Oscar 8-Ball: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

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Will the actors and filmmakers from your favorite movie be making room on their mantels this award season? Or will they be watching the Oscars from afar? Throughout the coming months, Gold Standard columnist Glenn Whipp will assess the chances of the films in contention by consulting ... the Oscar 8-Ball.

The Oscar mythology surrounding Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies is almost as outsized as the legend of the Caped Crusader himself. When Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” failed to score one of the five best picture nominations in 2009, fans, costumed and otherwise, decried the academy’s lack of taste, hurling charges of elitism, know-nothingness and the like. (“Highly illogical?” You betcha, they charged.) The next year, the academy opened up the best picture race to 10 movies, paving the way for the likes of the sci-fi thriller “District 9” and, in 2011, Nolan’s “Inception.” The geeks had won, right?

Though the academy has since revised the best picture nomination process -- moving from a fixed set of 10 to a variable slate that allows up to 10 nominees -- many figured the time was right this year to honor “The Dark Knight Rises,” the concluding entry in Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. That Oscar voters have been historically averse to comic book movies didn’t matter. Academy members would remember the prior backlash and, working through their shame, do the right thing.


Then the Aurora, Colo., tragedy occurred and, in its wake, “The Dark Knight Rises” faced an additional hurdle with voters.

“Oscar ballots are statements,” one awards season campaigner told us last month. “Votes for movies like ‘Milk’ and ‘The Kids Are All Right’ reflect both the quality of the movies and what they’re saying about our world. Like it or not, for many people, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is at the heart of a systemic problem of Hollywood producing violence. Supporting that kind of movie isn’t a statement many academy members are going to be eager to make.”

So how might voters honor “The Dark Knight Rises”? We consult the Oscar 8-Ball for answers ...

Very doubtful: In addition to the factors already mentioned, there’s also the sense that “The Dark Knight Rises” simply wasn’t as good as its predecessor. The difference in the movies’ Metacritic ratings is slight -- “The Dark Knight” scored an 82; “Rises” came in at 78 -- but a fair number of critics (and academy members) have noted that “Rises” took Nolan’s penchant for self-seriousness and speechifying to unfortunate extremes, all without the gonzo presence of Heath Ledger to liven up the proceedings. The film’s pervasive sense of dread may have been appropriate to the material, but the numbing effect it produced will not win it many friends among older academy members. As it stands, prospects for the picture and its director stand as bleak as Hans Zimmer’s ear-pounding score.

Outlook not so good: “She’s spectacular. I got a chance to see Batman, and she was the best thing in it. That’s just my personal opinion.” Many agree with President Obama’s assessment of Anne Hathaway’s turn as Catwoman. Problem is, Hathaway has a supporting role in another movie this year (“Les Miserables”) that will likely have voters singing a different tune.

There’s also some mild support behind Michael Caine’s rheumy turn as Alfred, but, despite a couple of nicely delivered monologues, he’s just not in the movie enough to make a strong impression.


Reply hazy, try again: Cinematographer Wally Pfister has been the only member of the franchise to be twice-nominated. There’s no disputing the quality of his work in “Rises,” but a three-peat will be complicated both by competition (“The Master,” “Life of Pi” and “Lincoln”) and the movie’s overall diminished prospects. It wouldn’t be an unwelcome surprise, though, to see Pfister (who won the Oscar for “Inception”) return.

Signs point to yes: “The Dark Knight” scored noms for visual effects and both sound categories, winning for sound editing. We’d figure all three could return. Then again, the number of people noting the problem understanding Tom Hardy’s masked Bane character could dent its chances in the mix arena. Nolan’s response to the complaints about muffled dialogue -- that it was “OK for a moviegoer not to understand what was said at times, as long as the overall idea was conveyed” -- could serve as a nice epitaph for a series that, for a good many academy members, too often traded on mood at putting across substantive ideas. Oscar voters appreciate a little hand-holding now and then, a gesture Nolan isn’t inclined to offer.


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