Tag Archives: oscars

6 Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

Life of Pi Life of Pi Life of Pi!!

So wow that’s an interesting group of nominees, huh? Lots of snubs, lots of surprising and a whopping 11 nominations for Double Vision favorite Life of Pi. The Ang Lee film was second only to Lincoln in the total nomination count, the Stephen Speilberg biopic garnering 12 noms. Here are my thoughts:

Source: http://collider.com/wp-content/uploads/zero-dark-thirty-kathryn-bigelow.jpg
Kathryn Bigelow is sad and you should be sad too.

1. It’s a bad time to be Kathryn Bigelow or Ben Affleck. Goodness gracious that Best Director Category! I would have liked to see either Bigelow or Affleck’s reactions to the announcement, and compare their faces to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s after he lost the Best Actor Tony to a British comedian who hit himself with silver trays. Oi. But in terms of the horserace, this seriously handicaps Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, both considered real Best Picture contenders before today. Not since Driving Miss Daisy back in 1989 has a film won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. Maybe it’s because Argo has faded over the past few months or because Zero Dark Thirty has only caused more and more political controversy as time went on, but something turned the Academy off. But that was good news for David O. Russell, considered an outlier but possibility for Silver Linings Playbook, Michael Haneke for Amour, also an outlier, and Benh Zeitlen, thirty-year-old first time director of Beasts of the Southern Wild, who nobody thought was a contender yesterday. Also, three cheers for Ang Lee! Oh and I suppose I should mention Tom Hooper being left out. But I think that was a good thing, considering all the problems I and most other critics had with the film were his fault. For the love of God why so much fish eye? Pacing? You cut this but not that? He took the greatest musical of all time and wasted its chance to grace the big screen. He gets no nomination.

Source: https://i2.wp.com/i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2012/10/20/CCSpielbergLincoln1280x960_460x329.jpg
Like you thought anything else would come of Honest Abe playing himself. I mean playing Daniel Day-Lewis. Oh you know what I mean.

2. We now have a Best Picture frontrunner. The two categories that are often the prognosticators for Best Picture are Director (obviously) and Editing, which may seem a bit random, but has been in lockstep with Best Picture for most of the past few decades. The only movies to score nods in all three categories were Lincoln, Life of Pi, and Silver Linings Playbook. Lincoln leads the field with 12 nominations which spread across all categories  acting and technical alike. Silver Linings is lacking in technical nominations and Pi has no acting noms at all. Other Best Picture nominees that were considered to be at the head of the group are now decidedly sitting at the back of the bus (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Les Miserables). If I was making a list right now it would go:

1. Lincoln
2. Life of Pi
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. Zero Dark Thirty
6. Amour
7. Argo
8. Les Miserables
9. Django Unchained

Source: https://i0.wp.com/content.hollywire.com/sites/default/files/styles/main_image_teaser/public/2012/07/20/amy-adams-the-master-trailer2-33223.jpg
Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix are as excited about the Oscars as they are about Scientology.

3. The Guilds snub themselves. The SAG and DGA noms were once a pretty good prediction of the Oscars. No more, apparently, as only two directors (Speilberg and Lee) carried over fromt he DGA noms and only 14 (as opposed to the last two years’ 17 and 19 the year before that) from the SAGs. Out with John Hawkes (by far the saddest and worst snub), Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren, Javier Bardem, Nicole Kidman, and Maggie Smith in favor of Quvenzhané Wallis, Emmanuelle Riva, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Jacki Weaver (?!?!?), and Christoph Waltz. At least this means that there will be no mention of The Paperboy at the Oscars.

Source: https://i0.wp.com/media.philly.com/images/625*395/20121018_inq_srasil18-d.JPG
Jacki Weaver is all like “whaaaat?”

