It’s not just the fanboys

Posted by · 6:10 pm · January 22nd, 2009

I had planned to write a full-blown rant about the numerous blind spots and errors of judgment in this morning’s Academy Award nominations, but at this point I’m too tired and resigned to summon up the necessary fire.

It also occurred to me that I should take some inspiration from the character at the heart of the snub that personally pained me the most: Poppy, the eternal optimist embodied by the luminescent Sally Hawkins in arguably the year’s finest performance. When she loses her bicycle at the start of “Happy-Go-Lucky,” she laughs it off and moves onward. I suspect her reaction to this morning’s disappointing news would be much the same — as ours should be as well. It’s not life or death. It’s the Oscars.

Nonetheless, given that I’m nowhere near as well-adjusted as Poppy is, I can’t quite let this morning’s proceedings go by without commenting on the major opportunity that the Academy sadly and short-sightedly let slip through its fingers. And yes, I am talking about “The Dark Knight.”

As I have stated before on these pages, I’m not one of the “Dark Knight” die-hards. While a stunning feat in many areas, I thought it had some critical flaws in its narrative construction and (occasionally) its technical execution that kept it at a comfortable distance from my own list of the year’s ten best. In short, I’m not a fanboy.

And yet, I’m dismayed that “The Dark Knight” has been denied a berth in the races for Best Picture and, even more surprisingly, Best Director.

Why? Because I recognise that Christopher Nolan’s film represents a rare confluence — alchemy, even — of achievements that only comes along once in the bluest of moons. Here we had a populist-leaning entertainment that was formally and thematically ambitious, grandly entertaining and strikingly beautiful, a showcase for both inspired performing and the finest craftsmanship the industry had to offer.

“The Dark Knight” meant something to people; whether accidentally or not, it took on a zeitgeisty appeal that had a wide range of audiences contemplating its political resonances. And in a cinematic landscape that rarely finds occasion to overlap the two, it united mass audiences and broadsheet critics in their approval. It was, in short, a bloody miracle.

So when an industry body like the Academy chooses to sideline such a work in favour of hermetic, middlebrow (not to mention less broadly acclaimed) fare like “Frost/Nixon” or “The Reader,” it both sets a curious benchmark for industry achievement, and sends a frankly hostile message to the public they are supposed to be serving. It doesn’t matter to us that you loved it, they’re saying. We still weren’t comfortable with it.

I’m by no means advocating blindly populist voting. For my part, I couldn’t care less whether the Oscar telecast’s ratings need a boost or not. Cinematic excellence and ingenuity should always remain the foremost of criteria for inclusion, and it’s the failure to acknowledge that that allows for such atrocities as “Mamma Mia!” receiving a Best British Film nomination at the BAFTA Awards.

But “The Dark Knight” had the credible critical chops to compete with the best of them. So, to an even greater extent, did “WALL-E,” a film celebrated by multiple critics’ circles as the year’s finest, and one that would have made an equally respectable (and for me, more personally pleasing) Best Picture nominee. Both films inventively expanded the possibilities of their respective genres and/or mediums, yet the Academy voters either believe that commercial success is its own reward, or more likely, still cling to the notion that adult-skewing drama is the most noble of storytelling forms.

What gives? In the past, the Academy hasn’t been afraid to reward broadly populist works, even ones whose commercial achievements signficantly outweighed their aesthetic ones. Passionate public support carried “Love Story” all the way to the Best Picture derby in 1970, as it did for “Ghost” 20 years later. Something has changed, with the voters now looking so stubbornly inward as they fill out their ballots that they appear to have forgotten who’s watching.

It would be one thing had they gone to the opposite extreme, filling the five slots with the year’s most challenging, boundary-pushing work, perhaps even looking to the arthouse and the international scene for inspiration. But they plainly haven’t: four of the films nominated represent comparatively safe, staid, traditional “awards fare” that, however finely executed in some cases, doesn’t have much to say to modern culture (or modern cinema, for that matter).

The fifth, meanwhile, will surely romp to victory on the strength of its visual energy, quirkiness and semblance of connection to the present day — and, in this field, deservedly so. But the question remains: if “Slumdog Millionaire” can be rewarded for its evident contemporaneity and broad audience appeal, why can’t “The Dark Knight”?




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72 responses so far

  • 1 1-23-2009 at 10:35 am

    AdamL said...

    But Guy, the KST snub was a million times worse than the TDK snub, was it not?!

  • 2 1-23-2009 at 10:45 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Adam: Such different varieties of injustice.

