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Oscar Watching: Will THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Be a Major Oscar Contender?

Before heading into this Oscar-focused analysis of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, I’d like to take some time to remember all lives directly affected by the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, where James Holmes killed and injured people who attended a midnight screening of the film on its opening night.

It might seem frivolous to discuss the awards possibilities of Rises at this time, with such a tragic murder – one that will forever be tied to almost any conversation about the film – taking place less than a week ago. This tragedy certainly isn’t something to take lightly, as it has taken lives, physically injured others, and emotionally scarred even more.

Since hearing about Holmes’ actions just days ago, it’s been difficult to write about film in any capacity, whether it’s something about the Oscars, a film critique, or even something pertaining to film news. However, my decision to go ahead with this week’s Oscar Watching was one that was made carefully and, hopefully, correctly.

To quote our very own Gabriel Ruzin and his piece “On Film in the Wake of the Aurora Century 16 Tragedy”:

“You can’t control the world around you, so just live. Don’t live in fear because of one hateful little man. Live to create. Live to share. Live to love. If you love movies as I do, don’t let one asshole prevent you from loving it still.”

We can’t simply let life pass us by, as we never know what might happen in the near future. We need to do the things we love and not let Holmes’ murderous rampage get the best of us. To that end, here’s how The Dark Knight Rises might factor into the Oscar season later this year.

In a poll from Gold Derby – to which over a thousand individuals have responded – more than sixty percent believe it will be a Picture nominee, with more than a third of that group thinking it’ll win. On a similar note, David Germain of Associated Press states that Nolan’s third and final installment to his Batman trilogy “probably has the best chance ever for a superhero film to rise into the best-picture mix at February’s Oscars.”

He goes on to say that “Hollywood likes sending finales out with a lovely door-prize,” citing Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and its conclusion, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, as an example. However, that’s the only franchise finale to take the Academy’s top prize, and the trilogy is one of only two in which all installments earned Picture nominations. The other trilogy is Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather saga: its first two films actually won Picture in their respective years, while its final installment earned nominations for Picture, Director, and five other races despite shaky reception.

Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films hasn’t been so fortunate: 2005’s Batman Begins only earned Academy recognition for its cinematography, and while its follow-up, 2008’s The Dark Knight, picked up two wins – including one for the late Heath Ledger’s supporting performance as The Joker – and six additional nominations, it failed to earn nominations in Picture, Director, or Screenplay.

The series earned more attention for its second installment than its first, but much of that attention can be attributed to Ledger. That, in short, is why Rises might not have a better chance of Picture recognition than Knight did: it has no Ledger equivalent. The film boasted frontrunner status in at least one major race, and the film was consequently in the conversation for bigger Oscar attention. This film has no such guarantee, and therefore, its status as an Oscar contender right now is far less solidified.

So, why is there so much pre-season buzz for Rises? Well, despite its eventually disappointing run at major Oscar recognition, Knight did quite well on the precursor circuit. The film earned top nominations from the Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, and Broadcast Film Critics Association. The film also took the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s runner-up prizes for Picture and Director and was named one of the year’s best films by both the American Film Institute and National Board of Review.

After Knight’s snub, the Academy expanded the Picture race include ten nominees. The decision is often seen as a direct reaction to outrage over this one film, and many Oscar watchers see Rises as a surefire Picture contender for that reason. For the film to make the cut with races like Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, it needs the same precursor attention that Knight received and then some.

Knight itself was ignored by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globe for Motion Picture Drama), and Screen Actors Guild (Ensemble Cast). If those groups embrace Rises in addition to the other groups, then the film might actually score some major Oscar recognition.

Even if the film disappoints as an awards contender in itself, big blockbusters can often bolster their actors to receive awards buzz for other projects. As such, Rises might have an indirect impact on the Oscars with supporting players Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway earning nominations for other films.

Cotillard leads Jacques Audiard’s French-language drama De rouille et d’Os (Rust and Bone) alongside Matthias Schoenaerts and might finally find herself with her second Actress nomination. Gordon-Levitt also has a turn in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a biopic in which Daniel Day-Lewis plays the titular POTUS and Sally Field stars as his wife. With his role as the couple’s son Robert Todd, he might receive some Supporting Actor attention for his performance.

In the Western drama Lawless, Hardy plays one of the three bootlegging Bondurant brothers. Like De rouille, the film premiered at Cannes, and while the film lost tons of steam thanks reception that was more middling than expected, he might still make an impression on the awards circuit. By most accounts, Hathaway’s the sight-unseen Supporting Actress frontrunner for Les Misérables. Her turn in Rises only helps her case, but on the off-chance that she goes Lead for Misérables in a weak Actress field, she might be in Supporting Actress contention for her turn as Catwoman.

Read more Oscar Watching columns here.

Addendum: Though 2008’s The Dark Knight was not recognized by the Screen Actors Guild in Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the stunt coordinators and performers did win the group’s award for Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture.

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The Author

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren loves the wonderful world of film and all that comes with it. He specifically loves long takes, fabulous actresses, and keeping up with the Oscar season - even when it's far too early to make sense of anything.