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State of the Race: Keeping ‘Score’

The Dark Knight Score Disqualified

Rejecting the Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard score for The Dark Knight is nothing new per the Academy’s usual protocol. Anyone with high hopes of bringing home Oscar gold often makes sure their ducks are lined up in a row. But if the film is a bit of a fluke and takes the world by storm it may go to Oscar and find itself not qualified for a few of their bizarro categories. That is why this is happening and that is why, for instance Waltz With Bashir isn’t going to the Docu race. Movies that just happen and aren’t planned to make an Oscar run leave many dangling, unresolved pieces behind – the right amount of screening time in advance, the right amount of producers on board, etc.

But what interests me more about all of this is how the Oscarwatching community is often divided on one big movie. You have people who doubt The Dark Knight will be nominated. I see that Kris Tapley, for instance, even though he’s a Batman obsessive and Nolan fan, doesn’t have Dark Knight in his top five at the Buzzmeter, which has currently launched (more on that in a later post). The Dark Knight is a risky prediction, to be sure. It could go either way. Funny, though, folks are writing about it as a tech-only nominee simply because the score was disqualified. By the way, the Buzzmeter has The Dark Knight at number five currently.

The Dark Knight is a oddball film that will require more than just its box office take to break the top five; voters are going to have to A) love it, B) not feel stupid voting for it. A friend of mine defines the Oscar voters as people who want to be well thought of when they fill out their ballots. That is, sophistication meets industry insider knowledge meets a bit of rebellion; no one wants to be thought of as easy lay sell.

I often get letters from people who accuse me of getting that wrong, that AMPAS voters really don’t care what people think and they vote with their hearts. But it really isn’t true because human nature dictates otherwise. We do care what the rest of the tribe thinks about our choices, otherwise why would we drive that car or use that cell phone? Our choices matter because they reflect who we are. Yes, they vote with their hearts too. They must really love a movie to give it multiple nominations. Will they love The Dark Knight, which continues to feel like, easily, one of the best five of the year?

On the one hand, there is an immediate reaction to it being a comic book movie, or a sequel. When The Departed was the big surprise hit of the year many people also thought it could never get nominated because it was a remake. These kinds of rules get broken all the time – it just matters whether the film is good enough. $500 million tells us people thought it was good enough. Are the Academy voters really going to say everyone else was wrong about the second highest grossing film since Titanic? It’s possible.

They won’t vote it in on the money alone. In Dave Karger Entertainment Weekly Oscar predictions article where he put Frost/Nixon, Doubt and Benjamin Button in the top three he also put Christopher Nolan in the Best Director category. If Nolan is a DGA nominee, Heath Ledger a SAG nominee, the costumes, art direction, cinematography, sound, sound editing are all strong contenders how far away can a Best Picture nod be? If it’s going to be one of those that nominates the director without a picture it would a Black Hawk Down scenario, which is also possible. But Black Hawk Down wasn’t the runaway phenomenon hit that The Dark Knight has been.

Also, in the past Best Picture nominees that weren’t period piece dramas often got there because of some technological advancement. What is the Dark Knight’s? IMAX. It might not be the first film to show on IMAX but it is most definitely the first film to move that technology forward in any significant way. The film has revived and excited the format, the industry and may do with the Oscars themselves. Are they really going to pull a John McCain and thumb their nose at technology like that?