Oscar 2013: The Dark Elephant
Can Rises Go Where No Superhero Film Has Gone Before?
By Tom Houseman
August 6, 2012
Easily the biggest question everybody will be focused on for the 2012-13 Oscar season will be about The Dark Knight Rises. Will it be nominated for Best Picture? Can it climb out of the prison at the bottom of the giant hole reserved for superhero movies and become the first such film to score a Best Picture nomination? If you haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, that last sentence probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but don't worry about it.
There are three questions that have to be answered before we can accurately assess the prospects of Rises: will it be as commercially successful as The Dark Knight, will it be as well-received by critics as The Dark Knight, and how many nominees will there be for Best Picture this year. The first question wasn't even a question, as everybody knew that The Dark Knight would be a huge hit, and what limited box-office numbers we have gotten thus far have confirmed that. Will it be as big a hit as The Avengers? Probably not, but it will likely be either the second or third highest grossing film of the year, depending on how successful The Hobbit is.
(Note: I will not be discussing the impact that the events in Aurora, Colorado might have on the Oscar chances of the film, partially because it is impossible to speculate how the shooting might either positively or negatively effect the film's chances, especially so soon after it occurred. Mostly though, the thought of looking at a tragedy of that magnitude through the lens of something as trivial and meaningless as The Academy Awards makes me feel icky. Yes, my first thought when I found out that Heath Ledger had died was that he was at that point guaranteed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but the scale and horror of that shooting makes the thought of discussing it in an article about the Oscars unconscionable, even to someone with as little a conscience as me.
The second question has finally been answered, and the results are promising for those hoping for a Best Picture nomination for Rises, if not completely reassuring. While The Dark Knight scored a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 82 on Metacritic, The Dark Knight Rises managed only an 86% and a 78. It is hard to find people stepping up to declare Rises superior to The Dark Knight, with even the most glowing reviews finding it comparable in quality, or even lagging slightly behind its predecessor. Depending on the success of The Hobbit, Rises might not be able to claim that it is either the highest grossing or best reviewed Best Picture contender.
But the big question, the one that will truly determine the Oscar chances of Rises, is how many Best Picture nominees there will be. The Academy has not yet announced this important decision, and they might very well go back to having only five nominees if they determine that last year's system did not achieve the desired results. For those who cannot remember, under last year's rules any film that received at least 5% of the total number of first-place votes (or approximately 275 first-place votes) was eligible to be nominated for Best Picture, with at least five films guaranteed a spot and no more than ten films allowed into the race.
If the Academy reverts to their old five-film field, I can confidently predict that The Dark Knight Rises will not be a nominee. If they decide to go back to having ten guaranteed nominees, the chances of Rises are extremely good, but this scenario is highly unlikely. If, as I think most people are assuming, they decide to go with a “flex field” for the second year in a row, then the situation is far more nebulous. Would Rises find success in such a race? It is hard to say.