Batman postsSunday January 25, 2009
Batman and Oscar: A History
I’m in the midst of writing an Oscar quiz for MSNBC.com — the fifth I’ve done in five years. It should be getting old but it’s not. Basically I look at the nominees, dig, find interesting facts, write the questions. I don’t know if this makes for good questions but it definitely makes for interesting answers.
The quiz will probably go up tomorrow or the next day but here’s a headstart on one aspect that I found fascinating.
Although “The Dark Knight” didn’t get any best picture respect, it did receive eight nominations overall — twice as many as any superhero film has ever garnered. The previous record-holder was “The Incredibles,” with four, but you can also make an argument for “Superman: The Movie,” which, in 1979, received three noms and one “Special Achievement” award for visual effects. I assumed this meant the Academy ignored visual effects until recently but they actually began nominating in that category in 1939 (“The Rains Came” over “The Wizard of Oz”), but for some reason stopped throughout most of the 1970s. Instead they just gave out these “Special Achievement” awards. If they’d actually done the nom’ing, “Superman: The Movie” would’ve had four noms as well.
Here’s a list of AA nominations for superhero movies, in chronological order, with wins in italics :
- “The Mark of Zorro” (1940): Original Score
- “Superman: The Movie” (1978): Editing; Original Score; Sound
- “Batman” (1989): Art Direction-Set Decoration
- “Batman Returns” (1992): Makeup; Visual Effects
- “Batman Forever” (1995): Cinematography; Sound; Sound Effects Editing
- “The Mask of Zorro” (1998): Sound; Sound Effects Editing
- “Spider-Man” (2002): Sound; Visual Effects
- “Spider-Man 2” (2004): Sound Mixing; Sound Editing; Visual Effects
- “The Incredibles” (2004): Animated Film; Sound Mixing; Original Screenplay; Sound Editing
- “Batman Begins” (2005): Cinematography
- “Superman Returns” (2005): Visual Effects
- “Iron Man” (2008): Sound Editing; Visual Effects
- “The Dark Knight” (2008): Art Direction; Cinematography; Editing; Makeup; Sound; Sound Editing; Visual Effects; Supporting Actor
Yes, mostly in Sound and Visual Effects, and mostly for Batman, Superman and Zorro — characters created before 1940. No “X-Men,” for example, despite two good movies with tons of visual effects, and, I assume (not that I know), Sound.
The main point is this: Despite a seeming defeat, “The Dark Knight,” and Heath Ledger in particular, expanded Oscar's palette.
One Good Cop
So one reader, Shen, writes the following about how Christopher Nolan helps break Batman’s usual vigilante-to-cop-to-camp cycle:
In Nolan's Gotham, the corruption of the police and political structure acts in a way so as to maintain Batman as simultaneous vigilante / institution. Nolan demonstrates this nicely even while keeping Gordan as a supporter, with the deep infiltration by the mob and other corrupt elements. Batman therefore simultaneously keeps his vigilante status (pursued by the “police” who are actually working for the mob, although this may be less effective with Gordan as commissioner now), and Batman as institution (he's the real crime-fighting institution, since the criminals know they can always plead insanity like in Batman Begins, or manipulate/bribe the police/DA to keep out of jail, like with the Dark Knight).
Smart stuff and all true. In an original draft of “Dark Knight My Ass,” in the section on the social changes reflected in the Batman films, I had a take on this but cut it for space reasons. If there are cops, why is Batman necessary? Different eras have different answers. In 1943, the cops were fairly incompetent. In 1949 they were merely understaffed and overwhelmed and so Batman rode in, like the Lone Ranger, to save the day. By 1989, post-Serpico, you have intimations of corruption, but only one cop, Lt. Eckhardt, is on the take. Sixteen years later, this situation is reversed: every cop is on the take, with only one good cop, Gordon, remaining. There’s an interesting book to be written about our attitudes towards cops as reflected in our films. Maybe it’s already been written.
My friend Adam also writes about what he considers some of Heath Ledger’s best work: his few scenes at the beginning of Monster’s Ball in 2001: “I remember at the time thinking, Jesus, who knew this kid was so good? I mean, to hold your own with BBT and do so with such deep and interesting character work — you could see it all back then.”
