If you ask Seth MacFarlane, he’ll probably tell you that misogyny is the new black. I mean, it must be super popular, how else can you explain the pervasive and disgusting theme of last night’s Oscars? Women were the butt of a whole slew of the Family Guy creator’s jokes, with everything from a song about female nudity to cracks about Adele’s weight. Hilarious.
The ceremony’s rampant sexism was enough to turn even a devoted Oscar-watcher like myself off. MacFarlane’s hideous treatment of women has already been expertly written up by Vulture and BuzzFeed but it still needs to be talked about (the BuzzFeed article was published during the ceremony, citing 6 sexist things, and then was revised as the ceremony went on and continued to be sexist, to 9). It needs to be known that what he did was not okay. Sexualizing a nine-year-old for a cheap laugh? Not okay. Implying that women should make themselves sick to get skinny? Not okay. Reminding us all how funny domestic abuse is? Seriously not okay.
I get that it was all in the interest of comedy. I get that MacFarlane has made his name being an equal-opportunity offender (as if that means he offends no one at all). But there are lines that you shouldn’t cross. Some jokes are “all in good fun,” and some are “in poor taste,” and some are just plain wrong. I can take a joke, but last night wasn’t funny. Last night was wrong.
In a night when 30 men took home statuettes and only 9 women, in an industry where women are underrepresented, sexualized, and marginalized, on a telecast being watched by millions of people, it is plainly criminal to do that to women. Just look at the female supporting acting nominees this year. Anne Hathaway and Helen Hunt played sex workers. Jacki Weaver, Amy Adams, and Sally Field were only there as wife/mother appendages to leading male characters. When a woman was up for playing a role as an intrepid CIA agent, responsible for finding the worst criminal of all time, Seth lost no time in degrading her down just to make sure no women at the ceremony appeared powerful.
Sexism is something that is already so pervasive in our society we must work everyday to try to reverse its detrimental effects. Every time someone like Seth MacFarlane stands up on the world stage and lampoons women just because we are easy targets, he contributes to this culture that says women are lesser. The War on Women is not just in Washington. It’s all around us. It’s ever present on a night when men are asked about filmmaking and women are asking to show their manicures on a miniature red carpet.
To contribute to the war on women all for the sake of a slew of jokes that weren’t actually funny is MacFarlane’s biggest sin. Not just because the jokes were sexist, but because they weren’t good jokes. What is the point of women in film? To show men their boobs! That’s all they’re good for. Ha ha! I’m sure MacFarlane and most 12-year-old boys really enjoyed that. I just hope they don’t grow up thinking like that.
I hope y’all enjoyed my live-tweeting of the ceremony. Now that I’ve cleaned up my apartment, here’s the full list of winners. And can I just say, LIFE OF PI LIFE OF PI LIFE OF PI!!!
Best Picture Beasts of the Southern Wild Silver Linings Playbook Zero Dark Thirty Lincoln Les Miserables Life of Pi Amour Django Unchained Argo
Best Director David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook Ang Lee, Life of Pi Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Michael Haneke, Amour Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln Denzel Washington, Flight Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Best Actress Naomi Watts, The Impossible Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook Emmanuelle Riva, Amour Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Supporting Actress Sally Field, Lincoln Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook Helen Hunt, The Sessions Amy Adams, The Master
Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook Alan Arkin, Argo Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Best Original Screenplay John Gatins, Flight Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained Michael Haneke, Amour Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Best Adapted Screenplay Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild Chris Terrio, Argo Tony Kushner, Lincoln David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook David Magee, Life of Pi
Best Documentary Feature 5 Broken Cameras The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague The Invisible War Searching for Sugar Man
Best Animated Feature Film Frankenweenie Pirates! Band of Misfits Wreck-It Ralph Paranorman Brave
Best Cinematography Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina Robert Richardson, Django Unchained Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Best Original Score Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina Alexandre Desplat, Argo Mychael Danna, Life of Pi John Williams, Lincoln Thomas Newman, Skyfall
Best Original Song “Before My Time,” Chasing Ice “Pi’s Lullaby,” Life of Pi “Suddenly,” Les Miserables “Everybody Needs A Best Friend,” Ted “Skyfall,” Skyfall
Best Foreign Language Film Austria: Amour Chile: No Canada: War Witch Denmark: A Royal Affair Norway: Kontiki
