopher Nolan has emerged over the last two-plus decades as one of Hollywood’s most intrepid filmmakers working at the studio level. That has a lot to do with his technically accomplished collaborators, from cinematographers Wally Pfister and Hoyte van Hoytema to editor Jennifer Lame.
Pfister is a four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner thanks to his work with Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Prestige,” and winner “Inception”), while van Hoytema picked up an Oscar nomination for his work on “Dunkirk” and has since shot “Tenet” and Nolan’s atomic bomb epic “Oppenheimer.” Nolan, Pfister, van Hoytema, and all their collaborators have collectively crafted some of the most memorable images in 21st-century filmmaking.
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“Oppenheimer” centers on Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, and his role in the Manhattan Project. The movie opened in July this year to big blockbuster success and saw Nolan under the stewardship of Universal Pictures. It was the studio and Nolan’s first team-up after the director’s split with longtime partner Warner Bros. following the pandemic-era release of “Tenet.” But that doesn’t mean anything less for his artistic vision, as Nolan continues to work on a massive canvas for the epic.
“A lot of people say that about Chris, that he has a precision to him in storytelling,” Hoyte van Hoytema told fellow cinematographer Roger Deakins last year. “But one of the biggest things that I learned starting to work with him and one of the things I admire about him is that he is an extremely intuitive filmmaker. He is so perceptible to the energy that is being giving to you, like weather. People are always saying you’re always so lucky with the weather, but he’s never lucky with the weather. He just shoots in any weather that is handed to him on a plate.”
Van Hoytema continued, “There are few people that are so good at making something so adequate out of a situation that occurs in front of him. He is very untouched or intimidated by things that go wrong or change very extremely. He has strong ideas what he wants and is so secure in it that in those situations he can step away from being a micromanager.”
With “Oppenheimer” still dominating IMAX screens and more blockbusters sure to come in the future, IndieWire dives into Nolan’s career through the shots that define his vision.
Zack Sharf and Alison Foreman contributed to this story.
[Editor’s note: This list was originally published in April 2019, and has since been updated.]
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