Superhero films often get a bad rap among AMPAS members. Not too many of them think any superhero genre film has pushed the boundaries of the cinematic scope to warrant any major citations. We often just accept that despite a movie being just freaking awesome and super entertaining à la Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) last year, there isn’t any feasible chance the Academy will recognize the mass popular film. Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 opened to decent enough reviews, no one necessarily bringing up the “O” word so this doesn’t really apply there per se but what about the other films that are scheduled to open. Better yet, how about the other films that have come before it. Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming Elysium looks like a visual splendor while Star Trek Into Darkness looks to capture the magic of its predecessor one more time. Not superhero films but genre films nonetheless that have an extra hard time being recognized no matter the quality.
When Heath Ledger was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his diabolical performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), there’s no real way of ever knowing if Ledger hadn’t passed away prior to the film’s release, would he still have had all the momentum and get the AMPAS love he very much deserved.
There are fanboys that will scream from the rooftops that it still would have happened regardless but this is the same group that despite the turn by Ledger, citation from the Directors Guild of America, and over $530 million dollars domestic box-office, still opted for Stephen Daldry’s The Reader (2008). Now, there will be some that will say, “it’s because of The Dark Knight, we got ten Best Picture nominees.” And while that might be true, who’s to say if it was a year of ten, they still wouldn’t have flubbed that up. I’d imagine films like Wall-E (2008), Doubt (2008), The Wrestler (2008), Revolutionary Road (2008), and even Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) would have pulled in a lot of votes. Don’t think there wasn’t a possiblility that Clint Eastwood’s double-duo Changeling (2008) and Gran Torino (2008) couldn’t have made an appearance. Do I think that Nolan’s film deserved that type of treatment of omission? Absolutely not. Nolan’s second installment of his Batman series is a courageous endeavor for the genre and even outside Ledger’s turn, Wally Pfister’s cinematography along with Lee Smith’s editing are top-notch. And of course, there’s Christopher Nolan’s direction. Even during that particular awards season when I was one of the only prognasticators on the internet not predicting The Dark Knight in Best Picture, I thought love would spill over enough to pull Nolan in for a long overdue Director nomination. AMPAS felt otherwise.
Down below, I discuss five instances (not TOP five) when AMPAS should have recognized a superhero film in one of the major categories. I’m sure you will have plenty more to sound off with and I welcome you to do so.
Since I brought it up, this is a good place to start. Nolan’s attention to detail and amazing ability to build cinematic tension has never been more spot on than when he took on The Dark Knight. There have been comparisons by many to Stanley Kubrick during his career and while I can see the similarites, I think Nolan is in a category all on his own. His dark temperment and thematically relevant films allow him to connect with a viewerin a way most directors are failing miserably at attempting. Even when he was bogged down and to a certain extent, held back by the studios when creating his Batman franchise films, he was still able to find himself. Realism and honesty are the two things lacking in superhero films and I mean gritty and disturbing violence with bloodshed that can make your lip quiver. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) was an attempt for that (a failed one I might add) and while I understand Nolan still needs to make a PG-13 film that will get his key demographics and their parents in the theaters, I await the day someone REALLY goes for it. I wish Nolan had that opportunity.
While I wouldn’t place Sam Raimi’s classic film over the likes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Closer (2004), in a year of ten, this would be a worthy inclusion in a Best Picture lineup. Raimi’s follow-up to the origins of our friendly neighborhood hero was a massively detailed and extremely entertaining venture incorporating a powerhouse turn by the underrated and underutilized Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. As someone who initiated a comic-book reading very casually as a teenager, there was a clear sense of homage and faithfulness to the series beloved by millions. One thing that gives Raimi’s film a significant edge to other films from the superhero genre is the surprising way I found myself UN-annoyed by the love story between Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Even with the greatness of Nolan’s Batman films, the obvious and gargantuan flaw with ALL the films is the forced and often times downright cringe-worthy love story he attempts to incorporate in his pictures. In this big blockbuster sequel, Raimi seemed to get it right.
As much as I DESPISE the train wreck that is Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, I couldn’t deny the vile and raw performance by the talented Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Reminiscent of Clive Owen’s Larry in Closer (2004), Dean Morgan balances the emotional connection between good and evil, and keeps the audience constantly guessing his motives. Not only does Dean Morgan deliver but his co-star and scene-stealing partner Jackie Earle Haley does a fabulous job as Rorschach. You can give credit to Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan as well. Still awaiting Mr. Morgan’s big breakout that makes him a bonafide movie star. He’s not quite there yet.
From a pure writing standpoint, the Nolan brothers origin story to Batman stands above and beyond any screenwriting work in a superhero film. While I adore Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and the dark and comical twist he infused into the Caped Crusader, deciding to have the Joker become the reason of Batman’s existence was a bit of a stretch. Jim Gordon, Dr. Jonathan Crane, and even the often forgotten Carmine Falcone were all authentic creations with believable character beats that the audience completely bought. While Katie Holmes and creation of Rachel Dawes stink up the joint like last week’s expired milk, you have to tip your hat to the duo for giving Batman a beginning to remember.
The protegé of Lana and Andy Wachowski delivered an outstanding breakout debut in the form of the adaptation of the graphic novel, V for Vendetta (2005) with Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. Darkly stylized and visually stunning, McTeigue’s direction mixed with the Wachowski’s philosophical and political script presented a terrific time at the movies. Weaving hasn’t delivered a better performance following his villainous Agent Smith in The Matrix (1999) and Portman is as consistent as always. As the film remains complex in a way that some find off-putting, those final twenty minutes of filmmaking excellence has to rally some enthusiasm for his direction. Right?
Include your mentions in the comment section. Looking forward to it.