The oddest people pop up here and there in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, from Aidan Gillen (of Queer as Folk, The Wire) to Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom) to Burn Gorman (of Torchwood, The Hour). In fact, playing “who is that actor, I know I’ve seen him someplace before” actually became one of the greatest pleasures in watching the movie. For the record, The Dark Knight Rises is better than The Amazing Spider-Man, but not as good as The Avengers, and kind of, sort of feels like a franchise running out of steam. The first half is filled with a lot of talk. A lot of talk. I mean, a whole lot of it. And all of the philosophical sort. While this sort of tete a tetes between characters gave The Dark Knight a certain excitement (I can still remember the conflicts over whether the existence of a Batman was a good or bad idea and what the existence of the Joker meant in all it), here the arguments tended to fall flat, leaden down by a certain banality. I quickly discovered that during most of it, if I looked around at the audience and studied the lighting fixtures on the ceiling, the time passed more quickly and I didn’t miss a thing when it came to plot. As you can tell, The Dark Knight Rises didn’t really work for me. It wasn’t a totally loss. There were some excellent performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake, an ambitious police officer who was an orphan like Bruce Wayne. Anne Hathaway was tres, tres amusement as Catwoman and enlivened every scene she was in (delivering her lines with a claw like emphasis—though I do wish she would gain a few pounds). Marion Cotillard also acquitted herself well in a role that didn’t allow her to do much for most of the movie. But the big problem came down to the performances of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Tom Hardy as the bad guy du jour Bane—neither of which were the actors’ fault. The authors here (director Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer) have never been able to make Bruce Wayne nor his alter ego remotely interesting. What the character had in money, he always seemed to severely lack in personality. Hardy had a different problem. He wasn’t just hampered by a mask that hid his mouth (his most endearing feature), as well as prevented him from visually sharing his emotions (and also made it difficult to understand what he was saying—well, that wasn’t the mask, that was the sound engineers, I suppose). He also played a character whose motivation for his actions were never very convincing and never made a lot of sense for most of the movie, and, to speak the truth and shame the devil, his bad guy just didn’t come near the complexity, power and evilness of the Joker. There are a couple of big surprises at the end, both of which are fairly obvious about half way through the film, if not sooner. And for me, the scenes that would have interested me the most, that would have given the movie that something more, were never fully dramatized—what Manhattan would look like under a fascist dictatorship run by a group of criminals. In fact, this whole section never really made a great deal of sense to me. Bane has said he is going to set off a nuclear weapon on an exact day, but no one seems to act like it. It feels like one of these brilliant ideas that was never used to its utmost advantage. In fact, the whole movie seemed rather tame in comparison to The Dark Knight. The violence seemed less cruel and capricious; whether it did or not, it felt as if so much of it happened off screen. It’s supposed to feel like anarchy has taken over, but it never felt particularly anarchic. This time round Nolan, as director, only seems to come into his own when directing the action scenes where once again, New York becomes the new Tokyo (has any plot turn become a cliché so fast). But when it came to the rest of the movie, it all sort of fell flat.
The National Board of Review Awards came out, which means that the race for the Oscar has officially begun (the NBR is the New Hampshire of the Academy). This also means I’ll postpone my column on the Best Actress race just a tad to analyze what the NBR awards mean.
Actually, they don’t mean an awful lot. The NBR and the Oscars sometimes agree (No Country for Old Men; Slumdog Millionare) and sometimes don’t (The Hurt Locker when NBR chose Up in the Air). The NBR is actually seen as a bit more mainstream, being conservative in their awards (like the Republican center right), which makes it surprising they chose The Social Network over The King’s Speech. That could suggest some sort of zeitgeist change in what people who give awards look for in movies, but it just as probably doesn’t.
I still think The King’s Speech will win Best Picture and Colin Firth Actor (over NBR’s choice of Jessi Eisenberg for The Social Network), if for no other reason than that the Weinsteins don’t mean a hoot to the NBR. Actress should still go to Annette Bening (over NBR’s Leslie Manville for Another Year). At the same time, the honors here for Manville and Eisenberg do help them gain a firm foundation for a nomination, so it is significant in that way. This also supports David Fincher being one of the five directing nominees that will have to be culled from the top ten titles come Academy Award voting time.
However, there are two awards that, gremlin like, could be throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Best Supporting Actor went to Christian Bale for The Fighter. Bale is considered Geoffrey Rush’s main rival for the win and this will only keep Bale (a popular actor within the industry, even if he has a reputation for being difficult) in the mind’s eye. Best Supporting Actress is totally up in the air right now; NBR gave it (possibly very deservedly) to Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom. I don’t think this will move Taylor any closer to winning; it just keeps the Supporting Actress waters very muddy.
