It's funny that you criticize the special effects of Inception
when they are so sparse in the first place. Nolan has gone on record saying how he views animation as something that somewhat hinders the viewing experience because as an audience member you immediately know it is not real. As in all of Nolan's films, and particularly the case with his last two films, Nolan has made it his mission to use as many practical effects as possible while augmenting them with special effects verses merely using CGI to create complete scenarios, locations, and characters.
For example, he went to great lengths to try and create or find as many practical sets and locations as possible. The anti-gravity hotel fight was done practically without any special effects at all-- a truly incredible feat especially after films like Avatar
completely resort to special effects in order to create its story and stunt sequences. Even scenes that incorporated special effects were first done in either a real location, like when Cobb and Adriane walk out of the ocean in Tangier which was done for real and simply supplemented with special effects, or were done with miniatures first, like the exploding hospital fortress. Some visuals had to be created wholly digitally-- like the buildings in Paris folding in on each other-- but that's something that really requires special effects and wasn't something that could have been achieved convincingly with either practical effects or miniatures.
I just fail to see how Nolan was or is becoming "fatally compromised" by mainstream success because he wishes to tell stories on a big canvas. He's maintained his artistic integrity by sticking to the type of cinematic credibility that he's obtained over the years and Inception
really just re-enforced that. Out of all the films that came out this year, Inception
is probably one of the most original which stays true to some old-fashioned filmmaking tricks.