So this weekend just gone by, the Oscars happened… Last week we had the BRIT music awards here in the UK and I sense lots of interesting thought processes working their way through these large award ceremonies…

I want to focus on the Dark Knight and why it was not really ever going to be a real contender for best picture.

Recently, Claude Brodesser-Akner of AdAge wrote, “When Ron Howard’s critically beloved but box-office-anemic “Frost/Nixon,” which has a current domestic box-office haul of barely $17 million, received a best-picture nomination by edging out the second-highest-grossing film of all time, “The Dark Knight,” this year’s Oscar telecast’s fate was sealed, many experts say.”

Hmmm… Interesting stuff, eh?

Beyond the politics of awards, there is also a underlying psychological process that I think warrants some closer scrutiny… Let me explain…

So first up… Well done Kate Winslett… Yay! A BRIT Oscar… And of course a very big well done to my beloved Kings of Leon for winning two BRIT awards last week…

Ok, following on from my earlier quote… There are seemingly many show business observers that think Hollywood is shooting itself in its ratings foot by nominating films like The Reader, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, and The Wrestler instead of blockbuster movies like The Dark Knight.  Oh, really?

Let’s look at this… The People’s Choice awards nominees for best picture were: The Dark Knight, Mama Mia, and Sex and the City.  And they gave top honours to The Dark Knight. WHich was one of my favourite films of the year without a doubt.

Hmmm… How could the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (the overseer of the Academy Awards) and the Academy voting membership of almost six thousand individuals have missed those cinematic delights? And what are the reasons they missed those, do you think?  

Saying that, the BRIT music awards do now have one of the awards voted for entirely by the public… Which meant that this year, despite being the most successful UK girl band of all time (eclipsing the success of the Spice Girls) they got their first award in 6 years… Only the one voted for by the public though…

What is it about the Dark Knight then? I suppose if I were brutally honest, from an artistic angle of some kind, were it not for the late Heath Ledger’s rendition of the Joker, other than for nominations in areas like special effects or editing or set design, the movie itself perhaps was not really highly regarded in terms of artistry in areas such as script, character development or acting.  

In other words, The Dark Knight was not in any way Oscar-worthy for Best Picture and suggesting it should have been nominated rather than, say, Frost/Nixon is off any aesthetic wall and only sticks to the wall of ratings whoredom. 

I suppose then that TV ratings and popularity, are not the reason Hollywood gives Oscars out.

Gross popularity is what alternative award shows like People’s Choice thrive on because that is where the vast cinema-attending audience gets to express itself. 

But to hold the People’s Choice awards up as some standard  to strive for at the Oscars would be like me voting for David Cameron at the next election because I’d rather have a beer with im than Gordon Brown… Christian Bale has not been on the receiving end of much praise for his acting skills.  Nor has the Dark Knight film script been raved about by many plaudits, has it? 

Of course, the film industry is is incredibly commercial but it  also has an element of studio prestige factor.  This generally refers to looking at a film from the angle of its manifest and multi-faceted art and artistry, not simply the angle of a film’s business or popularity in the masses.  It is a perspective that still survives and thrives.

I am quite sure that the TV network and the advertisers would like as many people as possible to tune in to Oscars; because they can sell more expensive advertisement slots and reach larger audiences. If you look at the figures, Oscar night ratings have dropped a fair bit over the past decade.  Though in fact, virtually all TV viewership has dropped over the last decade.  Why should the Oscars be any different?

Mass appeal films like The Dark Knight is where the filmmakers and exhibitors make their money  It’s a round robin of tent pole movies, block busters, sequels, prequels, franchises, popcorn flicks, etc.  But the recipe for Oscar is something quite more. 

It includes a deep bow to art and to intelligent, dramatically solid films, often addressing social issues, great notions, expertly crafted screenplays.  It even rewards finely crafted, occasional breakthrough mixes of direction, effects and scripts or franchises… Just consider my favourite films of all time — Lord of the Rings:Return of the King, essentiallygetting the award for the entire fabulous trilogy.

Money does kind of enter the equation… Just with more of a subordinated nod to commercial potential or broad appeal. Independent films and their like seem to have dominated the Oscars for years.

So this is one reason why studios began to buy up the indie mini-majors like Mirimax and Fine Line studios — so they can cater to the non-mass audiences and be the source of prestige… So the psychology comes into it… After the domination of the 2008 awards with indie films like The Reader, Milk, The Wrestler and, of course, Slumdog Millioniare and Frost/Nixon, this formula is still working. 

Studios need both prestige and blockbusters to avoid not catering for any large segment of the population.

That classic process of doing all it can to please as many people as possible.

For nominations related to Best Picture Award there are rules… All the members of the Academy submit their vote. The winners are determined by a second round of voting, in which all members are allowed to vote in most categories, including Best Picture. Nominees want to be judged by their peers in this context, not by an artistically undemanding public… I’m sorry, but that’s what we are… 😉

While The Dark Knight had numerous technical nominations (sound mixing, visual effects, sound editing, etc.), it had no nominations for best picture, directing, male or female lead, female supporting role, or screenplay because the powers-that-be did not find it worthy of such recognition. 

Heath Ledger was it, and that was fair and just — as was his posthumously winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  But don’t you agree that a picture should be more than the performance of one actor in one role?

I love the Dark Knight… It was swash-buckling, I did not need to think too much… I love Batman doing his thing… I tend to think I have film integrity, but sometimes don;t want to be too arty when film watching…

Many people I know think Iron Man is a far better film in most respects than The Dark Knight, they say it is better written, a far more interesting hero, a less cliched plot and more novel special effects.  Yet it was not an Oscar contender in the slightest. 

Finally, and I may be wrong about this but, on sheer tougness, and technical ingenuity alone, I reckon Batman could kick Iron Man’s backside in a fight… Maybe not compete in the wit department, though both are equally as successful with the ladies when they want to be… Though Iron Man did make his money for himself… Ok, I better stop… I’ll be more hypno-relevant tomorrow…