    Obviously I’m disappointed at the shutouts of Kristin Scott Thomas (which I saw coming) and Sally Hawkins (which I didn’t) — the year’s two finest Best Actress contenders, in my opinion — but that’s a matter of the Academy simply being unwilling to watch/seek out smaller, foreign fare. Frustrating, but nothing new.

    On the other hand, I would venture that the “TDK” snub points to an open contempt for popular opinion.

    You can’t win with them, it seems.

  • 3 1-23-2009 at 10:51 am

    red_wine said...

    Both are great films J, though I have some misgivings about Star Wars (I think Annie Hall was very well called by the Academy).

    Star Wars was truly ground-breaking in terms of Special Effects & its harking back to the Golden Age for a truly large-scale orchestral score. The 2 films taken together made a cultural impact in that they changed the movie-going habits of an entire generation and brought the word blockbuster into being. It was the starting stage of blockbuster mass entertainments. On the downside, these 2 films are also blamed with bringing about the downfall of the wild graphic explicit experimental auterish American films of the 70’s. For good or for bad, they made an impact I agree.

    Can you offer me a similar analogy for TDK? It seems it just made a lot of money. And including it on the cover of Time is purely an American thing, we in other parts of the world wouldn’t do such a thing.

  • 4 1-23-2009 at 11:05 am

    red_wine said...

    Guy, I too have contempt for popular opinion and would actually endorse it. All critics have contempt for popular opinion. They regularly massacre movies that are very well-liked by the general public.

    Its this 1 time that the lot of public opinion has fallen to a film which is actually good(TDK). Usually it falls to films like Spider-man 3, Pirates 3, Shrek 3, wedding crashers, night at the museum, etc. This might sound elitist but in 9 out 10 cases, popular movies (& books) are shit.

  • 5 1-23-2009 at 11:06 am

    bigherbs said...

    red_wine: “And including it on the cover of Time is purely an American thing, we in other parts of the world wouldn’t do such a thing.”

    True. In Britain, Mamma Mia became the highest grossing film in British History. It’s even nominated for Best British Film at the BAFTA’s. I guess it’s a far superior film to The Dark Knight.

  • 6 1-23-2009 at 11:10 am

    J said...

    red_wine – I would argue that TDK made the genre of “comic book” films a relevant piece in movie making. For a long time, comic book stories were relegated to over-the-top, action-themed storytelling. TDK changed the belief that these stories could not be told on a character-themed, societal level. I know this statement is cliched, but Nolan’s Batman films have been recognized for grounding the stories in reality. In other words, one could viably envision the stories and themes actually being possible. The lack of that ability (wether intentional or not) was always the knock against comic-based films. TDK changed that stigma. Jon Favreau stated, while filming Iron Man, the influence Nolan’s take on Batman had on his storytelling, for instance. In essence, TDK changed the genre all together. And, as a pioneer in comic-to-film storytelling, Nolan’s TDK will always be the standard.
    It also succeeded in making comic book films relevant to the entire movie going audience, not simply the “fanboy” crowd. However, I understand why Batman wouldn’t be as appealing, or resonant, to someone outside of the U.S. He’s way more nationally relevant, I would assume.
    A colleague of mine teaches a course in psychology at a prestigious university. He has now integrated the Batman/Joker relationship, and TDK’s overall themes, into his teachings. I would certainly consider that supremely impactful.

  • 7 1-23-2009 at 11:23 am

    Hans said...

    Red_wine, I actually agree with you on the 9 times out of 10 statement, but don’t forget that there is still that 1 out of 10. When The Big Threes came out summer of ’07, I was appalled at the exorbitant amounts of money these mediocre movies made. On the other hand, though, the summer crowd also embraced Hairspray, an excellently made movie that I for the life of me could not figure out it’s exclusion at most of the year-end kudos (93 on RT I believe).

  • 8 1-23-2009 at 11:34 am

    red_wine said...

    “It also succeeded in making comic book films relevant to the entire movie going audience.”
    I don’t know a single super-hero movie thats made below 500 millions world-wide.

    But I will share in your enthusiasm and hope that after TDK, better films will come up in the genre of comic-hero movies.

    But I have to say, impactful as those 2 films, they probably did nothing for their own genres. Space adventure(Star Wars) is still a marginal genre and I think it will remain that way for a long time. Ditto comic book movies though they are increasingly lucrative. Nolan is one good director working in the genre. But will the success prompt other big shots to dabble in this genre, Scorsese, Eastwood. And there only so many comic-heroes, eventually they will run out of them. Even you would have to agree that Comic-hero genre is the single most repetitive genre in cinema. The first part of every franchise is the same. Nolan & TDK were the golden spots in this genre, will there be others. And is the genre itself worth and capable of any further innovation. The genre will likely yield many flavors of the season, don’t you think the genre itself will hardly deliver any lasting towering classics of cinema(assuming you already count TDK as one).

