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The Amazing Race: Is ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ A Serious Best Picture Contender?

The Amazing Race: Is 'The Dark Knight Rises' A Serious Best Picture Contender?

With the first wave of the TIFF line-up announced, and Venice unveiling their slate tomorrow, the promise of films not about explosions is getting ever-closer, even if we have to get through the likes of “Total Recall” first. So with the awards season just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to get The Amazing Race, our weekly Oscar coverage, going again. We popped our heads into awards season briefly after Cannes, but we’ll be taking a look at things each week from here on out, as the journey begins to the Dolby Theater.

But with the films in Venice and Toronto yet to be screened, it seems only appropriate to start with perhaps the biggest movie of the summer, and certainly one of the few major blockbusters from the warmer months that has the best chance of appearing on Oscar ballots. Of course, we’re talking about Christopher Nolan‘s “The Dark Knight Rises.” But will it finally be Nolan, and Batman’s, time for glory or is it doomed to miss out again?

There’s been a certain expectation for the third installment of Nolan’s bat-trilogy ever since the last film, “The Dark Knight” was released. That film got multiple nominations, and won, albeit posthumously, for Heath Ledger‘s performance as the Joker, but ultimately failed, even in a weak year, to make the final five Best Picture nominees. The snub was widely thought to have led to the Academy introducing ten Best Picture nominees the following year, in the hope of including films with more popular appeal, and 2010 did indeed see blockbusters like “Up,” “Avatar” and “District 9” among the nominees. And at 2011’s ceremony, Nolan picked up a Best Picture nomination for “Inception” as well as a screenplay nod, although he was snubbed in the directing category.

So short of the film being a disaster, “The Dark Knight Rises” was always going to be seen as being in contention this time around. And happily, it was far from a disaster. In this writer’s mind, and in that of much of the staff, it’s the superior entry in the trilogy and one of the best films of the year so far. Multiple nominations are guaranteed — it should have several technical categories such as sound, editing, score, cinematography all but locked up — and art direction, costume design and adapted screenplay are possibilities too, depending on the strength of competition. Hell, supporting nods for Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine aren’t totally outside the realm of possibility, even if we’d be very surprised if they came to pass. But picture and director nominations are less certain at this stage.

There’s certainly a feeling that Nolan’s due for a nomination. He can’t have been far off a nod for “Inception,” and we feel that, even if the film doesn’t make the Best Picture cut, he might end up being one of the five filmmakers honored this year, as much a recognition of his career to date, and his achievement across the trilogy, as anything else. “The Lord of the Rings” only won technical awards with Return of the King,’ at which point it swept the board. Like Nolan’s film, that was fantasy — a genre never beloved by the Academy, given a new respectability (and giant box office) by a master filmmaker — and given the last chance to reward such an achievement, the Academy leapt at it.

But it’s more complicated here. For one, the period trappings of LOTR, for want of a better term, perhaps made it seem more palatable. For another, the two previous ‘Rings’ films had both been Best Picture nominees, and at a time when there were only five nominations possible. And finally, many of the same arguments, in terms of nominations in recognition of the series as a whole, were made last year for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” and the film never got traction (although we maintain it’s at least in part because that film was a two-parter; a single film ‘Deathly Hallows’ might have done a little better).

It’s also clear that the shootings in Colorado last week will cast a long shadow. Warner Bros. already looks likely to delay “Gangster Squad” to avoid any unsightly links between the film and the incident in Aurora. Will their hearts — and those of the modest Nolan — really be in for a lengthy and exhausting campaign in the wake of tragedy? And will voters be able to get past the incident, particularly as idiots in the media question whether the Batman films might have inspired the shooter?

It certainly sounds as if the film wasn’t rapturously received at an Academy screening over the weekend, which was begun with a minute of silence from AMPAS president Tom Sherak. While it didn’t have a hostile reception, it was mostly indifferent, though many films have gotten nominations without wowing the crowd. And one member told Steve Pond of The Wrap that, “The film played extremely well.” But Bret Easton Ellis (who is prone to be hyperbolic) was there too, and tweeted that “there was zero love” for the film at the screening. It may be that, while it has many admirers, the Academy justs find it too chilly and cerebral for them, or it may have been skewed by the effects of the shooting. How long that effect lasts remains to be seen.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that Warner Bros. is particularly stuffed with contenders, at least at this point. In the second half of the year they’ll unleash “Argo,” “Trouble With The Curve,” “Cloud Atlas,” “The Hobbit” and “The Great Gatsby,” all of which have their eyes set on gold. If one of these — particularly the genre-leaning ‘Hobbit’ or ‘Cloud Atlas’ — becomes a front-runner, Batman’s chances could end up dipping.

But of course, the reverse is true too; ultimately, the film’s Best Picture chances depend on the other films that come in the next few months. As you’ll see from the inaugural edition of our Best Picture predictions chart below, which will run every week throughout awards season, we figure that there’s several movies that feel more likely to pick up a nod than Nolan’s right now. But if “Hyde Park On Hudson” disappoints at Toronto, or “Zero Dark Thirty” is delayed until 2013, or “Les Miserables” turns out to be terrible, or any number of things that could happen to any one of the films, “The Dark Knight Rises” will be better placed than ever. We’d certainly be happy if it was recognized.