4. Silver Linings Playbook goes 4 for 4. Jacki Weaver? What? The character actress from Australia managed to sneak into the race despite pretty much no precursor noms. Her inclusion makes Silver Linings the first movie since 1981’s Reds to score an acting nomination in all four categories. Although, like Reds, Silver Linings will likely only win in one acting category, Best Actress, where Miss Lawrence is the frontrunner. Weaver, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper will have to do a lot to push Anne Hathaway, Tommy Lee Jones, and Daniel Day-Lewis out. But this acting quartet and David O. Russell’s Best Director nod have pushed the romcom up the list of potential Best Picture pics (despite it’s terrible ending, which I will never get over because it kind of ruined the movie for me).

5. Quvenzhané Wallis (9) and Emmanuelle Riva (85) become the youngest and oldest Best Actress nominees ever. At the expense of Marion Cotillard and Rachel Weisz, and proving that the Academy’s voting body is really all old people. They vote for themselves and kids who are as cute as their grandchildren. In other news, let’s check out this adorable photo of the two of them together.

Source: https://i1.wp.com/media.salon.com/2012/11/film-review-life-of-pi-.jpeg2-1280x960.jpg
This still accurately reflects my emotional state.

6. Life of Pi is apparently as good as I said it was! It’s hard out here for a film-buff who spends every year rooting for the underdog (my hope in Hugo last year was, quite frankly, just a little sad).  But maybe this year, the underdog will emerge on top! Eleven nominations is nothing to sneeze at. Only one less than presumed frontrunner, Lincoln. Now I realize Pi is decidedly left out of the acting race, and its many nominations result from its wide range of technical achievements. But I will remind you of another recent film about an Indian adolescent that went on to win Best Picture despite its lack of acting nods. Back in 2008, Slumdog Millionaire was able to grow its buzz after the awards season had already started, vaulting it towards Best Picture. That film did have the advantage of a Best Ensemble SAG nod (and win) but as I said earlier, the guilds are becoming less relevant. And despite what some critics are saying, including Scott Tobias from The AV Club’s assessment that “Life Of Pi quietly hauled in 11 nominations without any of them in the acting categories. That’s enough for bored Oscar prognosticators to pretend it has a chance for an upset bid,” after today, Life of Pi has a real chance. In terms of unseating LincolnPi is the only movie with a shot. Silver Linings Playbook, despite being nominated for directing and editing, doesn’t have the grand, sweeping epic that Pi does. I’m not saying that it will win Best Picture. My best guess is that Ang Lee will experience some deja vu and walk away with the Director’s statuette, but not Best Picture. But you never know. After today, surprises seem to be the Academy’s biggest commodity.

Advertisements

And the Oscar Nominees Are…

Source:http://fogsmoviereviews.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/oscars-universityobserver-ie.jpgI’ll have more to say later but here are the nominees. All told, in all the categories I predicted I got 35/44 correct.

Best Picture
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Original Screenplay
Amour, Michael Hanake
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, 
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

Best Animated Feature:
Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Cinematography
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Best Costume Design
Anna Karenina
Les Misérables
Lincoln
Mirror Mirror
Snow White and the Huntsman

Achievement in film editing
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
Anna Karenina
Argo
Life of Pi 
Lincoln 
Skyfall 

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
Before My Time” from Chasing Ice
Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from Ted
Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi
Skyfall” from Skyfall
Suddenly” from Les Misérables

Achievement in production design
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

Achievement in sound editing
Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi 
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty

Achievement in sound mixing

Argo
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Achievement in visual effects
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel’s The Avengers
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

Best Documentary Feature
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Best documentary short subject
“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
“Redemption”
Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill

Best foreign language film of the year
Amour Austria
Kon-Tiki Norway
No Chile
A Royal Affair Denmark
War Witch Canada

Best animated short film
“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 film

“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

Oscar Predictions and Double Vision Favorites

Because even though the nominations are coming out tomorrow (brought to us by none other than Emma Stone!), we still like to think that we have some kind of say in it or something. And in all honesty it was a great year for film, and even though some categories seem locked up, some are definitely wide open. I’ve also paired these lists with my favorites in each category for the year. It will make you wonder why I’m not an academy voter.