Best Documentary Short “Inocente,” Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine “Kings Point,” Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider “Mondays at Racine,” Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan “Open Heart,” Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern
Best Animated Short “Adam and Dog,” Minkyu Lee “Fresh Guacamole,” PES “Head over Heels,” Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare,'” David Silverman “Paperman,” John Kahrs
Best Live Action Short “Asad,” Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura “Buzkashi Boys,” Sam French and Ariel Nasr “Curfew,” Shawn Christensen “Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw),” Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele “Henry,” Yan England
Best Film Editing William Goldenberg, Argo Tim Squyres, Life of Pi Michael Kahn, Lincoln Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, Silver Linings Playbook Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel, Hitchcock Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables
Best Visual Effects Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick, Marvel’s The Avengers Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill, Prometheus Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson,Snow White and the Huntsman
Best Sound Mixing John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia, Argo Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, Les Misérables Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin,Life of Pi Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins, Lincoln Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson, Skyfall
Best Sound Editing (two-way tie) Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, Argo Unchained Wylie Stateman, Django Unchained Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers, Skyfall Paul N.J. Ottosson, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Production Design Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Anna Karenina Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent and Simon Bright, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robinson, Les Miserables David Gropman and Anna Pinnock, Life of Pi Rick Carter and Jim Erickson, Lincoln
Goodness gracious what an Oscar season. After a rocky nominations period followed by some pretty big snubs and we get Ben Affleck, Comeback Kid. All told it gives us an eclectic list of nominees and will probably lead to an eclectic list of winners. The moral of this year’s season is that there were a lot of really great movies this year, something that the Academy and the general public can agree on. Six of the nine Best Picture nominees have crossed the $100 million mark domestically, and a seventh is over $88 million. Life of Pi has become quite the international hit with over $576 million in international grosses while Django Unchained and Les Miserables have have each clocked in over $350 million worldwide.
Back in 2009 when the the Best Picture field was first expanded beyond five films, there were definitely five films being seriously considered and five also-rans, just in the mix to fill the quota. It felt a lot like that for these past few years, but I think this year we finally have expanded both the field and the race beyond just five films. Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, and Argo were all considered real threats at some point during the season. My biggest prediction is that no film will sweep anything. Life of Pi has a real chance to take a slew of technical awards, but when I say a “slew” I mean 5. I’m predicting that Argo walks away with 3, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty with only 1, Silver Linings Playbook with 2 and Les Mis of all things, with 3. Not exactly a sweeping mandate for any Best Picture contender. My guess is that this year, films are getting symbolic Oscars, one or two as representative for the achievement of the whole movie, with Best Picture so sewn up. But even then, most of the races are a bit up in the air. I’ve decided to present you with “Will Win, Could Win, Should Win.” I needed “Could Win” because some of these races are so tight anything could happen on Sunday.
Will Win: Argo Could Win: Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (maybe? perhaps? I guess?)
Should Win: Life of Pi
At this point a loss for Argo would be a HUGE upset, given its Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, DGA, WGA, and BAFTA precursor wins, all in spite of that nasty Best Director snub. To be quite honest, back when the nominations came out, I found Kathryn Bigelow’s snub far worse than Affleck’s. I have nothing personal against Argo (like some trendy critics do), I enjoyed the movie. I just didn’t think it was as good as some of the other contenders. I didn’t think it was as artful as Lincoln or as weighty as Zero Dark Thirty or as amazing/magical/majestic/breathtaking/other-really-good-adjectives as Life of Pi. But now, in my opinion fueled by Ben’s snub, Argo has all the so-called “momentum” and will likely take the top prize home. I would love to have seen what had happened to the Best Picture race had Ben been nominated for Best Director. I think the race would be much closer if it had. But either way, there was never really much hope for Life of Pi, with no nominated performances (the only one of the nine contenders with no acting noms) and only Ang Lee as its star-face. It was never a movie made for campaigning.
