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Are the Oscars Still a Pipe Dream for Christopher Nolan?

As I write this, the clock is counting down. The Oscar race is in full swing. And I look back, and I really haven’t written too much about it. There are two reasons for this. The most obvious is that I haven’t seen too many of the contenders. Of the headliners, I have seen both The King’s Speech and The Social Network. I have yet to see The Black Swan, 127 Hours or True Grit. Of the lower-tier Oscar films, I have really only seen Inception and The Kids Are All Right. It isn’t that I don’t want to see them, it’s just that it has been a busy January and things have gotten in the way. The other reason I haven’t been blogging about it is because – barring what the competition between The King’s Speech and The Social Network says about the Academy – it has been a pretty bland year. There are so many “locks” that the race has become almost boring. In fact, the only real question I’m at all concerned about is whether Christopher Nolan will finally get that Best Director nomination he so sorely deserves.

Could this turn the Oscars upside down?

Inception is assured a place in the final ten. In fact, the expansion of the category to ten films has reportedly been dubbed “the Dark Knight rule” by some pundits in honour of the snub which motivated the change. The idea is that the larger field will allow genre films to compete, and it has – to an extent. Up and District 9 both secured Best Picture nominations last year, when any other time they would have been locked out. However, it’s merely the worst form of tokenism. The Oscars aren’t accepting genre movies because the members feel they deserve to be nominated (or – shocker – even win), it’s a populist move to help shore up falling ratings for the telecast, by throwing the mainstream some very lean bones.

There were a maximum of five genuine contenders for the Best Picture Oscar in years past, and there are five genuine contenders this year as well – there just happen to be five “also rans” included in the ballot. There are still only five Best Director slots open, and the last film to win Best Picture without at least a nomination in the directing category was Driving Miss Daisy, and it had been a long time before that as well. A nomination for a film without a Best Director nomination is just tokenism.

I should probably be happy when Inception secures its inevitable Best Picture nomination. There might even be a few articles about how the Oscars are embracing wacky science fiction (the argument being that Avatar doesn’t count because it’s directed by James Cameron), but I won’t be convinced. The pundits know that there is no chance of a win. Giving it one of those five extra slots is an insult – a patronising pat on the head which says that it is “almost good enough”.

Batman didn't take the awards snub very well...

That’s why I dread the Best Director nominations. A whole host of websites have Christopher Nolan down as a mortal lock for a Best Director nomination – alongside David Fincher and Tom Hooper. However, I am not convinced. A lot of people were surprised in 2008 when the nominees for the Best Picture included The Reader, and I don’t want to be fooled again. There’s a lot of talent competing for those spots in the Best Director race. I think that Darren Aronofsky, Danny Boyle and the Coen Brothers have enough pedigree to be serious threats – the Oscars go with what they know (ask Tom “did anyone who wasn’t me pick up an Oscar in the nineties?” Hanks and Jack “some of this isn’t even my best work” Nicholson). That’s ignoring David O. Russell, as well, who I could see making the top five before Nolan.

Nolan’s only Oscar nomination to date is for the script to Memento. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sterling piece of work, but his directing skills easily match his writing. Regardless of what you think of The Dark Knight, you have to admit that it was one of those key moments were the mainstream audience realised the genre films could be just as powerful as any pretentious Oscar bait. And, though I’m in the minority, I think The Prestige deserves some love as well. Nolan is well into his career at this stage, and has yet to produce a dud – particularly when he’s working in such dangerous waters. Describe the concept of any of his films to random person unfamiliar with his work, and I’m fairly certain they’d be skeptical – yet Nolan makes it work every time.

I should be happy today when they read out the list of nominees for Best Picture featuring Inception, but that’s not the nomination I’m interested in. I know that the members of the Academy are just going to look down their noses at it as populist tripe they let in to pander to hardcore movie nerds, a “pretender” that they are glad didn’t rob one of those precious five slots from a “real movie”. It’s the Best Director nomination which shows a belated respect for Christopher Nolan – an acknowledgement that he is truly one of the best at what he does.

Nolan answers the "Good Directors' Signal"... But Tries to Think of a Catchier Name...

You might argue that it doesn’t matter – the Oscars are a bunch of stuffy old folks out of touch – and you’d probably be right. Nolan is vindicated by mainstream audiences at least, which is more than any number of auteurs from David Lynch to David Cronenberg can claim – while still holding on to his critical acclaim. His accomplishments in getting Inception made through the studio system – let alone making it the third biggest movie of the year – are phenomenal.

However, it is something else to have the respect of your peers. It is comforting to know that the people who you work so hard with and for, day in and day out, respect you and your abilities. It’s reassuring to know that people who know the work as well as you do respect the commitment you’ve shown. It’s nice to be recognised as among the best in your field by those working in your field.

So I’ll be watching the Best Director nominations very closely…

9 Responses

  1. I keep telling myself Nolan is a lock for Best Director, but deep down, I’m worried.

    On a side note, the more years that go by, the sillier Stephen Daldry’s nomination for The Reader looks. I still can’t believe neither the Wrestler or The Dark Knight were nominated.

    • Yep, The Reader was just… I found it worrying, to be honest. The themes were portrayed as ridiculously simplistic Oscar bait (literacy = good; scapegoating = bad) when the real issues of moral culpability are far more complex than that.

  2. yeah The Wrestler really is a strange one, should got noms for pic and director. glad youre getting annoyed early Daz, nolan has as much chance as me of winning the oscar this year.

    • Yep, I just wanted to post this before the nominations were announced, so that I wouldn’t look like a “poser” when I said “they were never gonna nominate him anyway”.

  3. Let’s hope he does.

  4. It’s like you are clairvoyant!!! I’m not surprised that he didn’t make it though, there was a lot of directors deserving of a nod and having been to the future, I already know Christopher Nolan will not ever receive an Oscar nod.

    • Though, in fairness, he won’t get nominated for The Dark Knight Rises – so the next nomination he could possibly receive would be in January 2016, roughly. I’m going to start getting indignant about his snub for The Dark Knight Rises now! 🙂

  5. Well, he didn’t get a nomination. They did the same thing with The Dark Knight. But who cares? I long ago stopped investing my time in the legitimacy of the Oscars.

    And I completely agree with your thoughts on the tokenism of the Best Picture category. The only way that genre and populist films are going to get their deserved recognition is if there’s an overhaul of our perceptions and attitudes.

    • Yep. The voters are the problem, to be frank. If the Academy wants to embrace popular culture, they need to stop electing fringe and foreign talent. For example, a few years ago I believe Ellen Page was snubbed for membership over an obscure Spanish writer. I don’t mean to cheeky or “populist” or anything like that, but the Academy isn’t building a dynamic which reflects the culture it’s trying to engage with.

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