Best Picture:
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best picture can be anywhere between six and ten this year, and with the field that’s out there, I’m thinking it’s going to be either eight, nine, or ten. Possibly additions/upsets in this category include the fogey-favorite The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Tarantino’s slavery adventure Django Unchained, and possibly even Moonrise Kingdom and Skyfall, although the popcorn crowd already has Les Mis in the mix.

My favorite film of the year: Life of Pi. As I said in my review (which you can find here) Lee made the film work when it never ever should have. I really didn’t like the book. I shouldn’t have liked the movie. But I loved it. When a film that is an intimate portrait of one man’s ability to survive feels more epic than the search for bin Laden or the Iranian Hostage Crisis or even a Paris uprising, that’s an achievement.

Best Director:
Ben Affleck (Argo)
Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
Tom Hooper (Les Misérables)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Expect this list to double the Director’s Guild of America’s nominees, which were announced yesterday. That list, as well as the BAFTA nominees, announced earlier this week, both left Silver Linings Playbook‘s David O. Russell off, previously nominated for The Fighter. It is unlikely he’ll sneak in  tomorrow, but you never know. It’s likely the snub will be him or Life of Pi‘s Ang Lee, despite it being my favorite movie of the year.

My favorite director: Ang Lee. I do believe the reason that Life of Pi achieved so much was that it had Lee behind the wheel. He took the stunning visuals and the liberty afforded by 3D and went far beyond James Cameron or anyone else who has used the medium. And despite it being fantastical everything looked real. The story was larger than life, down to earth, and well, simply breathtaking.

Best Actor:
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
John Hawkes (The Sessions)
Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
Denzel Washington (Flight)

This category is as locked as locked can be. A while ago Joaquin Pheonix was in the mix for The Master, but the film’s buzz has faded since September, while everything else has pushed on.

My favorite performance: Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook. Say what you will about the ending to this movie (and I’ve said plenty) but it was a great film and it was great because it had Cooper at the center. Jennifer Lawrence may be getting all the attention for her flashy performance, but Cooper’s more understated Manic-Depressive character was a sight to see in the film. It was his story, and he ran with it.

Best Actress:

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Chastain and Lawrence are mortal locks in this category, and Cotillard is as close as you can get to a sure thing. The other two spots are up for grabs. Wallis was ineligible for the SAGs and snubbed by the Globes, but the Oscars love a tyke who can really do something. It’s not exaggerating to say that she mad the movie what it was. And while SAG chose to nominate Naomi Watts for The Impossible and Helen Mirren for Hitchcock, those are both low-profile (and not even very well liked) films that really only have a shot in this category. I’m going to go with Riva instead, whose moving performance in Amour is right up the Academy’s alley. It would be something if we had the oldest and youngest performers ever nominated in the same year.

My favorite performance: Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Say what you will about the line between acting and playing yourself as a kid, but if Wallis was playing herself it was a good character. Her performance helped rocket this tiny indie into Best Picture contention, and it is not at all undeserved.

Best Supporting Actor:
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Christopher Waltz (Django Unchained)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Django has a powerhouse three all up for grabs in this category, Waltz plus Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. I’m giving Waltz the edge because he wheedled into this category despite the role being more a lead. Javier Bardem also has the chance to upset here, with his boundary-pushing villain in crowd-favorite Skyfall, but I fell like the BAFTA nom was his reward.

My favorite performance: Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Again, he’s not the actor getting all the buzz, but his performance plays against type, soft, understated, and with a fabulous wig. With Daniel-Day Lewis being larger than life and Sally Field being just this side of whacky, Jones’s Thaddeus Stevens emerged as the heart of the piece, pulling the most emotion from the audience, down to that beautiful home scene near the end.