  • 9 1-23-2009 at 11:45 am

    Ms. M said...

    People who focus just on the box office of TDK are missing the point. This movie was one of the most acclaimed of the year – certainly much more so than The Reader.

    If the Oscar voters aren’t in line with the critics or the public (ideally it should be a mix of the two), than who are they supposed to represent? Themselves, you might say. Fine, but why should we care what this small out of touch group has to say?

  • 10 1-23-2009 at 11:48 am

    J said...

    red_wine – that’s my point. That innovation continues with films such as Iron Man. Although not nearly as good a piece of movie making as TDK, it clearly followed in the “grounded in reality” theme. The point you make about Nolan’s films standing alone as acheivements furthers mine. Jaws and Star Wars are also the golden points in their respective genres. Many more have tried (Orca, any number of sci-fi films), but none have been as groundbreaking. TDK will always stand alone in this particular genre. There will be many immitators, but none will hold up.
    I undestand that most super hero films are lucrative, but TDK made over 500 million in the U.S. alone. The second highest-grossing film of all time (next to Titanic). It clearly exceeded its own expectations. I guarentee (which I don’t dabble in often ) that TDK, in 20 years, will still be considered a crowning acheivement.

  • 11 1-23-2009 at 11:49 am

    J said...

    Ms. M – Exactly.

  • 12 1-23-2009 at 1:17 pm

    Big Braveheart said...

    Big up Shirley! Academy are a bunch of boring
    bottlers who want to look good and sound smart to their pals. Jerry ” Oh, by George i voted for The Reader, i think it’s an incredible film” Roger : ” Worth a nomination? why didn’t you vote for The Dark Knight? – that was fantastic” Jerry : ” But it’s not what we go for here, it’s comic-book stuff” Roger : ” It’s all literature and i enjoyed
    it immensely, best film of 2008″

    Convo from Oscar function. Jerry Helmet gets rogered for his lack of imagination and lack
    of balls.
    Snub the snubbers!!!!!! Big up Roger!

  • 13 1-23-2009 at 1:20 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    Red_Wine, you absolutely killed yourself in everything you have said when you said that TDK is just like Spiderman 2, except the latter is more well rounded and less flawed. That proves that you are so far deep in the minority, which is still an understatement, that you can’t provide an logic opinion at all.

    There’s no argument that when you couple how the public viewed the film, and how the critics viewed the film, that TDK is overwhelmingly not only the most extraordinary of this year, put possibly this decade.

    And no, There Will Be Blood was not considered the best film of last year at the time. You really do, and admittedly so, close yourself up in those few sites simply because you agree with them most. Do you forget that NCFOM after all won the highest award for any movie last year. Not only that, it also won the majority of critics awards last year. Not quite a “Slumdog” showing, but clearly the most recognized last year. And that’s what I’m saying about WALL-E. Sure the people love it (not nearly as much as TDK though, and I’m not talking about fucking fanboys) and the critics love it, but I say wait a few years (if that long) and see which one is remembered more. And you, and many others, act like that the only reason TDK is getting all this buzz is because critics almost have to recognize it because it made all of that money. Well if you’ll remember, they loved it from the start. On his show, Richard Roeper couldn’t have praised it any more, and said at the time (before the box office numbers came out) that this film should certainly be in consideration for best pic, because he didn’t see how there were going to be 4 better films this year.

    And again, I point out how TDK supporters (not fanboys, that we have to put this disclaimer on every message illustrates the idiocy of the opposers) are told to calm down and quit bitching and accused of being fanboys. And then the person goes on to say how they hate the Academy for not nominating WALL-E and they proceed to go out of their way and find every poll or site that agrees with them.

    (cough) hypocrite

  • 14 1-23-2009 at 3:09 pm

    Chris said...

    Amen, Scott Ward.

  • 15 1-23-2009 at 10:16 pm

    red_wine said...

    Scott Ward, lets not bring the dignity of this site down by resorting to juvenile name-calling(cough or no coughs).

    “Do you forget that NCFOM after all won the highest award for any movie last year.”
    I guess you are referring to the Oscars since you mention the critic awards in the next sentence and no, I for the life of me never considered the Oscars the highest award.

    You manifest elaborate protestations against the use of the word fanboy. And yet you tell me that because I’m in the minority & don’t succumb to herd-mentality, my opinion is not logical at all !!!!! Where are we, in some dystopian society? I can think of no other word to justify such behavior.

