By Grady Smith
July 19, 2010 at 05:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: Stephen VaughanIt’s been three days since I saw Inception, and I am still marveling at what Christopher Nolan was able to accomplish. Whenever a writer can construct a totally new world — with its own set of rules, its own fundamental logic — I am in awe. The way Christopher Nolan created and deeply understood every inch of his urban, surprisingly un-surrealistic dream world reminded me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s complete knowledge of Middle Earth . You might call him the architect of Inception. Making brilliant use of his talented cast, fascinating script, and $175 million budget, Nolan dreamt up a number of truly breathtaking scenes, each of which contributed to the movie’s  grand, epic tone. Three particular scenes have been on my mind (or is it my subconscious?) since I saw the film, and each impressed me for totally different reasons: (Major spoilers ahead)

The spinning hallway fight in shifting gravity

Quite simply, this was the coolest special effects sequence I have ever seen on film. With the car in dream level one tumbling down a hill, dream level two enters into a state of constantly modulating gravity as Arthur begins to fight with a projection. The two men run on walls, fall into the ceiling, and thrash at each other in mid-air. It’s like a mix of The Matrix and High School Musical 3‘s spinning hallway of despair. I found myself enraptured, never wondering about any of the actual effects used, which is the highest compliment I can give an elaborate scene like this. The crowd in my theater burst into a joyous applause at its conclusion.

The simultaneous kicks back to the “real” world

The editing in this sequence was on par with the editing in the final scenes of Lost–lyrical yet effectively narrative. Watching Ariadne (Ellen Page) and the others simultaneously fall, “kick,” and wake up as they passed through the multiple levels of the dream was a welcome relief after two hours of convoluted tension. It’s a testament to the skills of editor Lee Smith that a slow-motion montage could provide so much plot resolution, and the synchronicity was beautiful.

Cobb and Mal’s final conversation/confrontation

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mal’s (Marion Cotillard) tragic relationship was intriguingly written, though in the hands of less talented actors, their confused-reality storyline could have veered into the unintentionally comedic. Fortunately, DiCaprio and Cotillard’s superb, moving performances prevented that from happening, and grounded the complicated story in a much-needed emotional reality. DiCaprio used a sense of solemn detachment to convey Cobb’s relentless sense of guilt, while Cotillard’s restrained anger perfectly framed Mal as the movie’s love interest and antagonist. In their final moments together, I believed they were in love. I believed that they were heartbroken. Heck, I believed they had spent a whole lifetime inside a dream limbo!

What did you think of Inception, PopWatchers? Were you as blown away as I was? Which scenes impressed you the most?