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams (The Master)
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

The surprise here could be Nicole Kidman’s trainwreck of a performance in The Paperboy, which, despite being in one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a good long while (read why here),  managed to squeak a SAG and Globe nod. I refuse to entertain this possibility in my mind. Another upset could come in the form of Ann Dowd in Compliance, whose performance has been pushed by the entertainment press.

My favorite performance: Samantha Barks in Les Miserables. Surprise! Not even an underdog in this year’s Oscar race, Barks, a newcomer to film but an old hat in the London theatrical scene, gave a fabulous performance in the musical that has been drowned out by Anne Hathaway’s tears. Sure, Barks’ performance is a much more traditional Broadway-style portrayal of one of the greatest ingénues in history as opposed to Hathaways gritty, realistic, singing bad on purpose method. But in a movie where everything and everyone was trying too hard, it was refreshing to see Barks’ understated, dressed-down take on the musical’s most famous song. It was Eponine’s death, not Fantine’s, that felt more tragic.

Best Original Screenplay:
Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Rian Johnson (Looper)
Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) 

This is the category for the little film, the indie, the sci-fi or fantasy flick. Looper is possibly the weakest here just because sci-fi is a harder sell than the whimsical tale or a hard journalistic investigative piece. Flight also has a chance, although, Denzel Washington’s antagonistic journey could be a hard sell.

My favorite story this year: Moonrise Kingdom. In the best film Wes Anderson has put out in awhile, this story of two kids running away from the clueless adults that control their lives was the most endearing story of the year.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
David Magee (Life of Pi)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Argo is also probably a spoiler here, and if it gets in it will oust Life of Pi or Silver Linings PlaybookThe Perks of Being a Wallflower is almost a sure thing, given that the author of the original novel both adapted the screenplay and directed the film. That’s too much for the Academy to handle.

My favorite adaptation this year: Life of Pi. Probably pretty unsurprising to you all by the end of this post, but I really liked Life of Pi. And I was surprised, because I really didn’t like the novel. That is not only the sign of a good adaptation, but a GREAT adaptation. How is it possible that this film made a kid and a tiger on a boat as dramatic, suspenseful, and also humorous and beautiful as they did? How did they take one of the most introspective novels of the past twenty years and make it so utilitarian? A wonderfully adapted script and directed film, that’s how.

Review: Anna Karenina

Source: https://i1.wp.com/cdn-images.hollywood.com/site/anna-karenina_2012-1-1280x1024.jpg

We get it. The movie opens with a shot of a proscenium and an orchestra tuning. There is a backstage and lights and seats and set pieces that turn into other sets. It is a performance. That much is clear. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard have set up the latest screen adaptation of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s lengthy novel of adultery, on a stage. It was a nifty idea.

But unfortunately, that nifty idea just didn’t make sense as an actual film. Despite Wright’s talent for directing Keira Knightley in sprawling period pieces (see Pride and Prejudice and Atonement), Anna Karenina, at a fundamental level, just doesn’t work.

Almost immediately in the film, the theatrical framing  begins to take away from the grandiosity of the story. As soon as the four walls of the stage appear, they make the film seem smaller. The goal may have been intimacy but the result was meekness and, quite frankly, confusion. Why did some of the drama take place on the stage and some not? Where does a field fit in with catwalks and sandbags and trapdoors? Why is there an audience onscreen sometimes and not others? Why do any of this at all?

It appears, eventually, that the world of the stage is the public one. When Anna is, as it were, on display in Russian society, the action takes place in the theater. Her more private moments take place in the traditional sets of a movie, and then slowly, as the film progresses, are forced into the public space. It’s really very intriguing, and it gets at the central theme of the story, but it just doesn’t always work. The audience will likely spend more time trying to figure out exactly why the film is flipping between the stage and the apparent real world than appreciating the artistic value of that switch.

