Boffo box office matches film's intrepid free spirit

You could call Christopher Nolan the Man Who Would Be King — if Hollywood weren’t genuflecting already.

Conjuring “Inception” out of his personal dreamscape and a $160 million budget, Nolan saw his labor of multidimensional, mindboggling love gross $820 million worldwide this year, fulfilling both the B.O. promise of “The Dark Knight” and Nolan’s marriage of a personal vision to a mega-sensibility.

Like something out of “The Prestige” (his 2006 magicians meller), “Inception” materialized in a manner best described by star Leonardo DiCaprio during the run-up to the film’s release: “Few directors in this industry would pitch to a studio a multilayered, at times existential, high-action, high-drama, surreal film that’s sort of locked in his mind. And get the opportunity to make it.”

That “Inception” did get made was thanks largely to “The Dark Knight,” which followed Nolan’s eerie, inky “Batman Begins” and changed the course of Oscar history.

After it became the highest grosser of 2008, and was then denied an Oscar nom in 2009, the Academy broadened the category from five to 10. Coincidence?

“Inception” could make the top 10 this time around, but Nolan has already scored a victory, on the oft-contentious frontier between filmmaking dreams and studio possibilities. And done so with grace.

“I’m extremely grateful for their trust,” he says of Warner Bros., the studio with which he has worked since his remake of Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s Scandi thriller “Insomnia” in 2002. “They’ve always been good collaborators, and they’ve appreciated my level of communication. I’ve always been as open as possible about what I’m trying to do and how I’m going to do it.”

How he explained “Inception” will have to remain as much a mystery as how he ever explained “Memento,” the film that put the 40-year-old, London-born filmmaker on the map and established him as a director unafraid of byzantine narratives or conflicted heroes. Leonard (Guy Pearce) possessed the same ruthless instincts that would mark Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale).

“I haven’t tried to meet any genre expectations with any film,” Nolan says. “In fact, I always thought of ‘Inception’ as a mainstream movie, one that would involve the audience in the logic of it and the entertainment of it, so I was always very clear about that being my goal. I try to make every film personal.”

Directors return to reliable troupe

Darren Aronofsky | Danny Boyle | Lisa Cholodenko | David Fincher | Debra Granik | Tom Hooper | Christopher Nolan | David O. Russell | Martin Scorsese | Lee Unkrich
In the mix

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