Sunday, 26 August 2012

Oscar Season Ponderings: "The Dark Knight Rises" and The Superhero Barrier

The superhero genre may be the last barrier that needs to be broken in terms of the academy awards. Despite being critically acclaimed, films like Spider-Man 2 and even The Dark Knight have failed to snag Best Picture nominations. Though to be fair, Christopher Nolan's first two Batman films have a combined nine Oscar nominations, eight of those belonging to The Dark Knight, including wins for Heath Ledger's iconic turn as the Joker as well as sound editing. Ledger's performance was rightly honoured but The Dark Knight missing out on both Best Director and Best Picture nominations and were perceived as snubs in many circles. Some feel the Academy's decision to expand the Best Picture field to ten nominees was in response to the criticisms regarding the film not getting a nomination, or at least to allow genre films like The Dark Knight to get a nomination. The following year the sci-fi film District 9 actually received a Best Picture nomination and Nolan's next film Inception, another sci-fi film, received a nomination for Best Picture.

Now the final film of Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, has been released to strong critical support. The question is, can The Dark Knight Rises be the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination? While I can't say it's a done deal but I do feel it has a chance. Why I feel it has a chance can be boiled down to a few select reasons. First, the expanded Best Picture field allows for films that may have got lost in the shuffle if there were only five nominees. Even if the film doesn't score directing or acting nominations, it could still score a nomination, similar to Inception.

Second, while The Dark Knight Rises still has a guy dressed up in a bat suit, it's not as self-consciously "comic booky" as The Avengers or even The Amazing Spider-Man, which actually takes some inspiration from Nolan's Batman Begins. Not that "comic booky" is a bad thing, just that it may turn off certain members of the academy who may not be enamoured with the superhero genre. The Dark Knight Rises, similar to the previous film, is stripped down and more stylistically realistic, which allows it to just exist as a movie about a city unconsciously living a lie and an outside terrorist force using economic crisis as a means to divide the city before destroying it. It's not that The Avengers or The Amazing Spider-Man can't be enjoyed as standalone movies, just that The Dark Knight Rises may allow certain academy members to put aside their biases and see how Nolan's universe relates and parallels our own world.

Then there's Nolan as a possible Best Director contender. While Nolan has received nominations for his screenwriting on Memento and Inception he has yet to be nominated for Best Director. If there's any feeling among the academy that he's overdue, it could lead to him getting nominated and that may also go hand in hand with votes for a Best Picture nomination.

The Lord of the Rings is usually brought up in situations like this, with this being the final film of Nolan's trilogy. The final Lord of the Rings film won Best Picture and that is usually seen as the academy honouring the entire trilogy. The Lord of the Rings, however, had received Best Picture nominations for the first two films in the trilogy, while Batman Begins and The Dark Knight did not. The academy really has to be brought on board in terms of this being the final film and the culmination of a very epic and ambitious saga. Warner Bros., which has produced all the Batman films since Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, definitely has to campaign hard for this film.  Unfortunately, something's telling me The Dark Knight Rises may be the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 of this year: the solid and satisfying finale that won't get honoured due to there not being enough academy support for the franchise leading up to the finale.

The superhero genre is still the final barrier in terms of getting a Best Picture nomination. This is not to say a film has to receive Oscar nominations to be considered a great or important film. Nolan's trilogy stands pretty tall amongst the superhero genre and getting or not gettng a Best Picture nomination won't change that. It'd be nice to for the film to be among the Best Picture nominees this year especially since it's a film of the moment and the ideal Oscars are always ones where the nominated films represent how filmmakers are interpreting the era we live in.

I'm not certain The Dark Knight Rises deserves a nomination for Best Picture over some of the films coming out this fall but I feel it still deserves consideration due to how it ties together all the themes and ideas of the previous two films in a cohesive and exciting and yet ambitious way- as well as its ambition and willingness to create a blockbuster entertainment that can be both grim and terrifying as well as being a thrilling action epic.

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