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Christopher Nolan is the new James Cameron.

Christopher Nolan is the new James Cameron. (photo)

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11 years ago, Glenn Kenny (then of Premiere) was attending Sun-/Slamdance and shared a bus ride with a dejected-looking British pair. “The couple were feeling a little down,” he wrote recently, “as they had a film… in its way as formally daring as ‘Blair Witch’ was, but it didn’t matter, as ‘Blair Witch’ was garnering not just all the money but all the critical hype.” The movie was “Following,” and the couple were Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas.

How far we’ve come. Now Christopher Nolan sits poised on top of the world. Following the success of “Batman Begins” and the billion-plus worldwide gross of “The Dark Knight,” Nolan has somehow gotten Warner Bros. to give him $200 million for “Inception,” a movie that star Leonardo DiCaprio has described as “Chris delving into dream psychoanalysis and, at the same time, making a high-octane, surreal film that came from his mind. He wrote the entire thing, and it all made sense to him. It didn’t make sense to many of us when we were doing it.”

These are not things that happen ordinarily. No matter how successful you are, you’re not supposed to get $200 million to make something that’ll mightily screw with people. (The last time I heard a description remotely like that, we got “Southland Tales,” and look how that turned out.) But, per Nikki Finke and Mike Fleming, “Nolan is considered something of a god at Warner Bros.” And now that Nolan has an idea for a third Batman film and has agreed to “godfather” a “Superman” reboot (whatever that means), that’s not going to change anytime soon.

02092010_inception.jpgThat places Nolan in very rarefied company indeed; effectively, it means he gets to fight it out with James Cameron for king of the world status, given carte blanche to write and direct his own distinctive blockbusters. At this moment, he might be even higher: Cameron had to tussle with Fox in order to sneak his “Ferngully” aspirations into “Avatar,” straightforward or not. In contrast, Warner Bros. snapped up “Inception” just to make sure no one else would get it, not stopping to worry about whether or not it would make sense.

The funny thing is that when it comes to name recognition, I don’t get the sense that Nolan has the same brand-value as Cameron. People loved “The Dark Knight” (and many of them got a kick out of “Batman Begins”), but “The Prestige” was a sleeper hit at best. Cameron’s name and technology were pretty much all “Avatar” had to work with, and it worked well. Maybe Cameron’s much-derided tendency to be self-aggrandizing in public reminds people who he is — Nolan remains safely in the background, not so interested in building a public image for himself.

Nonetheless, Nolan’s the new face of the Blockbuster Future, one short decade after quietly emerging to no fanfare in particular. And I don’t think he’s going anywhere: he has more ideas (and better ones, frankly) than Cameron, plus the budget to disguise their knottiness. “Inception” is the big gamble, with deliberately confounding trailers that invite you to place your trust solely in the hands of the director of “The Dark Knight.” And if it fails? Well, Cameron bounced back from “The Abyss” just fine. Game on.

[Photos: “Following,” 1998, ColumbiaTristar Home Entertainment; “Inception,” Warner Bros, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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