Will Win: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Could Win: Steven Spieberg, Lincoln Should Win: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Back when the nominations were announced and Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck were shut out of the director’s category, I predicted that Ang Lee would pull, well, an Ang Lee, and walk away with Best Director but not Best Picture. But back in January Lincoln was the frontrunner, logically meaning that Spielberg was the Director frontrunner as well, and my prediction was a little hairbrained. No more! Now many pundits and prognosticators (including EW, Hitfix, Deadline and others) are predicting just that! This goes to my theory about symbolic, or representational Oscars. Lee took over Pi after three other directors quaked in fear at the task of an unfilmmable book. They say you’re never supposed to work with kids, water, or animals, and Lee worked with all of them, plus a whole slew of CGI, and that whole part of the movie where it’s just a boy and a tiger. Like I said in my original review, it absolutely never should have worked. It should have crashed and burned. But instead it turned into something profound, entertaining, and breathtaking. No lesser director could have done that. Lee does not, however, have it locked up. Spielberg is a real threat, as those who want to honor the movie after it quickly dropped down in the Best Picture race may check his box. He is, you know, Steven Spielberg. He can’t do too much wrong. But I have a feeling the symbolic vote for Lincoln will come with…
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Could Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
The thing about Lincoln is that Daniel Day-Lewis is the movie and the movie is Daniel Day-Lewis. The movie is contingent on his performance and for good reason. Moments of Congressional deliberations and back room dealing and wheeling could be pretty boring if it weren’t for the towering figure that many could confuse with Honest Abe himself. The award for Day-Lewis here is the award for the whole movie, because he is the movie. And despite the fact that he’s not my favorite performance of the year, he’s well deserving of his record third Best Actor Oscar. In any year when Day-Lewis wasn’t in the category, I could see all four of his fellow nominees making a decent play. Hugh Jackman, Bradley Cooper, and Joaquin Phoenix all had career-best performances and Denzel was reliably brilliant. But they all had the misfortune of doing their best at the same time that Day-Lewis did. They never had a chance.
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Could Win: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
This category has turned into quite the horse race over the past few weeks. Back in November, there weren’t a whole lot of performances to be found even worthy of talking about. Then when Silver Linings premiered it appeared that Jennifer Lawrence was on the fast track in a weak field. Then it was JLaw versus JChas after Zero Dark Thirty finally opened. But the eleventh hour story is that of Emmanuelle Riva, the 85 (86 on Oscar night!) year-old actress who gave an absolutely devastating performance in Amour. Taking the BAFTA home last week seriously increased her chances, as the voting bodies of BAFTA and the Academy overlap considerably. Last year Meryl Streep took the BAFTA over Viola Davis and went on to take the Oscar as well. It’s hard being the front-runner, and JLaw has been out there on her own for months. I’d put their odds pretty much equal at this point, but I’m going with Lawrence, because Riva might just be too little too late. I personally disliked Amour while appreciating Riva, but it’s hard to get behind a movie that made you feel like killing yourself. JLaw was the best thing Playbook had going for it, and what can I say? I cannot resist her charms. Like this. Or this. Ooh, or all these. But especially this.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook Could Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln orChristoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
This is perhaps the most open category of the big ones. I have heard strong cases for each De Niro, Jones, and Waltz and I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the three of them won. Two weeks ago I would have sworn that Jones had it wrapped up, last week I would have guessed Waltz but after everything, I’m going with De Niro to squeak by to win. He has Oscar campaigner extraordinaire Harvey Weinstein at his back, and the bonus, in a category full of previous winners, to have gone a good 32 years without winning, while Waltz won three years ago, playing a similar part in another Tarantino film. In my opinion Jones has the best performance here, so against type, so understated and admirable, but he lost the BAFTA and has a reportedly surly demeanor about the whole campaigning process. That can put people off. But who knows. Expect this race to be an actual nail biter.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Could Win: Sally Field, Lincoln (but no, no she can’t)
Should Win: Helen Hunt, The Sessions
In any other year the Best Supporting Actress story would have bene of Helen Hunt’s triumphant comeback with this lovable dramedy about a man with polio and the woman who helped him have sex (and John Hawkes would have been nominated too!). But not in the same year when Anne Hathaway starved herself, chopped her hair off, and sang bad on purpose. It was over as soon as she dreamed that God would be forgiving. Even people who disliked the movie rave about Hathaway, indeed some consider her the only good thing about it. Sally Field has been campaigning hard and is considered number two by most pundits, but she’s propped up by the scope of the movie, not by her own performance, which was forgettable. No locks are as mortal as Daniel Day-Lewis, but Hathaway comes pretty damn close.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Chris Terrio, Argo
Could Win: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: David Magee, Life of Pi
A long time ago Tony Kushner, tony-award winning playwright, was the lockiest of locks for taking a portion of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s behemoth book A Team of Rivals and turning it into Lincoln. When the nominations were announced, David O. Russell’s director nom made some think that he would actually take this award home as a consolation prize. But then the Argo resurgence happened. This is one of only two categories I think that will benefit from Argo’s coattails. It seems ludicrous to award a film Best Picture without giving it an award that speaks to the film holistically, and Best Director is not an option. If Argo loses this (or editing, which I discuss below), then all bets are off. Which would be kind of great, because it would lead to one of the first unpredictable ceremonies in a long time. As for what should win, Ang Lee can’t take all the credit for Life of Pi, his was a huge directorial achievement, but he was working off an exceptional adaptation.