The Best Picture Chart – 07/25/12

1) “Les Miserables”
That trailer that debuted a few months back made it clear that Universal aren’t fucking around on this one. Tom Hooper taking a Best Picture for two consecutive films would be virtually unprecedented (James Cameron aside), but the film could be a perfect storm of material, cast and form.
2) “Lincoln”
“War Horse” showed last year that when Spielberg’s in serious mode, only a fool would bet against a nomination, particularly with subject matter like this. But the word is that it’s more procedural than emotional in nature, which may stop it connecting.
3) “The Master”
The pre-emptive critical favorite of the year (most already seem to have decided it’s the best thing since sliced bread), this is likely to get in as such, unless the whole is unsatisfying. But can it win?
4) “Beasts of the Southen Wild”
What seemed like unanimous praise at Sundance has been significantly tempered, but this seems like the rare example of an indie picture that can warm hearts of Academy voters too. How it does when it expands wider (it’s at $3 million having never been on more than 130 theaters, which is damn good) will be key.
5) “Argo”
Looking like the key candidate for the kind of smart, grown-up 70s style picture that always seems to have a slot — “Moneyball,” “The Social Network,” “Michael Clayton” et al. Of course, we won’t know til Toronto if it’s any good or not.
6) “Life Of Pi”
A wildly enthusiastic response to this morning’s trailer, as well as that to footage at CinemaCon a few months back, suggested that this was a serious player — this year’s “Hugo,” in many ways. But it’s also a more difficult piece of material than suggested by the marketing to date, and is likely to divide people severely.
7) “The Sessions”
Fox Searchlight’s other Sundance darling, this’ll be a real player in the performance categories, but wider critical responses may be key in seeing whether it can make a play for the big prize. The crowd-pleasing nature of the film suggests it probably will.
8) “The Great Gatsby”
One of the major question marks of the season. A starry cast, serious literary material, lavish visuals — but was Baz Luhrmann the right man for the job? We won’t find out until November or December, we imagine.
9) “Zero Dark Thirty”
As a recent Best Picture/Director winner, Kathryn Bigelow’s certainly in the running, particularly with material as stirring as her Bin Laden film. But word is it’s more of an ensemble piece than “The Hurt Locker” — will that make it tougher to engage with on an emotional level?
10) “Moonrise Kingdom”
The indie smash of the summer finally seems to be tailing off at the box office (it dropped off by 50% this past weekend), but it’s certainly made its mark, and could be this year’s “Midnight In Paris,” in many ways. But Anderson has not been an Academy favorite before now — could this change that?
11) “Hyde Park On Hudson”
Academy-bait on paper — it’s a New York version of “The King’s Speech!” — but may have to settle for performance nods unless it’s a crowd-pleaser like Hooper’s film. We’ll find out in Toronto.
12) “The Dark Knight Rises”
See the thousand-odd words above. Could certainly rise higher in the coming weeks.
13)”The Silver-Linings Playbook”
Word from the footage screened at Cannes was divided as to whether it was a big Oscar player (many believe it’ll be an above-average rom-com at best), and the trailer didn’t convince one way or the other, but one shouldn’t count David O. Russell out.
14) “Django Unchained”
We’ve always suspected this was a principally commercial picture, particularly given the potentially controversial subject matter, and a Comic-Con slot seemed to back that up. But then, we would have said that about “Inglourious Basterds” too.
15) “Anna Karenina”
Looks like a difficult beast, given the non-traditional conceit at play. Likely to be a big BAFTA player, but may be too much of a curate’s egg, at least if the recent clip is suggestive of the whole.
16) “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
More negatives against it at this stage than with “The Lord of the Rings” — a less organic storytelling split, the sense of returning to old ground, that controversial 48FPS presentation. But given that the first three films have 30 nominations between them, it shouldn’t be counted out.
17) “Cloud Atlas”
We’d initally thought this might be too weird, but the book is well read, and the advance word is very strong indeed. Let’s see how it goes down in Toronto — the presence of Academy favorites like Tom Hanks and Hugo Weaving is sure to help.
18) “Amour”
A serious critic’s favorite (and Palme D’Or winner) in Cannes, it’s a film whose concerns seem to fall right in the average age of the Academy. But will that mean the film cuts too close to the bone? It’s got an uphill battle as a foreign film as it is.
19) “To the Wonder”
Malick did the Picture/Director nomination double last year, but can he do the same again so soon? The starry cast, and seemingly more narrative-led story, of “To the Wonder” might suggest so. But word is it’s even more ‘difficult’ than “The Tree of Life,” and perhaps more importantly, hasn’t yet landed a distribution, so it may not even be eligible this time around.
20) “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
Just as well-suited to the Academy, but far cheerier, the film’s surprise box office does put this in the running. But we suspect it’ll make way for more substantial fare over time.

Later in the week, we’re going to look at some of the potential dark horses of the season; films not yet on many prognosticators’ radars that could upset the race.

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