I'm a real latecomer to the herd of people who've seen Christopher Nolan's epic mind-bender Inception. I thought it'd be beneficial to take in Memento right before that too, since for some reason THAT film eluded me on release as well.
Both of these films have been hyped to heaven by my friends and people online. While I think both films were fine compelling experiences, I don't think they deserve all the accolades, in particular Inception which I have on friendly authority is 'the best film ever made'.
Nolan's direction in both movies is fine. I think he strikes a great balance between confusing viewers and leading you to formulating your own conclusions, important particularly in Memento where the protagonist is just as unknowing as the viewer.
Also in Memento he twist ending isn't shocking because you come into it almost gradually (which Nolan intended) and many probably guessed most of what the climax contained before then. The mind-bending part is how the movie conveys memory and context and keeping you watching on two levels the whole time. I found some aspects rather unbelievable (the tatooing, that he'd have time to reacqauint with the notes every day, etc), but this is the kinda shit more considered in hindsight than jerking me out of the movie while I was watching it. I don't know enough about the real-life memory disorder to have been analysing it at the time. But here's the thing: this movie was hyped to death. If I'd just watched it on its own it'd have been an above average movie with a remarkable way of conveying chronology-- only Irreversible really comes to mind as similar. But everyone was 'oh you gotta see it, the ending is just unbelievable!' or 'you'll be blown away by the twists and turns'. Well, I wasn't. I guess maybe my imagination went the wrong way when I heard 'unbelievable ending' and 'twists' to where I was expecting a film as wrenching as Se7en.
Then Inception. Again with the hype only on a monumental scale culminating in eight Oscar nominations. With this movie, Nolan also does nothing really wrong, but it just doesn't go anywhere particularly affecting for me. Like Memento, you are challenged to keep track of what's what (this time perception as opposed to memory), and I think it is great that a film, especially a mega-budget one challenges the audience to do more than just sit there and take it in. But again, it's a thinker that after it is over didn't leave me pondering it. Not even the fabled spinning top at the end. Nolan says he's had so many people ask him about this, but for me, I saw it, noted the ambiguity, made my decision about what it meant right then and there, and moved on. I guess it wasn't ambiguous to me REALLY at all. In the case of Inception I think all the hype led me to believe it was 2010's The Matrix. For me, it wasn't. The Matrix had a 'twist' that was affecting (and thank heavens I saw it opening night). When Lawrence Fishburne finally holds that battery up to Keanu Reeves, that one scene was stronger to me than anything in the entirety of Inception. I think Inception is tighter and 'smarter' in a lot of ways than The Matrix is... but that wasn't enough. Not for all the 'best thing ever' shit I've been hearing about it. Like some reviewers I really wish the dream sequences had been a bit more 'out there'. I realise remembering dreams is tricky, but it is pretty well established that logic in dreams is different or non-existent. The dreams in Inception are incredibly consistent and well-ordered, however much common physical laws seem to bend at times. I think more 'insanity' was probably in order.
Neither film has anything really incompetent about it. Nolan's done good. These movies are just victims, to me, of the hype machine. But if I'd seen them when they first came out (and I think seeing Inception on the small screen for the first time really did it a disservice) I think I would've been dismayed by all the hype to come out subsequently.