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
Could Win: Michael Haneke, Amour or Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchianed
Should Win: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
This one is another genuine horserace. This used to be the category where independent, quirky, sci-fi, or fantasy movies stood a chance of winning against the Best Picture faire. Now that Best Picture has expanded though, it’s harder and harder for something not nominated to even get in. This year the odd man out is Flight, for reasons passing understanding. The three way race between Boal, Haneke and Tarantino has split prognosticators and pundits. I’m going with Boal for the win, taking home the symbolic Oscar for Zero Dark Thirty, which had a hard downfall from Best Picture contender because of the torture controversy and Bigelow’s snub. But again, I would not be at all surprised to see Haneke or Tarantino on the stage. Although, I think that Amour is a hard sell, both because it’s in another language (can you really appreciate a script in subtitles? If you like the subtitles, shouldn’t the award go to whoever wrote them?) and because the story is just so damn depressing and pretty gratuitous. If the Academy is as old as everyone says they are, wouldn’t something that so harshly depicts the end of life be upsetting to them? It was to me. And although Django is has the flash and flair in its back pocket, it’s come under fire for its portrayal of slavery and race. Plus, it’s so Tarantino-y, it might remind voters of things he has already won for.
Best Foreign Film
Will Win: Amour Could Win: Amour Should Win: Amour
I may not have loved it but with Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay nods, how could it lose? If the academy liked any of the other nominated films better than Amour, why aren’t they nominated for Best Picture? So I’d say this lock is of Day-Lewis proportions. And though it wasn’t my favorite, I recognize a good film when I see one. Unfortunately, Michael Haneke may have to contend with this one and only win. In the other categories, it feels as though the nominations were the award.
Best Film Editing
Will Win: Argo Could Win: Zero Dark Thirty Should Win: Life of Pi
Since 1981, every single Best Picture winner has had a Best Editing nomination and about 2/3 of them have taken home both statuettes. Last year The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo took home the prize in a big shocker, since the film wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. But this year, all five nominees are also nominated for the big one. The race seems to be between William Goldenberg and himself, being nominated for both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, the latter most pundits find more deserving. Keep a watch on this category during the ceremony. If Argo loses this it could be a sign, but it is probably no big deal. If it loses this and adapted screenplay, be very very wary. Argo isn’t tipped to win really any other technical awards. It would be quite unheard of to win Best Picture and no other awards. If that starts to happen during the ceremony, maybe quietly change your Best Picture bets during your party.
Will Win: Life of Pi Could Win: Skyfall Should Win: Life of Pi
Getting into the technical awards we are in Life of Pi‘s territory. Expect Claudio Miranda to take home the prize for his outstanding blend of reality and CGI, all while walking on water (pretty literally in some cases). A possible upset could be for Roger Deakins, ten-time nominee without ever having won, to win for his great work on Skyfall. But even being called one of the best Bond movies of all time, Bond movies are still at a disadvantage.
Best Production Design
Will Win: Anna Karenina
Could Win: Life of Pi
Should Win: Anna Karenina
Even a Life of Pi devotee such as myself must recognize the beauty and logistical mastery of the sets in Anna Karenina. Whatever you thought about putting the story on a stage, you can’t deny that it looked fabulous. The set weaved without a hiccup between a stage, backstage, the audience, the real world, and all manner in between. I mean, they put a horse race inside for crying out loud. But the movie was really hated by many, so that could vault Life of Pi to a victory (which I wouldn’t mind either).
