Film Experience on the chances and challenges of the Dark Knight’s oscar bid

by Blair on Nov.25, 2008, under NEWS

Read the full article with comments over at Film Experience Blog.

Oscar honoring superheroes? It’s not as far fetched as it sounds.

When the initial awards buzz for The Dark Knight started it was entirely focused around the collective desire to memorialize Heath Ledger. Now, with the film becoming an indisputable phenomenon at the box office can the Best Picture shortlist be far behind? Assuming that the latest Batman film can or will be nominated for the movie industry’s top honor might sound like fanboy raving but remember: I’m not a fanboy and I haven’t been raving. I am however an Oscarologist. And I think it could and very well might happen. Here’s why…

Box Office + Raves
Oscar catches a lot of flak each year for preferring serious drama (not usually associated with a pot of gold at the multiplex) over audience approved fare like action films. Ignore for a moment all those pieces speculating that Oscar will be looking for more popular films to reverse their ratings decline… there’s no precedent for a sudden shift in AMPAS taste in order to cater to the public. Why would they start now? No, consider this possibility in terms of previous bonafide genre sensations: E.T., The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, The Lord of the Rings and The Sixth Sense are just a few examples of films that weren’t traditional fare that were nevertheless nominated for the top prize on a wave of critical adulation, public love, and zeitgeist hysteria. The Dark Knight fits neatly into that line up in terms of perceived quality, box office gold, and right film/right time impact. One could argue that Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2 had all these things as well but what Spidey’s films didn’t have was an overlay of the violently somber. Spider-Man played like most adult conceptions of comic books play: bright, colorful, funny, sincerely old fashioned and eye-popping. Batman’s pretenses to grandeur, its masculinity and violence, the dramatic heft –these are a lot closer to what Oscar likes to honor once you extract the rubber and capes.

The best precedents might actually be closer to Beauty & the Beast or Chicago. Both were films from genres that hadn’t been seriously considered for some time or ever (in the former’s case) but both followed up other sensations that had built up critical respect and public interest.

The Little Mermaid
prepared the water for Beauty and the Beast’s nominations, restoring luster to a genre that was previously dismissed as for children only. And the one-two-three punch of risky auteurial chutzpah that was Dancer in the Dark, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Moulin Rouge! (2000-2001) paved the way for the more mainstream friendly Chicago (2002) to actually win the top prize. Suddenly musicals were artistically serious and hot again. Chicago was a vessel through which AMPAS could nod their heads and tap their feet: yes, musicals are worthy of praise and statues (again).

Nolan + Their Favorite Hero
Unlike many other celebrated youngish directors, the Academy has actually been paying attention to Chris Nolan’s output. From Memento to Prestige to Batman Begins, they’ve thrown his films a nomination here or there. And they’ve always liked Batman more than other caped crusaders. Even the first Joel Schumacher effort Batman Forever was awarded with three nominations. It’s still hard to imagine quite how that one happened.

All of this is not to say that the Picture shortlist will be an easy get for Warner Bros and DC. Oscars are never easy gets. You have to work for them and you have to work smarter and harder than your competition. It’s a race with numerous wild cards and variables. The Joker would probably love its potential for chaos.

Potential Roadblocks

  • Backlash. Excessively praised and hyped films always generate them. There’s plenty of time for a real Bat Backlash (there’s also plenty of time for a backlash to the backlash to arrive to cancel it out. It’s early) and the er… drooling of fanboys (it’s as if the motion picture never existed before July 18th) might make all the relatively sane and well documented praise seem guilty by association in the minds of more traditional voters.
  • Heath Only. There will certainly be some voters who feel that honoring the late great young actor is enough attention for the film itself.
  • Franchise Fatigue. Even though Oscar has been known to honor unbaity phenoms, they’re not into honoring sequels unless they’ve honored predecessors. I suspect this will be the toughest obstacle for the campaign. This is the 6th live action Batman feature in the past 20 years. How will they make it seem like the only one?
  • Traditional Goodies. The Fall is hardly ever lacking in traditionally Oscarable flicks. They’ll have to pale next to this Batman vs. Joker hit.
  • WALL•E. The Dark Knight wasn’t the first pre-Fall entry to ignite “could it happen?” Best Pic buzz. Pixar’s latest raising of the bar has gone quiet in this week of Batmania but that doesn’t mean that cute little trash collector can’t still inspire the 6000+ AMPAS members. If there’s two non-traditional triumphs in the actual awards race come December, both from the summer, things will get more complicated for both once precursor season kicks in. This shouldn’t be the case of course (release dates shouldn’t matter) but it is since the critics organizations and awards bodies are all human and are easily swayed by whatever they’ve just seen.
4 comments for this entry:
  1. jake

    I think the hardest part is the sequel and the comic book nature of the story. It’s a great film but will academy voters honor anything comic book related? It’d be a first in their long history.

  2. fuckwalle

    Fuck Wall-E. Srsly. I mean its good and all… but if it takes down Batman, god help that little droid. >:(

  3. RT

    I think TDK has a chance. Didn’t they vote and won the second LOTR?

  4. Cisco01

    I’m going to say this right now.

    There are a number of valid reasons on why we should push hard for TDK to be nominated for at least the two major categories with Best Picture and Best Director.

    This is a just cause and it would push the negative biased opinions about comic based genre films away. If films like Gladiator, The Departed, and Lord of the Rings can be nominated and recognized, then TDK certainly deserves the same recognition.

    TDK is easily the best comic genre film off all time and it is DEFINITELY one of the top 5 overall films of 2008. This masterpiece of Chris Nolans is much more than just a comic genre based film….without a doubt. It had it all!

    The quality of the movie, its’ direction, the production, the acting, along with it’s critical and of course huge box office success speak for themselves! If TDK does not get nominated in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, then the Academy will prove that it has a serious problem.

Leave a Reply