The film’s problems are not solely due to this theatrical framing. Wright’s portrait of Anna is no more sympathetic than Tolstoy’s was, yet this whiny, tiresome brat is hard to take on screen. The central love triangle — between Anna, her husband and her lover Vronsky — lacks the chemistry to make it believable and the urgency to make it engaging. Whether this is the fault of Wright or Tolstoy is hard to tell, but the focus on the lovers verges into boredom, and makes for a third act that really drags.

Even for an avid appreciator of theater, there was a fundamental disconnect between the goal of the framing device and seeing that device. The film, perhaps, deserves an “A” for effort. They had an intriguing idea and they tried so hard. And it must be noted how  beautiful the film is to look at, especially in the way it weaves stage sets and film sets with gorgeous costumes in meticulously composed shots. There was a lot of thought put into the whole thing. Unfortunately in Hollywood, the thought isn’t really what counts.

The Expectation Rises

This morning I was slightly appalled to see that Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review aggregator, had to shut down its comments on The Dark Knight Rises after response to negative reviews got out of control. Apparently, fans are so loyal to this film that they are spewing vitriol at reviewers who haven’t liked it, even though the fans haven’t seen it yet.

I am guilty of this kind of thinking myself. I am an avid fan of The Hunger Games books, and before the film adaptation opened I read review after review, exalting the positive and disdaining the negative. But rather than getting angry about the negative reviews, I rather became sad, as I started to think that the movie I had been waiting for over a year to see wasn’t going to be everything I had hoped. I tried very hard to manage my expectations. The film ended up exceeding my consciously-lowered expectations and I was happy. But it took a lot of effort on my part.

This reaction to negative reviews brings to light a problem with The Dark Knight Rises that I’ve been predicting for a long time. I feel that, no matter how good the movie is, it’s going to be disappointing. Nobody is going to be completely satisfied. For four years this movie has been built up, almost never being entirely out of the pop culture conversation. Expectations have been growing and growing until they literally exploded with these comments, which reportedly included significant profanity and threats against the reviewers. How can Rises possibly reach the heights to which fans have prematurely set it?

Perhaps a more relevant question than how can it meet expectations is how it got those expectations in the first place. It started with the release of The Dark Knight itself. The highest opening weekend gross (at the time). Heath Ledger’s incredible performance and the posthumous acclaim he was garnering. The Oscar Buzz. Then Oscar season rolled around and the general pop culture public was roiled to see that Knight had not been nominated for Best Picture. Heath Ledger won the Oscar. Soon after the Best Picture category was expanded to ten nominees instead of five. The Dark Knight Rises was announced. Inception was released to acclaim and box office success. It snagged a Best Picture nod. Famous faces were added to the Rises cast list. Shooting began. Photos were released. Some were grabbed by the paparazzi. First teaser. More photos released. First poster. First full trailer. Six minute prologue premieres.More trailers. More photos. More posters. More trailers. TV spots. Viral marketing.

And on and on and on. Not to mention the simple fact that The Dark Knight, to many fans, surpassed Batman Begins by far, and so the logical expectation is that The Dark Knight Rises will do the same. It’s just too much for one film to live up to.

I actually missed a lot of The Dark Knight pandemonium. I was studying abroad in London when it premiered in the US and it didn’t premier in the UK until after I had left. By the time I got home all of my friends had seen it already. I ended up seeing it alone several weeks after it had opened. I liked it, I did, but I suffered from the expectations problem. It was only natural. I watched from across the pond as the film swept the US, and heard accounts from my friends with phrases like  “it completely blew my mind,””life-changing,” and “the best movie ever.” I read articles and reviews about it and saw it break box office records. So by the time I saw it I really was expecting the “best movie ever.” It wasn’t. Maybe that’s blasphemous to some of you, but it’s not my favorite movie nor the best movie ever in my opinion. I did really like it. Heath Ledger completely blew me away. I thought Aaron Eckhart was also incredible. I always love effects and big fight scenes. I was surprised by the psychological and political undertones of the movie. But I was also very underwhelmed.

