ShoWest Director of the Year: Christopher Nolan

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"Charisma as natural as gravity."

Those were the words director Christopher Nolan used to describe his star, Heath Ledger, in a Newsweek article he wrote shortly after Ledger's death in January, and they were among the most gracious any filmmaker has written about any actor.

But, as Nolan rushes to complete postproduction on Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight," the sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins," he must be praying that gravity doesn't bring his new film crashing to the ground.

To some degree, the filmmaker -- who has been named Director of the Year at ShoWest -- was lucky in that he had already completed shooting when the tragedy happened; but insiders have speculated on the event's impact on the movie, especially with a marketing campaign whose initial focus was tilted toward Ledger's character, the Joker.

The tragic incident is the first serious setback to a filmmaking career that has been marked by one success after another. An early experimenter with Super 8 films (he was making movies at the age of 7), Nolan had an initial success when his short "Tarantella" was broadcast by PBS in 1989 while he was still a student at University College in London.

His first feature, 1998's "Following," drew mixed reviews but signaled the postmodern sensibility Nolan has brought to much of his work, fracturing time in the way that would stamp Nolan's greatest critical success, his second

feature, 2000's "Memento."

That puzzler about a man with amnesia whose story unfolds backwards put Nolan

on the global map when it was picked up at Sundance, where he won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for the script he wrote with his brother Jonathan.

Some observers thought Nolan would embark on a career as an independent filmmaker; rather, he opted to direct a studio film, 2002's "Insomnia," a remake of the Norwegian crime thriller, with Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. He followed that with the Hugh Jackman-

Christian Bale starrer "The Prestige" (2006).

But it's the "Batman" franchise that will likely be his greatest legacy.

Nolan committed to "Batman Begins" when plans for him to make a Howard Hughes biography with Jim Carrey fell through, and his psychological probing of Batman's genesis took the franchise in a very different direction from the expressionistic Tim Burton films and the flamboyant Joel Schumacher endeavors. While the movie was a modest disappointment domestically, it did terrific business internationally, paving the way for "Dark Knight."

Now fans are waiting to see if Nolan has managed to take the Batman of "Dark Knight" in a new direction. And insiders are wondering: Will that be enough to defy gravity?
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