Michael Giltz on the history of Batman's opening weekends
There’s a good HuffPost piece by Michael Giltz on the history of Batman’s opening weekends. I know it’s a good piece because I’ve been doing nothing but box office and Batman articles for the last two months and even I didn’t realize the following:
Here's the truth: ignoring the Adam West quickie from 1966, the Batman franchise has released six movies. FOUR of them have set the all-time opening weekend box office record. The only two that didn't were the deservedly maligned Batman & Robin in 1997 and the acclaimed reboot Batman Begins in 2005 which made this film's success possible.
Don’t quite agree with the Heath Ledger graph. Sure, Ledger wasn’t a big opening weekend star (partly because his better movies, such as Brokeback Mountain, only opened on a few screens), but in death… Let’s face it, we’re a bit necrophiliac around here. We feed, we feed.
But Giltz’s main point I absolutely agree with. Everyone’s searching for an answer as to why Batman did well opening weekend but Batman always does well opening weekend. So it’s that, but it’s also how good Batman Begins was and how good the buzz was. It’s not just quantity (those 4,000+ theaters), but quality. If you build it right, we will come.
The Dark Knight: The smartest superhero movie ever made
In case you haven’t heard, The Dark Knight had a better weekend than we did. It brought in $158 million (original estimate: $155 million), shattering the Spider-Man 3 mark of, what, $151 million, set last May.
What does this mean? It means that The Dark Knight will probably be the biggest box office hit of the year. Only twice this decade — and never since 2003 — has a film scored the year's biggest opening weekend without being the year's biggest box office hit. For once, that film is a critical hit, too, unlike last year’s Spider-Man 3 (mixed), 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (mixed) and 2005’s Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith (mixed). Last I checked, Dark Knight had a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 84 on metacritic.com, which, for them, means “Universal acclaim.”
My review? Not quite that. I call it the smartest superhero movie ever made in an article on MSN. Check it out. Unless you came here from there, in which case you can check out my Huffington Post piece on Batman Forever.
Manohla Dargis gets it on with Batman, gives Superman the cold shoulder
Yep, The Dark Knight opens today. I've got some things to say about it (I saw it last Monday with my friend Tim at the Pacific Science Center's IMAX Theater) but it'll have to wait until MSN posts my piece on why the film is the smartest superhero movie ever made. Hint: It has something to do with this. Piece won't be up until Tuesday.
In the meantime I sit on the sidelines and read other comments. Manohla Dargis manages to write quite a bit without saying much about where the film goes, just how it goes, but she gets off some nice lines. She calls Christian Bale , “a reluctant smiler whose sharply planed face looks as if it had been carved with a chisel,” and who “slid into Bruce Wayne’s insouciance as easily as he did Batman’s suit.” She's also right on Heath Ledger, whose “death might have cast a paralyzing pall over the film if the performance were not so alive. But his Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once.”
She also calls the film “a postheroic superhero movie,” which isn't bad, but which I don't quite buy. A friend commented that the film has echoes of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, but for me a better comparision might be Angels with Dirty Faces. I.e., I show myself more heroic (to the movie audience) by being less heroic (to the movie characters). Does this mean postheroic? Could lead to a good discussion.
The Dargis lines that I truly disagree with are these: “Apparently, truth, justice and the American way don’t cut it anymore. That may not fully explain why the last Superman took a nose dive (Superman Returns, if not for long), but I think it helps get at why, like other recent ambiguous American heroes, both supermen and super-spies, the new Batman soared.”
Took a nose dive? At the box office? In 2006, Superman Returns made $200 million in the U.S., $391 million worldwide. A year earlier, Batman Begins, which she touts, made $205 million in the U.S., $371 worldwide. Not sure where the nose dive is. Sure, it didn't do as well as Warner Bros. hoped (i.e., it didn't do as well as Spider-Man), but it was hardly a disaster. Besides, for some people, including maybe me, the problem wasn't that this Superman wasn't dark enough but too dark. With Superman, I'd go for a PG rating to get the kids in. They went PG-13 and kept the 3-7 year-olds outside looking in. That's Supes' demographic.