Op/Ed: The Dark Knight - No Oscar? No Problem!
by Michael Doran
Date: 26 January 2009 Time: 03:15 PM ET
Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jennifer Hudson, Marcia Gay Harden, Mira Sorvino, Marisa TomeiMuch ado has been made over the last month about the Academy Award prospects of last year's highest grossing film and critical darling The Dark Knight, with Hollywood and even comic book industry "pundits" speculating as to the potential impact of a "comic book movie" finally being recognized with entertainment's most coveted golden statuette. The Associated Press published practically daily updates handicapping its odds as the pre-Oscar award season played itself out and the film racked up nomination after nomination across all categories, a seeming and usually reliable indication multiple Academy nominations were in the cards. And okay, we admit it - Newsarama was no less guilty of this than anyone.
But as we all now know, aside from the universally expected posthumous Best Supporting Actor nomination for Heath Ledger and a slew of nominations in more technical categories, The Dark Knight was shut out of any of the other "major" awards, such as Best Director for Christopher Nolan, Best Adapted Screenplay, and of course, Best Picture. And now with about a week having passed since the 'snub heard 'round geekdom', I'm finding it more and more difficult to shake a nagging feeling that's been sitting in a corner of my brain all along, which can be most succinctly summed up thusly...
So what?Marion Cotillard, Halle Berry, Helen Hunt, Frances McDormand, Emma Thompson Bear with me here. Despite what it may seem, this is not a knee-jerk response to an unexpected jilt… not an "I reject you because you reject me" defensive mechanism that lay dormant in my psyche since high school. And yes, it just might have been fun to sit through the war of televised attrition that is the annual Oscar telecast with a rooting interest in the 4th hour (though I was pulling for Crash a few years back). But the fact remains, as large a shadow that the Academy Awards casts on the entertainment industry every winter and into early spring … as obsessive the pop culture universe becomes over Oscar consideration, the "impact" a win really bestows on its recipients is debatable at best. Jamie Fox, Adrien Brody, Roberto Benigni, Geoffrey Rush, Nicolas Cage I don't mean to discount what's certainly a significant financial impact on Oscar winners, particularly for performers struggling in obscurity before their nomination and films that weren't strong box office performers before their wins. Oscar almost certainly means a bump at the box office for films still in release, much stronger life on DVD in whatever the case, and likely a [brief] honeymoon period for actors. But none of these factors really apply to The Dark Knight, do they? Christopher Nolan probably already has any number of blank checks waiting for him for any project he chooses to do next, and did anyone expect the film itself to make even one more dime in rerelease or home video with a nomination or even win? The idea was, that a Dark Knight Oscar win might be a game-changer in the eyes the public-at-large … that comic book-based movies would finally be regarded on equal 'artistic' terms as a genre as say biopics, period epics, or the Academy's most recent crush – low-budget, independent dramas. But as big a three month party Oscar season is, it is sort of the Prom of our entertainment-obsessed culture. Sure, it seems important at the time, it devours countless hours of attention, and fashion is a huge component, but in the grand scheme of things, what long-term impact does it really have? Are there any Prom Kings or Queens out there still riding on the coattails of their coronation? No Country For Old Men, Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Shakespeare in Love, American Beauty By now you've no doubt figured out the conceit behind the above italicized asides. These of course are all past Academy Award winners in five of the most "major" of categories - Best Supporting Actor/Actress, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Picture. And this is not to disparage the talent, achievement, or the careers of any of them. They are all arguably worthy of the honors they received and no doubt for them the recognition of their peers was a worthy thing in of itself. But besides being mostly all working (in the actor's cases) and recognizable, have any of these actors or films translated their win into anything transcendental? So long as comic book movies continue to be developed and made professionally (and last year the quality was unusually high for any genre) and the box office numbers are still there, films based on comics will be made with the reverence they deserve, and isn't that really the ballgame here? While, again, it would have made for a pleasant curiosity and maybe a more watchable ceremony, The Dark Knight's impact on film history or genre films at large wouldn't have been any greater with an Oscar nomination or even win, and it won't be any less without them. If anything, the mostly likely impact of the snub will be to further cement the Academy's growing reputation for pop-cultural irrelevance, while it continues to trade on the Red Carpet trappings of the whole affair. Still debating Oscar's impact in your head? Consider this… Cuba Gooding Jr., a dynamically talented actor who gave a star-making performance in Jerry Maguire and delivered perhaps the most memorable speech in televised awards history when the role won him his Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1997, made Boat Trip less then 6 years later. The point is, all things - even Oscar wins - have a shelf life. The Dark Knight, and comic book movies, will be just fine without them. Also on Newsarama: 9 To Watch in 2009: Comic Books