    About those sites(aren’t they having their moment in the limelight), I mainly watch classic movies and pick the 20-25 best films from any year to watch. If you can lead me to a more creditable repository of good cinema better than those sites, please do so.

    “I say wait a few years (if that long) and see which one is remembered more.”
    Lets not make such sweeping statements which cant be verified. We wont be sticking around on this site for years to chart the fortunes of 1 film over the decade. But have it that way if you want.

  • 16 1-24-2009 at 10:07 am

    Scott Ward said...

    Red_wine,

    “I for the life of me never considered the Oscars the highest award.”
    That shows how you think. This is not a point up for debate. To use a hyperbole, even if you disagree with every single thing the Academy has done since 1927, that still doesn’t change the fact at all that they give out, and have always given out, the most prestigious awards in the motion picture industry. Just because YOU don’t think so, that doesn’t mean they aren’t (did you even see Kris’s post a week ago, where an actual member of BAFTA went on record saying that “the Oscar is the only award that carries any weight, ours is just a lot of shit “.

    Dude, you just had said that Spiderman 2 was a better movie than TDK. Saying that you are in the minority is a vast understatement there. How are we honestly suppose to take anything you say seriously after that comment.

    How many times have you been accused of being a WALL-E fanboy? Maybe you’ve been told you like it too much, but I’ve never heard the term WALL-E and fanboy connected in a sentence yet. And if you doubt me, go check any thread where there is a discussion about TDK (which has been close to all of them, at least it turns out that way a lot of times). You’ll see that any person who has defended the film, saying they think it deserves a nomination, another person comes on and tells all the fanboys to quit bitching. What do you think prompted Guy to title his post the way he did? So if we are all dubbed fanboys, how is that different from the people who preach WALL-E’s greatness to the grave? It’s not, that’s why there are a bunch of hypocrite’s on here.

    “If you can lead me to a more creditable repository of good cinema better than those sites, please do so.”
    Again, this shows how conceited you are. If I give you any sites, where do you think you get the authority to say whether or not they are credible? Again, just because you agree with something doesn’t make it credible in the least. And if anybody on this earth shouldn’t have the right to judge credibility, one could argue that it would be you (Spiderman 2 and TDK comparisons). And I say that because not only do I consider that comparison completely absurd, but so does just about every other single person. So how can you think you are the voice of dissent in any discussion?

    Of course I can’t verify that TDK has a better chance of living on. Can you not understand that that is my opinion? But, as I said (and don’t say that most people said this at the time, because I followed the Oscars diligently last year, and while there were people who said Blood was better from the get go, that was a minority opinion) one of my predictions from last year has already come true, while one is already knocking on the door (Zodiac). Just give Into The Wild more time. I may not stick on this site that long, but I know I won’t stay on here arguing with YOU that long.

    You can argue that WALL-E was snubbed, and you can post your sites all you want, but as Guy said, TDK snub was by far the biggest suprise (except maybe The Boss).

  • 17 1-24-2009 at 10:50 am

    red_wine said...

    In the first place you feel heart-broken that the Academy bumped off your movie and then you jump to its defense. Fine, the Academy can have all the prestige it wants as long as it does not have any pretensions of championing good cinema. And you can decide whether you want to love the Academy or hate it.

    Whats wrong with Spiderman 2? Its a pretty good movie, no? I compared TDK to Spiderman 2, another good sequel from its genre. Its not like I compared Citizen Kane with The Hottie & The Nottie. I never said Spiderman 2 is a better film, I just said more-well rounded and the poor film never had a following like TDK. Currently I do think both are solid comic-hero movies and do their genre proud.

    About the touchy Fanboy dilemma. Well, leaving the 5 that were nominated, about 500 films(including TDK) were not nominated and I’m sure all those movies have their own followers represented in varying quantities here. But fans of no other film were as savage and vociferous and as numerous as the fans of TDK. Also people refer to your kind as fanboys, because you by your own repeated admission refuse to think other people’s opinion as valid if they don’t agree that your film is best of the year. There is this huge movement, if you will, to get everyone to agree that TDK was 1 of the best of the year. Its not a Chinese sponsored site where any kind of minority is crushed and any dissenting voices are laid low. Its intellectual opinion. Many people thought it was not at all 1 of the best films of the year, including the 6000 members of the exalted Academy, whats the big deal with it.

  • 18 1-24-2009 at 12:58 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    Spiderman 2 is not a bad movie. It’s fairly enjoyable. But if you fail to see how TDK was so much more ingeniously executed and how it is working on so many more levels, then that is what I, and I know many others, would have problems with. You stated that “to me they are the same, it’s just that Spiderman 2 didn’t catch on like TDK.” Well I wonder why. You don’t have to be in agreement with the general critical populous on every single movie, but have you ever even considered the possibility that you just completely missed the boat on TDK? I highly doubt it. When so many people people see such mastery of arts and you don’t, I think that should at least ring some bells signifying a reconsideration of your thoughts.

