Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Dark Knight gets a WGA nod (and why it could win Best Picture at the Oscars)

The Dark Knight was one of five movies nominated for 'Best Adapted Screenplay' this morning by the Writers Guild Of America. Good for it. The film's appearance here and in the Producer's Guild short list bodes well for Oscar prospects, something I was iffy on after it got stiffed by the Globes and didn't win any of the major 'Best Film Of The Year' critics awards. I figured, if it couldn't even win best picture from the Chicago Film Critics Association, then it was in trouble.

I do think its funny that The Dark Knight is an 'adapted screenplay' purely because it is a sequel (since it's actually an original screenplay that happens to contain existing characters). It actually had a better shot at winning in the Original Screenplay category, since it wouldn't have to face off against such Oscar front runners as Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. The original screenplay category has three with Oscar also-rans (The Visitor, Vicki Christina Barcelona, Burn After Reading), and two serious contenders (Milk, The Wrestler) that are known more for their lead performances then for their screenplays. Ironically, one could argue that the last two are both based on or at least heavily inspired by documentaries, The Times Of Harvey Milk and Beyond The Mat, respectively.

As I've said (in private conversation), if The Dark Knight is able to snatch a Best Picture nomination from the Academy, it automatically becomes the front runner, in my opinion. Benjamin Button is having issues over the fact that about half the audience and critics don't particularly like it (the only reason it's still leading the pack is because of its surprisingly robust box office). Slumdog-backlash is sure to build as happens when good films get crowned as allegedly great.

The rest of the major films (Milk, Frost/Nixon, Doubt, The Wrestler) are generally considered, fairly or not, to be purely actors' showcases, be it for one or two star performances. Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, and The Dark Knight are the only ones left that are praised as great overall movies by the critics and audiences that like them. And since more Academy members will likely have seen The Dark Knight than the other two, and thus are more likely to have liked The Dark Knight (and assuming that Wall-E doesn't sneak into the final five), we may just have a Batman comic book drama as our 'Best Picture' of 2008. And considering it's actually a better film than all of the Oscar bait from this season, that wouldn't bother me one bit.

Scott Mendelson

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