Best Original Score
Will Win: Life of Pi
Could Win: Lincoln Should Win: Life of Pi
This award is Life of Pi composer Mychael Danna’s to lose. Praised for blending Indian instruments and style with a Western new-age-y feel, he’s the favorite. John Williams could upset and take the prize for some John Williamsy music in Lincoln, but at this point, I think the Academy is ripe for first time nominee Danna.
Best Original Song
Will Win: “Skyfall” from Skyfall
Could Win: “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi
Should Win: “Skyfall” from Skyfall
This is perhaps the most boring category this year, perhaps because Adele has it pretty sewn up. Although, it is worth noting that no Bond song has ever won an Oscar, and that the old-fogey academy is less likely to reward young and popular artists. But I think this time Adele’s magnetism, Skyfall‘s critical success, and the weak category are the perfect storm for 007.
Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: Les Miserables
Could Win: Skyfall
Should Win: Les Miserables
This sound award is for sound recording during the shoot, not during post-production. Whatever you think about the vocal quality of Les Mis’s live singing, the technical quality was great. It’s the Best Picture nominee with the most impressive feat here. Skyfall could surprise, as the only action movie in the mix, but probably not.
Best Sound Editing
Will Win: Life of Pi Could Win: Skyfall or Zero Dark Thirty Should Win: Life of Pi
This award is for sound edited and inserted in post-production, and so expect it to go to technical juggernaut Life of Pi, with a possible Bond or bin Laden upset.
Best Costume Design
Will Win: Anna Karenina Could Win: Mirror, Mirror
Should Win: Anna Karenina
A prize for period pieces and fantasy epics, expect it to head to Jacqueline Durran for the flashy gowns in Anna Karenenia. It is also possible that the Academy might deliver a posthumous Oscar to Eiko Ishioka for Mirror, Mirror.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Will Win: Les Miserables
Could Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Should Win: Les Miserables
Les Mis will probably take this Oscar home for ugly teeth, aging Hugh Jackman, and beating the crap out of Anne Hathaway. This also happens to be the only category that The Hobbit installment is competitive in. The Academy was not won over by the prequel the way it was by the original trilogy, which dominated the technical awards three years in a row.
Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Life of Pi
Could Win: Life of Pi
Should Win: Life of Pi
I think Anthony Breznican said it best in Entertainment Weekly: “Anyone who doesn’t think Life of Pi deserves this prize should be forced to sit in a lifeboat with a real Bengal tiger.”
Best Animated Feature
Will Win: Wreck-it-Ralph
Could Win: Brave
Should Win: Frankenweenie
At this point it’s Disney versus Disney Pixar, with Disney having the slight edge in the precursor awards. However, older voters seem more drawn to Brave, perhaps because they just don’t get video games. But Pixar’s latest is nowhere as acclaimed as many of its former Oscar winners. The animation giant has only lost (when nominated, Cars 2 was not nominated) twice, Shrek taking the award over Monsters, Inc., and Happy Feet beating Cars. This might be the third. On the other hand, I’m pulling for Frankenweenie, which I was happily surprised by this October. It would be nice for Tim Burton to finally take home an Oscar, especially for a project as dear to him as this one.
Best Documentary Feature
Will Win: Searching for Sugarman
Could Win: How to Survive a Plague or The Gatekeepers
Should Win: How to Survive a Plague
Searching for Sugarman is the frontrunner, being the most lighthearted as opposed to its heavy hitting fellow nominees, and the biggest box office hit. But this is the first year all academy members are being sent screeners, which could throw off the vote. I personally was very moved by How to Survive a Plague. But you never know what could happen.
Best Animated Short
Will Win: The Paperman
Could Win: Adam and Dog
Best Documentary Short
Will Win: Mondays at Racine
Could Win: Inocente
Best Live Action Short
Will Win: Curfew
Could Win: Death of a Shadow
And for your viewing pleasure, here’s a gif of Ang Lee’s adorable wave from the Golden Globes.
Author’s Note: I woke up this morning and found out about the shooting in Colorado after I posted this review. The movies have always been a place of escape, of safety. They may not be for a long time after this. I hope that everyone who is injured pulls through and that the movies can be safe again. I hope that people can still enjoy the film, and I hope that we can still go on enjoying art as we always have.
