The Oscar game is an elaborate charade, a game, a snapshot in time that lives, breathes, writhes, flows, evolves and ultimately finds itself stuck in hardening amber for all time, only to be picked up years later and looked at with bemusement. Whether the BAFTA or the AMPAS believed that The Dark Knight is “best picture material” or not, cannot and will not change the inescapable truth that it is better than most of the other films released this year. That landed it at number 2, behind only Wall-E, on MCN’s collection of 100 top ten lists.
Duality is threaded so deeply throughout the film, beginning with the idea of what makes a superhero villain anyway – how they became rotten enough to “just want to see the world burn.” The Joker provokes people to reveal their darker sides, to succumb to the necessary evil that tugs at every one us.
Does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside for the love of humanity? No. Does it make you ache with longing or sob like a baby? No. Is it a meditation on life and death? Not in any direct way. What The Dark Knight is, though, is plenty. What it is great filmmaking. Bob Dylan writes that you can “feel the master’s hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.” In a good film, you can feel the master’s hand in every frame. Christopher Nolan has delivered one of those films that, if you see it enough times, you can see what a masterful achievement it really is. Perhaps one viewing, though, can’t quite cut it. It is in the details. There aren’t many working directors who could have pulled lifted this behemoth off the ground.
Christopher Nolan never set out to make an Oscar movie, just like Steven Spielberg never planned to make his shark movie and Oscar movie – probably Martin Scorsese never thought his Boston gangster movie, a remake, would be an Oscar movie. The Oscars are at their best when they honor films that weren’t designed to win Oscars but rather were designed to be good movies.
Scott Foundas wrote this about Nolan:
In making the transition from low-budget independent films to studio tentpole projects, Nolan (who co- authored The Dark Knight with his brother, Jonathan), has sacrificed none of his abiding obsessions. Like the amnesiac amateur detective who occupied the central role in Nolan’s M√∂bius-strip sophomore feature, Memento, the Bruce Wayne of Dark Knight is increasingly gripped by an existential crisis, wondering whether he is the hero or the villain of his own story. And like the rival illusionists of Nolan’s 2006 film The Prestige, the longer Batman and the Joker engage in their battle of wills‚Äîthe one confident in the inherent goodness of mankind, the other equally certain that man is but a savage beast‚Äîthe more the distance collapses between them. Triangulating their position is D.A. Harvey Dent (played with gleaming, Kennedy-esque righteousness by Aaron Eckhart).
That makes The Dark Knight sound like heavy stuff‚Äîand it is. But I should add that Nolan also delivers the kick-ass goods, from an opening bank heist √† la Michael Mann to a climactic episode of vehicular mayhem √† la William Friedkin. So The Dark Knight will give your adrenal glands their desired workout, but it will occupy your mind, too, and even lead it down some dim alleyways where most Hollywood movies fear to tread. By the end of this second installment in that rare franchise one hopes won’t end anytime soon, Batman seems to have less in common with his superhero brethren than with those old frontiersmen of movies past. Like The Searchers‘ Ethan Edwards and High Noon‘s Will Kane, he’s left to ride off into the darkness, pondering the uncertain destiny of principled men in an unprincipled world‚Äîas are we.
The better the movie, the more deserved the Oscar attention. But make no mistake about it, not being honored for an Oscar will have absolutely no lasting impact on the Dark Knight’s legacy. In fact, as was the case with No Country and The Departed, frankly the Oscars need these good movies much more than the movies need the Oscars.
If The Dark Knight is, in fact, nominated, it will follow in the footsteps of masterful genre films like The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Silence of the Lambs, and The Godfather I and II.
No matter what the Academy eventually decides, and they could opt out this time around, there is no mistaking the deep and lasting impact of this film. Said Ebert, “In his two Batman movies, Nolan has freed the character to be a canvas for a broader scope of human emotion. For Bruce Wayne is a deeply troubled man, let there be no doubt, and if ever in exile from his heroic role, it would not surprise me what he finds himself capable of doing.”
And then there’s the Joker. Writes Dargis:
No matter how cynical you feel about Hollywood, it is hard not to fall for a film that makes room for a shot of the Joker leaning out the window of a stolen police car and laughing into the wind, the city‚Äôs colored lights gleaming behind him like jewels. He‚Äôs just a clown in black velvet, but he‚Äôs also some kind of masterpiece.
Even if you aren’t inclined to the film, you can’t help but stand back and admire the one thing about it everyone agrees on. One bravura performance has driven many a mediocre film to the Best Picture race. Ledger’s is the most talked about performance of the year, right alongside Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. He’s in the supporting category but he’s owning this year and with him, his film should be rightly honored.
Why am I writing this now? Partly because the commenters who are saying “no way will this film be nominated,” or “it has to be a good movie to get nominated.” I’m also writing it because looking back at Globes and BAFTA history, it is likely to follow that the Academy, in all of their infinite wisdom, will overlook this film this time around. No one thought they would snub Dreamgirls the way did, but they most certainly did. So no one should be all that surprised if The Dark Knight is left off the list. The Academy will be echoing the Joker’s words back at us, “it’s not about money. It’s about…sending a message.”¬† It will be a message we get loud and clear. And it ain’t going to be pretty.
The Dark Knight, if nominated will probably become the first film to get the PGA and DGA nods, but lose the Globe nod, the SAG ensemble nod and the BAFTA nod but still go on to be nominated for an Oscar.