Also significant is that The Social Network won best Adapted Screenplay. I wasn’t sure whether Aaron Sorkin’s script was considered original or adapted. Since it’s adapted, David Seidler, who wrote The King’s Speech, can start rehearsing what he’s going to say Oscar night when he wins for Original Screenplay since Sorkin was his main, if only, rival. The award for Original Screenplay went to Chris Sparling for Buried, which may help jump start his campaign for a nom, but I can’t see it winning over The King’s Speech.
Best Foreign Language film went to Of Gods and Men from France. The winner of this award for the Oscars can often be determined solely by the subject matter of the film. Of Gods and Men is about conflict between a Catholic Order and Fundamentalists: sounds like a winner to me.
The Town got an award for Best Ensemble which could help Jeremy Renner’s chances for a Supporting Actor nom. Jennifer Lawrence got the Breakthrough Performance award which should help cement her nom for Best Actress.
And, of course, what’s very interesting here is what didn’t make the top ten lists. The Black Swan, 127 Hours and The Kids Are All Right, all considered shoe ins for nominations, were conspicuous by their absence.
Isn’t this fun.
The winner for Best Actor has generally been considered a shoe in: Colin Firth. This way the Academy can apologize for not giving it to him last year for A Single Man, when instead the voters gave a career award to Jeff Bridges (with irony attached—Jeff Bridges is supposed to be up against Firth again this year). However, now that the movie has opened, it also helps that it’s an excellent performance in the movie that is probably going to win best picture. Actually, though, Firth’s win was considered a shoe in a few months ago when the movie was just a gleam in its daddy’s eyes and nobody had seen it yet. This is sometimes called the Bette Davis or Jimmy Stewart award (Bette Davis won for Dangerous after not even getting an initial nomination for Of Human Bondage—though she did get enough write in votes to eventually put her in the top five; and Jimmy Stewart won for The Philadelphia Story to make up for not giving it to him for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington).
Firth’s main competition as of now is, contrastingly (yes, that is a word, or at least it doesn’t come up on my spellcheck) enough, James Franco for 127 Hours. I have to be honest; I don’t see Franco winning and I think this is more a case of wishful thinking on those who loved the movie. 127 Hours has only just opened and as the awards in fighting goes forward, I believe Franco’s possibility of capturing the gold plating will fade. Franco has worked incredibly hard to become a serious actor the last few years and though he has made great strides in that direction, I think the Academy hasn’t quite been convinced yet and would rather wait and see, rather than give him an award now. And besides, Firth has the Weinsteins behind him (can you say Gwyneth Paltrow).
The other nominees as of now will be Jeff Bridges for True Grit (with that irony thingy attached) and Javier Bardem for Biutiful, though neither have opened yet, so no one can be sure. But the buzz is very buzzy for them. The last position I’m giving to Jessie Eisenberg, who will be carried along by the support for the Social Network. There is talk of Michael Douglas, but rumor has it they are going to try to push him for Supporting Actor. Robert Duvall has years of reputation behind him for Get Low, but it’s a picture that’s come and gone and it’s hard to believe that his supporters will be able to renew excitement in it. Aaron Eckhardt has the least interesting role in The Rabbit Hole, which can’t help, and Ryan Gosling is one of our finest actors, but it looks like Blue Valentine is going to get lost in the holiday shuffle.
Supporting Actor again seems a shoe in for Geoffrey Rush, for a few reasons: It’s actually a lead; it’s been a pet project of his for some time (and the Academy likes to pet pet projects); and can you say Weinstein. He’s also great in it. His main rival seems to be Christian Bale for The Fighter. The movie has yet to open, but again, the buzz is very buzzy. But the winners in the supporting actor category tend to be a bit older (as opposed to the Supporting Actress category). The next two almost guaranteed a position are Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right (a well respected actor the Academy has always wanted to nominate, but for some reason the stars have never aligned in quite the right manner to do so yet) and Andrew Garfield for The Social Network, a rising star from England (and the next Spidey Man, so he better get a nomination now before Hollywood destroys all his credibility as a serious actor).
The last position is a knock down drag out fight among Michael Douglas (if they push him for Wall Street II); Matt “True Grit” Damon (another of those well respected actors who the Academy just hasn’t been able to nominate, at least since Good Will Hunting); and Jeremy Renner (who probably deserves it for The Town). There’s some support for Sam Rockwell, but the movie’s come and gone. Other actors have been mentioned; in fact, a large number of actors have been mentioned (Aaron Eckhardt, Vincent Cassel, Justin Timberlake, Sean Penn, Jim Broadbent, Bill Murray), basically meaning that this last position is really up in the air. In the end, it all depends here on how those damn stars align.