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Does ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Deserve an Oscar?

The Dark Knight Rises
Warner Bros.

The Dark Knight Rises‘ heralds the end of the summer film season as we leave the big blockbusters behind and look forward to the serious awards contenders of the fall and winter. But is Christopher Nolan‘s conclusion to the trilogy worthy of an Oscar, or are we taking our wishful thinking a little too seriously?

THR has a piece that speculates the Oscar hopes for ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ which is a fine end to a trilogy, though many argue that trilogy peaked with Heath Ledger’s Joker in ‘The Dark Knight.’ The latter of which caused such a noticeable commotion when it didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for best picture in 2009 that the Academy expanded the category to accommodate as many as 10 nominees — a number that allows for the inclusion of films that may have been eliminated from consideration previously due to nitpicking or the splitting of the tiniest of hairs.

When considering the Oscar hopes for ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ the THR calls into question the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, where a man opened fire on an audience during a midnight screening of the film, killing 12 people and injuring several more. Would the Academy feel as though the film is now stigmatized? Doubtful.

Even considering the possibility that the Aurora shooting would have a negative impact on the Oscar chances of a film is both specious and opportunistic. It also presumes that the Academy’s voting body would not weigh the merits of the film more seriously. But does ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ have enough to merit a nomination, let alone a victory? And while it would be a major achievement for a film based on comic books to win an Oscar, can the Academy look past the origin of the character and ignore the superhero costume? Not likely.

While ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is certainly a very good film, it’s hardly Nolan’s best or most masterful. There’s hints of his other, better work littered throughout the film; from the opening scene in an aircraft that goes topsy-turvy and calls to mind ‘Inception’ (which was nominated for eight Oscars and took home four) to his now predictable rhythm that evokes ‘The Prestige,’ the film in which it could be argued that Nolan established the structure and tone that has made his films so successful.

The other issue at hand is that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is the end of a trilogy, which inevitably inspires comparisons to the previous installments. Is Tom Hardy‘s Bane a worthy villain to follow Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker? Moreover, are Nolan’s conclusions to the arcs of each of the key characters — Batman/Bruce Wayne, Alfred and Gordon — indicative of someone just trying to tie up loose ends from previous films, or are they poignant enough to stand alone? Can we consider the pros and cons without weighing them against ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’? When you approach it this way, those two films become the first two acts in a complete vision. A film that operates as part of a trilogy or saga should merit independent discussion as well as discussion of the series as a whole. Can we view ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ as part of a whole and a film all its own?

It’s a bit early to speculate the Oscar chances for this film when awards season has hardly begun, but we seem to take into consideration Nolan’s career as a whole — just as much as we consider his previous Batman films when discussing ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ — instead of focusing on this one film and whether or not it is worthy of nomination. Nolan’s talent is hardly debatable, but the desire to discuss Oscar contention in regards to this film reads as little more than knee-jerk, fanboy hopefulness — though it comes from a positive, supportive place. We all want our favorite directors and films to succeed and win awards so that others may finally understand that we were onto something when we sang their praises all year long, as if we were clued into something that others were not.

There are five months of films left this year, which means we still have several Oscar contenders on the horizon, including — inevitably — Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master.’ How can we say ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ deserves a best picture nomination when it’s likely we haven’t even seen the best pictures yet?

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