Thank you, John, for your dedication to bashing Inception. Your efforts and insights are truly appreciated.
I would like to take issue, sir, with your sense that you and Brandon are more agreed than you and I are. I would say that I see Inception's faults clearly, I'm just more willing to forgive them because I like so much more what is good about it.
As far as the dream levels are concerned, I would agree with you about limbo. I was a little confused as to who precisely was in charge there. My understanding was that because Fischer Jr. was hooked up to Cobb and Ariadne, that was why they were able to extract him from limbo. But that doesn't explain how he got Saito back, unless he actually didn't, and everything that proceeds from that point is because Cobb has become completely lost in his dream world. Which actually could be a good explanation of what's happening. Adrienne is convinced that the final scenes make that really clear. From the time they all wake up on the plane, the film does have a dreamlike quality to it. I think that the presence of Cobb's father indicates to the contrary, as well as a few other details, but I don't think Nolan wants us to think he's saying which is the case one way or another.
Heyyyy, maybe it's a "sideways flash"- that would just explain everything!
I also have a response to your criticism of the relative bumpiness of the various levels, but you noted that you didn't really care, so I won't go into it :).
I don't believe that the ending calls into question anything that's been established because Nolan has been careful not to establish any reality in the film. There are clues strewn about that could give one something to work with if they wanted to decide for themselves what's real in the film and what isn't, but even if we thought he was pinpointing a specific reality as primary, he plants a seed of doubt when (I can't remember who says it to Cobb, unfortunately) someone points out to Cobb that his supposed primary reality (guy on the lam trying to get back to his family, enemies all around, constantly on the move) is a little far-fetched in itself. Sounds a little like a dream or two I've had myself.
I think the difference between Inception and Memento is that Memento relies heavily on "the big reveal"- because it in an instant changes the audience's perception of what's been happening all this time. When you watch it again, knowing this important missing bit of information, it's a completely different film. In Inception, there is no such reveal. Nolan is creating a structure (a dream architect himself, if you will) that he's asking his audience to buy into, and because it's not resting on the success or failure of delivering that crucial plot point, he's taking the chance that some people (John?) will think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey. Which is why I think that Inception will hold up better after repeated viewings than Memento does.
Hey, I also saw The Box recently. You both have seen that, haven't you? Kelly's another guy (like Nolan, like Shyamalan) who will take a chance on tanking a film for an idea- or, in his case, lots of little ideas littered around all over the place. Southland Tales got mixed reviews, but I thought it was a beautiful mess of a film. I also really liked The Box, for which there is also not a clear consensus.