Contender: ‘Inception’

Nolan brings passion project to Academy

Read the Variety review

Should “Inception” helmer Christopher Nolan fail to garner an Oscar directing nomination this year, the resulting fanboy protests may well necessitate National Guard interference. Their anger was palpable enough when he was denied for cerebral superhero saga “The Dark Knight” in 2008, but his work this summer was a true game-changer. Among the very few films this year to blow away both critics (87% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and ticketbuyers ($818 million worldwide), “Inception” marked Nolan as the rarest of beasts: A mainstream filmmaker using his capital to pursue ambitious passion projects at astronomical budgets.

While Academy voters debate whether to include “Inception” in the picture, director and original screenplay dockets, the film’s technical craftsmanship presents some unignorable award opportunities as well. Using a relative minimum of CG, visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin orchestrated a wealth of demiurgic setpieces, sumptuously shot by the director’s longtime d.p. Wally Pfister, while fellow Nolan vet Lee Smith deserves plaudits for his yeoman’s work in the editing bay shuffling sensibly between multiple levels of consciousness. Past Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer’s score here ranks among his very best and is perhaps his most innovative, incorporating repeating variations on Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” with mathematical dexterity.

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