In early 2009, Christopher Nolan's megablockbuster The Dark Knight received nominations from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Writers Guild (for Nolan, his brother Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer). Additionally, Heath Ledger was nominated for and eventually won the Screen Actors Guild's Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as The Joker.
Ultimately, The Dark Knight went on to receive a total of 8 Oscar nominations. The catch: none of those was in the Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Screenwriting categories. (Star Christian Bale was ignored as well, but that doesn't count because Bale had been ignored most elsewhere. Ledger, for his part, was nominated and went on to win a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar.)
I'm sure that The Dark Knight received lots of votes from Academy members in the aforementioned categories, but not enough of those votes were in the #1 slot. Hence no Best Picture, Best Direction, or Best Adapted Screenplay nominations. (See Oscar vote-counting rules and this post explaining that Oscar snubs aren't necessarily “snubs.”)
Regarding the Dark Knight omission, The Guardian's Ben Child commented:
“… I suspect that somewhere along the way, the idea that a film can be both critically and commercially successful has been forgotten. There is simply no other way to explain the absence of The Dark Knight, 2008's most seen movie, from this year's best film list. … One could understand the omission if the film had been panned by critics, but on the contrary, The Dark Knight is one of the year's best reviewed movies, with a 94 percent 'fresh' rating on the review aggregator site Rottentomatoes.com's end-of-year list. Of the five movies which made it on to the best film card, only Slumdog Millionaire sits above it, while The Reader languishes on just 60%.”
The Reader, however, had a Holocaust-related theme – always an Academy favorite – and the relentless Oscar machine of Harvey Weinstein's The Weinstein Co. pushing it. It was also a small movie that needed Oscar help, whereas The Dark Knight was anything but.
Yet, even though The Dark Knight's box office or DVD sales wouldn't necessarily suffer if the actioner failed to nab top Academy Award nominations, the Academy itself would most definitely suffer if its members kept on bypassing beloved blockbusters for “art” fare.
Point in question: The Oscarcast is a crucial financial artery for the Academy. The show's dwindling domestic television audience has been a serious cause of concern for a number years. Things literally hit bottom when the 2008 telecast – the year No Country for Old Men won – became the lowest-rated since Nielsen began keeping track in 1967.
Therefore, it's understandable that following the Best Picture “snub” of both The Dark Knight and fellow moviegoing public favorite WALL-E in early 2009, the Academy's Board of Governors decided to expand the Best Picture category to include 10 titles per year. (That's – give or take a few titles – how things used to be up to 1943.) The Academy hoped, correctly, it seems, that more audience-friendly fare would thus get a chance to be nominated in the Oscars' most important and most publicized category.
Only once before had the Academy made such a radical rule change after snubbing a potential nominee. And that's this series' upcoming Biggest Oscar Snubs #1. (Please follow links at the bottom of each post.)
Before I wrap this up: Never underestimate the Oscarability of a Weinstein production. After all, Weinstein's Miramax was responsible for the Shakespeare in Love Oscar campaign. If you'll recall, that British-set period comedy romance was 1998's Best Picture winner, defeating the indefatigable World War II American soldiers in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. This year, Weinstein is back with The King's Speech, the British-set period drama that has suddenly made the Oscar race more interesting, as it could well be the one film to beat critics' favorite The Social Network for Best Picture.
The Academy vs. Christopher Nolan match was restaged in early 2011, when Nolan's blockbuster Inception was nominated by the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Writers Guild, and went on to receive eight Oscar nods including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay – whereas Nolan failed to be shortlisted in the Best Direction category.
Nolan, I should add, was the film's screenwriter and one of its producers as well. So, it's not like this time around he went completely nominationless.
Anyhow, once again several Oscar pundits and industry insiders declared that Inception's blockbuster status had worked against the film. But without explaining how it could be found among both the ten Best Picture nominees and the five contenders in the Best Original Screenplay category. (See Oscar vote-counting rules and this post explaining that Oscar snubs aren't necessarily “snubs.”)
Nominated Inception composer Hans Zimmer was quoted as saying:
“I think he was held up at gunpoint.
“My instinct tells me that because it was a commercial success, suddenly they took the idea of artfulness away from him.
“I think if the Academy wants to stay current … they need to go and look at these things very carefully. I've worked with a lot of directors. There are few directors that are in the class of a Chris Nolan … It's not right.”
(Though it's hardly as if True Grit, nominated directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's biggest box office hit to date, was a slacker with about $130 million earned domestically when the Academy Award nominations were announced.)
Regarding Nolan's absence from the 2011 Best Direction roster: Don't expect the Academy to expand the list of nominated directors from five to ten just because of him.
Hans Zimmer quote: The Press Association.
Photo: Inception (Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros.)
Photo: The Dark Knight (Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros.)