HOLLYWOOD—I was first introduced to Christopher Nolan in the spring of 2004 in my introductory film class with a mind-bender of a flick, titled “Memento.” The movie was a puzzle within a puzzle that left me speechless. I did not understand it and it became the beginning of me deciphering cinema in a way that almost made it no longer enjoyable, but I learned the inner workings. I herald Nolan as one of the best film directors currently living.

He doesn’t craft a film every year, but when he does the movies leave you speechless. “Insomnia,” a fantastic, taut thriller, “The Prestige” delivers a twist that leaves you stunned, “Inception” a movie that opens you mind in ways you never imagined, “Interstellar” just a sensational sci-fi treat, “Dunkirk” a slice of war that is riveting. Those are just a touch of some of Nolan’s flicks, ahead of his big epic “Oppenheimer” opening on July 21.

However, I have a special torch for “The Dark Knight.” The 2008 flick gave audiences one of the greatest superhero flicks of all-time that was perfection. “The Dark Knight” is just 1 of 3 films I can watch over and over and never get tired of it. The other two films are “Die Hard” and John Carpenter’s 1978 classic “Halloween.” I recently witnessed “The Dark Knight” yet again on TV and I stopped to watch. The ability to be entertained and still learn as a filmmaker watching this flick is iconic.

I’m still baffled to this day that the movie didn’t earn Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart and so much more. It felt the movie was ahead of its time when it was released and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences couldn’t see the beauty in front of it.

The opening sequence captivated the audience right away, and what Nolan does is genius. We don’t immediately see Heath Ledger’s The Joker, he is alluded to; he is talked about, and we get that glimpse at the end of the first sequence. The audience soon becomes aware this is a villain unlike any other and the fun soon begins. I have never classified “The Dark Knight” as a great superhero movie; I consider it part of an elite grouping of cinema in the past 20 years. It is in my top 10 list of flicks from the 2000s.

We have a protagonist in Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Christian Bale) that is challenged by a foe never seen before. The villain, The Joker portrayed with absolute terror, yet insanity by Heath Ledger is something never seen or witnessed on the screen before. He is layered, nuanced, scary and a threat to our protagonist in more ways than ever witnessed. We have a stellar supporting cast in Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes, and an underrated performance by Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent aka Two-Face.

Most superhero flicks make the mistake of trying to fit in too many villains in a single movie with no intention. Nolan weaves Two-Face into the narrative from the start and we see glimmers of his dark side that slowly descends into madness as the second act culminates. We witness key characters meet their demise, in a thrilling second act that was not expected; Nolan ensures the chaos continues to ramp up until we reach our final act that sends a clear message to the viewer: no one is safe.

The dialogue is piercing, clever and sharp. I love that line from Dent, “You either live long enough to become the villain or your die a hero.” So fitting, yet so haunting. It is a foreshadowing of things to come for Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. The movie analyzes that theme of exploring one’s dark side. Making it clear that everyone has a dark side it is all a matter of a series of circumstances or events that push that individual to embrace that darkness as we see in Dent.

The Joker has a no prisoner’s mentality. He proves anyone and everyone no matter if child or adult is a piece of the puzzle in his game of madness that is explored with ferocity. What is his endgame? We don’t know. We can guess, we can speculate, but we never learn those details as a viewer. He is a villain, whose past is a secret and that was intentional by Nolan, the less you know the better. It reminds me of Michael Myers from the first “Halloween.” We don’t understand his method of madness and that is what makes him scary, similar to The Joker.

The less you know about a villain’s intent the more methodical they become putting the spectator into the shoes of the protagonist(s). When “The Dark Knight” came out in 2008 it clocked in over 2 hours and 30 minutes. That was a rarity, but nowadays almost EVERY MOVIE that comes out clocks in at over 2 hours and 30 minutes, hell some are clocking in close to 3 hours.

What is the problem with that? Those films have a major problem with pacing. The first act is solid, the second act is dull, and the third act is a mixed bag. “The Dark Knight” has a solid pace from start to finish and never gets boring, you are fully engrossed from start to finish and you don’t flinch or even think about looking at your watch out of fear of missing something. You might not be a fan of superhero films, but I forewarn you, you’re not watching a superhero flick with “The Dark Knight.” You are watching a piece of cinema that will entertain you from start to finish, but truly get the wheels churning in your head about right vs wrong and good vs evil in a way not many flicks can do.