It was always going to be hard.
There are some acts you can’t just follow. A lot of trilogies find their footing in an exceptional second film and then lose some ground in film three. The original Star Wars, Spider-Man, the X-Men trilogy, and to some extent The Lord of the Rings all feel this effect.The first film is about finding the voice of the series. Establishing the hero and the supporting characters and giving that hero a motivation. He gets through his first obstacle (villain) and is set up to do more in the future. The second film can do more, expand the world of our hero slightly. It introduces new players in the game and gives our hero a harder obstacle. It is truly unclear as to whether or not he will succeed. There is always some sacrifice he has to make, some challenge he has not yet overcome. Resolution, in its total sense, is reserved for movie three.
The first two movies in the Dark Knight trilogy follow this pattern, but I don’t know what The Dark Knight Rises resolves, besides itself. Director Christopher Nolan reached such a pinnacle with 2008’s The Dark Knight that it was simply too high to rise above. And so Rises goes instead with an involved attempt to link itself to the mythology of Batman Begins, effectively becoming a sequel to that first film instead of to the second. And in doing so, Rises gets lost in its own commentary, its own machination. It moves to a place that is all at once too far from The Dark Knight, and too close to it.
In Nolan’s Gotham, the world is controlled by villains. In Batman Begins it was controlled by the mob paying off the system. In The Dark Knight, the Joker created chaos and psychological warfare, because, “some men just want to watch the world burn.” In Rises, the world is controlled by Bane, a man of intense belief and idealism, with stated goals, and who favors physical, brutal war. In a lot of ways he is the opposite of the Joker, and also a cheap facsimile of him.
Every story has its own set of rules. You’ll hear me say this a lot because it’s one of my favorite parts of fiction. In a very English-nerd way I could tell you that it all goes back to Aristotle, but even I realize how boring that can be for some people. But I will tell you that once a fictional universe has established its rules, breaking them can ruin a story. Now I don’t know if Rises truly broke the rules, but it certainly pushed them to their utmost limits. There is something just so incredibly unbelievable about this film. What the Joker did to Gotham made sense. There was build up and an understanding of the why and the wherefore and connections to events from our collective experience. What Bane does to Gotham seems so absurd that I initially wondered if it was really happening, or if Bruce Wayne was just having a nightmare. And when the improbable turned out to be the truth, I found myself lost in a wave of skepticism and disbelief. And so the movie just sort of lost me.
I find it hard to review this movie without spoiling its rather complex plot, because I believe that most of the fault lies in that plot. I can say, completely spoiler-free, that I walked out of that theater wondering exactly what the movie was about. I know that it had themes. Revolution, class warfare, civil strife, nuclear disarmament, individual purpose, spiritual enlightenment, and more. It had story, so much story. Too much story. There was so much going on and it was all happening it once. I had trouble following, a problem that was not at all helped by the often incomprehensible growl of Tom Hardy’s Bane.
The movie also feels overly-long because the pacing is off. It drags for a good hour in the middle and repeats itself too often. However, the last half hour picks up in a way that will lift you out of your seat. Despite my problems with the plot in general, Nolan certainly knows how to build to a climactic confluence of events. The acting is wonderful, as it was in both the previous films. No one can hold a candle to Heath Ledger of course, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle. And Joseph Gordon Levitt, as the ordinary yet extraordinary Officer John Blake, shines far above the rest. It is such a shame that this universe won’t continue so that his character could find new growth.
This was an action film for sure, but not really a superhero movie. I have used that statement to describe The Dark Knight, but in that case I meant that the film transcends the genre, rather than side-stepping it the way Rises does. Nolan was trying; indeed, you can almost feel him behind each frame, pushing the story at you, trying to make you feel it the way you felt The Dark Knight. But it is possible to try too hard. He knows how to play on our societal fears, to tap into cultural archetypes and make films that speak to our world as a whole yet also to each individual person who sees them. But in Rises he had so much to say that it really just runs together into a bit of a mess that is confusing and at times incomprehensible. Some men just want to watch the world burn and in a weird way, I think Christopher Nolan is one of them. He fills the movie with so much chaos that inevitably we are just watching a fire rise across the screen, and not Batman.