Just about every year, brilliant movies are utterly ignored by the Oscars. The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Breathless, King Kong, Casino Royale, Touch of Evil, Caddyshack, Mean Streets, The Big Lebowski — the Academy has a long history of overlooking comedies, action movies, horror flicks, hard-boiled genre pics, artsy foreign films, and documentaries that aren’t about World War II. This year, we’ll be taking a closer look at films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.
The Film: The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in director Christopher Nolan’s massive, box-office-record-busting, heretofore-oft-Oscar-nominated Batman trilogy. Featuring Christian Bale as a broken down Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman), Anne Hathaway as the (kinda) amoral safecracker Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), and Tom Hardy as the (almost entirely) inscrutable masked villain Bane (a.k.a. Bahrjghalfragl) bent on destroying Gotham City once and for all.
Why It Wasn’t Nominated: One of the less explored ironies tucked inside this year’s Oscar snubs is the fact that the Academy chose to expand the field of Best Picture nominees to 10 in part because Nolan’s previous Batman film, The Dark Knight, failed to land a Best Picture nomination despite widespread acclaim. Four years later, The Dark Knight‘s sequel failed to land any Oscar nods at all. That’s doubly odd, since The Dark Knight did net eight Oscars nods in 2008, including Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Best Supporting Actor for the late Heath Ledger (which Ledger won posthumously). The work in The Dark Knight Rises in just about all of these categories was just as top notch as it was in its predecessor — even Michael Caine, in a less competitive year, could’ve been a Best Supporting Actor contender for his deeply affecting performance as Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred.
Of course, in 2008, The Dark Knight was also easily one of the year’s most exciting films, with an electrifying performance by Ledger and a propulsive plot that felt less like a comic book movie and more like an old school Hollywood urban crime epic. The Dark Knight Rises, by contrast, suffered from something of a death by 1,000 nitpicks, from snarking over plot holes to snarking over the twist ending to snarking over the inability to understand Bane (see above). This “death” still propelled the film to a $1 billion gross worldwide, so it clearly resonated with some moviegoers. But the movie nonetheless failed to capture our obnoxiously elusive collective imaginations enough to win over the stuffy folks at the Academy a second time. This year, it appears the record-setting James Bond spectacular Skyfall won the honor of being the Mainstream Blockbuster Worthy of Oscar’s Attention, earning five total nods, including for the Sound categories that Bane’s garbled diction likely kept from The Dark Knight Rises‘ grasp.
(The horrifying shooting at an opening weekend midnight screening in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater also likely took some wind out of The Dark Knight Rises‘ sails, though weighing the loss of Oscar buzz against the loss of human lives seems like a woefully frivolous undertaking, at best.)
Why History Will Remember It Better Than Amour: Listen, The Dark Knight Rises is nowhere near a perfect film. But it is a film with a great deal of complicated ideas on its mind, from the highly apropos tension between the haves and the have-nots to the very nature of heroism and self-sacrifice. In an age where big budget Hollywood entertainments are just as content to throw all manner of bloated CG spectacle at the screen — and in silly 3-D! — and hope you come away sated, a film that tries to grapple with real pressing issues while staging some of the grandest action sequences of the year — and in stupendous 2-D IMAX! — is a rare bat indeed.
Beyond all that high minded hullabaloo, however, is the simple fact that Christopher Nolan and his team have redefined just what you can do with a “comic book movie,” and have forced Hollywood to take the genre seriously as entertainment and, yes, art. Even the comparatively fantastical plot of The Avengers — which eked out a single nomination for its visual effects — maintained a patina of verisimilitude akin to the let’s-treat-this-as-if-it-was-really-happening philosophy Nolan first brought to the table in 2005’s Batman Begins. If Nolan’s credo of plausibility bit back at The Dark Knight Rises‘ less-than-plausible plot turns (really, no one is going to recognize Bruce Wayne in Italy?), that’s also a testament to the rigorous cinematic universe Nolan created in this trilogy — and our investment in it.