    “But fans of no other film were as savage and vociferous and as numerous as the fans of TDK. Also people refer to your kind as fanboys, because you by your own repeated admission refuse to think other people’s opinion as valid if they don’t agree that your film is best of the year.”

    Of course no fans were as vocal this year. That’s because there was likely not a better movie this year (probably decade) that mixed art and entertainment. Making that comparison to every other film released this year is stupid.

    “Also people refer to your kind as fanboys, because you by your own repeated admission refuse to think other people’s opinion as valid if they don’t agree that your film is best of the year.”

    I don’t refuse to take other people’s opinion as invalid jsut because they disagree with me, only people like you. No, I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me. But when they believe that Spiderman 2 was on equal terms, I fail to see how anyone can back that up (I sure don’t want to take on the task) and if you can’t back your opinions up with something reasonable to argue about, then yes, we have some issues. And I quote know –

    “Thats the first indication that the fans of TDK are just sore that their film was snubbed and that their argument is entirely lop-sided and has no bearing.” Really? Are argument has no bearing and it’s lopsided? Again, it shows your skewed vision of things and more so even your hypocrisy (yes, no cough this time – and how am I bringing down the dignity of this site I point out your fallacies). That’s exactly what you are. You accuse me, among others, of rejecting people’s opinions because they don’t agree with mine, and then you you say that the arguments for TDK have no bearing. And why do you say that? The only reason is because you don’t agree with TDK supporters. So therefore that forces their argument into having no bearing. I don’t see any reasoning behind those claims.

    Also, you (and others) need to learn the defintion of the term “fanboy.” You say to me that myself and others are referred to by that term because we think everybody is wrong if they don’t agree with us. Well, what have you been saying about WALL-E?

    Again, I didn’t like WALL-E that much, but I realize that many, many people did. I assure you I have thought about it and thought about it, but my feelings haven’t changed. Maybe that’s how you are with TDK, I don’t know. In any case, not accusing you specifically, but we (TDK supporters) don’t tell WALL-E people to quit bitching and things of that nature. But more times than not, it doesn’t work the same way vice verse.

  • 19 1-24-2009 at 1:24 pm

    red_wine said...

    Dude, answer 1 post at a time and don’t revert back to earlier posts, how else will we have a constructive discussion(if we term this as such).

    If you think Wall-E is Razzie worthy, I will respect your opinion. How can I say Wall-E is the best film of the year, that is solely my opinion, all I am saying is that Wall-E is the most critically celebrated film of the year and you could hardly fault me for that.

    I am just making the case that since people seem to think that there should be a spot for critically acclaimed populist entertainment at the Oscars, Wall-E should always be the first candidate followed by TDK.

    As a gesture of good will, lets try out another site. Check out their 20 best reviewed films of 2008.
    http://www.metacritic.com/film/awards/

    All I am saying is that both Wall-E & TDK have made tons of money and have critical backing(the former movie even more so). If you want to go by box-office, TDK wins by a mile, if you wanna go by the critics and all-round reception, Wall-E wins by a mile. You can now chose which is a better judgment of quality.

  • 20 1-24-2009 at 4:32 pm

    red_wine said...

    Scott Ward, I wont be able to reply to you for a few days coz I’m going away for a vacation, but pray do lets continue after that if you still wanna keep up the discussion. My regards.

  • 21 1-25-2009 at 11:56 am

    Scott Ward said...

    Whoa, what the hell!!! I never said WALL-E was Razzie worthy! You must be looking at another person’s post. WALL-E wasn’t bad at all. It just that it wasn’t that great either. And in critical reception, WALL-E does not win by a mile. In fact I believe your link that you provided had it with more first place votes than WALL-E, it’s just that TDK didn’t appear on as many lists.

  • 22 2-17-2009 at 3:15 pm

    SlashBeast said...

    Dark Knight and WALL-E were the most ambitious and artistic mainstream films in YEARS. They are what future film makers should look to when making a summer movie. They prove mainstream films CAN be art.
    And yet the academy overlooks them for The Reader, which is an arthouse film that WASN’T that good or artistic, just because its indie and TRIED to deal with the Holocaust?
    This snubbing is effectively saying that mainstream films CAN’T be artistic at all, no matter what, and mediocre indie movies that FAILED at being good are somehow Better than mainstream art, and that’s a horrible message. WAY TO GO HOLLYWOOD