I have, in my mind, an idea of what “the best movie ever” would be. I imagine it would have much of what was in Knight. Great actors, great performances, great story, great effects, great pacing, great music, etc etc etc. But it also has to have something else. Some kind of x factor that punches you in the gut while your watching it and does leave you changed when you walk out of the theater. It doesn’t have to be emotional. It just has to stick with you. I felt that with a few movies I’ve seen in the past few years. Million Dollar Baby. Brokeback Mountain. Slumdog Millionaire. The Avengers. 

The Avengers is a good comparison for The Dark Knight Rises. It also a highly anticipated comic-book adaptation preempted by multiple movies. Although none of the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers came even close to the impact of Knight, they did do very well in their own right, and the two Iron Man movies greatly exceeded expectations. But the sheer amount of build up for The Avengers was also incredibly huge, with the simple truth that no movie like it had ever been made. It also had similar marketing campaigns that involved leaking select photos, teasers, and posters, to build up to the premier. And it worked. The Avengers has since become the third highest grossing film of all time.

But the thing that is different about The Avengers I think, is that everyone who went to see it and everyone who wrote about it had, in the back of their minds, the idea that The Avengers could fail, and fail miserably. Six superheroes, one movie. Five lead up films. No one had ever done anything like that before. It could have crashed and burned. The story could have been nonsensical to people who hadn’t seen the original five films. The personalities of the different superheroes could have clashed. It could have ended up as Iron Man 3, with Robert Downey, Jr. stealing scenes. It could have just been bad.

And so when the movie bypassed all of these potential problems and went above and beyond expectations, the world responded in kind. And that’s really what it’s about. Expectations. So much about how we enjoy things is based on the context in which they are experienced. Think about a bad time you had at the movies. A movie you wanted to see because it looked good in the trailer, and then it disappointed you. Maybe you went with a group of friends and they were talkative and distracting. Maybe other people in the theater were obnoxious. Maybe you wore uncomfortable pants, or the popcorn sucked, or you had to use the bathroom for two thirds of the movie or the projector glitched or the sound was off or any other number of things. We can’t deny that context is incredibly important. It’s part of the reason I didn’t like The Dark Knight quite as much as everyone else. Maybe if I had seen it earlier with a group of excited friends I would have felt the same as they did. But I saw it alone, weeks late, and so I didn’t have anyone to chatter with excitedly about my favorite parts. I instead had only to dwell on my disappointment in the car ride home alone.

On the other hand, I truly loved Batman Begins. Based on the expectations game, I was inclined to like it. The only previous Batman movie I had ever seen was the disastrous Batman and Robin, nipples on the Batsuit and all. I knew nothing about movie other than that it was about Batman. I saw it with my family, a movie-loving group that loves to dissect films in the car ride home and for days after.  I didn’t particularly like superhero movies then. All in all I had very low expectations and excellent context. Batman Begins turned into one of the films that changed my mind about superheroes. I really loved everything about it. The background into Bruce Wayne’s training and travels. Cillian Murphy’s really scary Scarecrow. The climactic fight on the train. The whole dark feeling of the movie. The way that Gotham felt like it desperately needed a superhero, and how Bruce Wayne filled that role. I definitely felt that x factor when I walked out of the theater. It was just so much better than I thought it would be. And I loved it for surprising me like that.

I’m sure that The Dark Knight Rises will do well this weekend. I’m sure lots of people will like it. But I’m also sure a great many will be disappointed. It’s just the way expectations work. We can either be hyper-aware of it, in the way I treated my Hunger Games viewing experience, which requires conscious effort, or we can roll with it and let our expectations guide our reactions. It just depends on how you like to see your movies. If you’re like me,  you may be more likely to choose the former. But, validly, we can’t always control how we feel. Sometimes, we just love or hate something.

Personally, I’m cautiously excited for Rises. I’m seeing it midnight Thursday, so you can expect my take Friday morning. I’ll try to keep my expectations out of it.