Earlier today, the official Oscar campaign for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” kicked off with a website solely dedicated to the film’s Oscar hopes accompanied by Variety’s own cover of their daily issue , touting high praises and accolades like “potent, persuasive and hypnotic”, “epic and magisterial” “masterful filmmaking by any standard”. The cover itself and the beginning of this campaign raised a lot of questions for me, one of the most dominant of those questions being “what on earth does the word ‘magisterial’ even mean?”
The reaction to The Dark Knight Rises this past summer was one of the most profound things I’ve ever witnessed in the critical community. Of course the film was received with open arms from a commercial standpoint, quickly grossing over a billion dollars across the world despite being having its legacy marred by the unfortunate and horrific actions by James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado. However, the critical reaction to The Dark Knight Rises was “polarizing” to say the least. While the movie does sit at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes indicating a general warmness of critical reaction, for every critic calling it “the best of the series” there seemed to be another critic deeming it a “colossal disappointment” waiting just around the corner. I remember my own experience combing through the reviews for the trilogy finale, and I also remember the feeling of disappointment that came from realizing that the reaction to the third Dark Knight installment wasn’t that of unanimous praise.
As I said earlier, as a whole the film was regarded as being a “great” movie; If you asked any random person on the street that had seen the film, chances are they’d say it was “great” or use some combination of the words “amazing”, “terrific” or “awe-inspiring”. Maybe my own expectations for the film to be perfect and to completely fulfill every element needed to wrap up Christopher Nolan’s phenomenal story warped my own perceptions of the critical reaction and what the professional community was telling me I should think about a movie. Unfortunately, for myself and many other Batman fans across the country, the few negative responses were overshadowing the positive reactions because of our own unbelievably high expectations. Even though the positive reactions clearly out-numbered the negative reactions, many Batman fans could settle for no less than harmonious approval.
Thankfully, despite all the “odds”, I ended up loving The Dark Knight Rises. Upon re-watching the entire trilogy, The Dark Knight still stands as my favorite of the three, but TDKR definitely has its merits that are worth mentioning. Nolan’s never played with scale the way that he successfully did in TDKR, and those experiments paid off beautifully in the larger-than-life finale of the movie and the jaw-dropping action sequence that the film opens on. Christian Bale does his best work of the entire trilogy in TDKR, and anyone that’s seen the film will agree that Michael Caine has some utterly powerful moments. Of course, newcomers Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway also did tremendous work as well, defining the roles for themselves that would define other films if not already surrounding by acting giants like Bale, Caine and Oldman.
Upon repeat viewings, I’ve caught a few minor holes in the film’s armor; namely that going along with the story in the movie requires a few logical leaps of faith as daunting as Bruce’s leap of faith in TDKR’s third act. Those “stretches of credibility” come naturally with the shift in genre from the crime thriller that was The Dark Knight to the war movie that is The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan had to get us to point to point to point in the story so we could end up with the perfect ending that we received, and a result of that happened to be certain scenes getting cut, some dialogue being a little blunt, and a marathon-like pace going from scene to scene. As I said, The Dark Knight may be a better movie, but The Dark Knight Rises isn’t far behind, and there are plenty of triumphant moments to be found in TDKR like Bruce’s time in the prison or his first fight with Bane (or any of his fights with Bane for that matter) that still make it throughly spectacular.
But now the question really becomes this: What chance does The Dark Knight Rises have when February rolls around and the envelopes are opened? It’s a widely-known fact that the Academy’s shift from just five nominees for Best Picture to opening it up to five to ten potential nominees was because of The Dark Knight’s Oscar snub back in 2008. A Best Picture nomination for The Dark Knight Rises would (and should) really be Warner Bros.’s biggest goal right now. Films like Moonrise Kingdom, Argo and Beasts of the Southern Wild have practically assured their places on the ballot, and with heavy hitters like Silver Linings Playbook, The Impossible, Django Unchained and more waiting just around the corner, it’s already a crowded market. However, ever since the nomination change, there seems to always be that one movie that’s wedged into the mix that, while being a genuinely good movie, is obviously put in for a more “mass audience” appeal. Last year that movie was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and the year before that it was The Blind Side, which still baffles me to this day. If my predictions hold true, this tendency from the Academy will be TDKR’s saving grace. Not that TDKR isn’t a great movie worthy of a “normal” nomination, but this could be an easy way for the Academy to make everyone happy. And to be honest, no one with a history of watching Academy Award processions or knowledge of which movies they tend to reward can realistically expect TDKR to take home the top prize when Argo and Silver Linings Playbook are on the table and could very likely sweep the show.
If there’s any category TDKR is sure to find a home, it’s going to be the technical awards. Hans Zimmer was nominated back in 20009 for his work on The Dark Knight’s original score, and will likely receive similar love here. The same goes for Wally Pfister, who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 2010’s Inception, but will likely face some steep competition by heavyweight Roger Deakins who was snubbed himself in 2011’s ceremony for his phenomenal work on the Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake. With a film as huge as TDKR, I’d be surprised if it didn’t find itself nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects just like its predecessor. Because of the unusually steep competition in the male acting categories this year and the fact that Christian Bale already won his Oscar for Best Lead Performance for The Fighter, Bale is unlikely to be nominated for his work here. If Michael Caine was actually in the film more I’d make a call for his nomination for supporting actor, but as it stands the only actor left from TDKR that I could see possibly getting a nomination would be Tom Hardy, and that’s definitely a stretch.
Warner Brothers hopes to get TDKR noticed by the Academy are noble and aren’t unfounded in the slightest, but it’s going to be a tough climb. A nomination by the Academy for Best Picture would be a nice gesture towards a great film as well as a fitting tribute to The Dark Knight, but outside of the technical awards, I can’t say that the end to the Batman legend has much more hope for award glory.
The 85th Annual Academy Awards air on ABC on February 24th, 2013.