I give workmate Jon Briggs — a man making his way through a Criterion Collection bucket list — daily briefings on my Oscar movie marathoning. His dependable retort: “I vote for The Dark Knight Rises.”
And just because the Christopher Nolan showpiece isn’t nominated for a single statuette doesn’t mean Briggs’ vote doesn’t count. His is one of countless anti-Oscar comments tick-marking through social media feeds as the Oscar hype reaches its climax, five days before the 85th annual awards ceremony. Briggs feels about award shows much as I feel about the Super Bowl: lotsa grandstanding, wagering and belly-aching over nothing. Still, people get as invested in favorite directors, actors, even studios as others do with sports franchises.
Some have mused that last summer’s epic Batman flick isn’t a player this year because it’s forever tainted by the flickering shadows of 12 people killed, 57 maimed and dozens more forever traumatized in the Aurora, Colo., move theater massacre. Parading it past survivors might refresh their wounds, they say. Ignoring it, letting it die or fade away in some way serves the greater good.
Briggs argues merely that the Visual Effects category is a joke with its heavily CGI’ed nominees — that The Dark Knight Rises didn’t rely on as many computer graphic tricks to dazzle, that its more “realistic” studio techniques elevate it to a higher art form. I certainly see his point. Too much CGI or canned action puts me to sleep, and that’s one reason I don’t clamber to see the Lord of the Rings movies, and why I literally have dozed through most of them. That’s also why I mustered respect for Les Misérables director Tom Hooper for forcing his largely untrained cast to sing live, without a soundtrack, for a more visceral connection. And why I look forward to seeing Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City, which celebrates the Van Nuys, Calif., recording studio that produced such benchmark LPs as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Nirvana’s Nevermind on an old-fashioned sound board, before digital mastering started isolating musicians and dissolving their chemistry.
Movies, though, are a means to escape reality, and the magic of movies has always been about exploiting the latest technology to make the impossible possible. I, too, am a huge fan of old movies that do so much with so little. I marvel at their quaint resourcefulness. I remember many failed attempts at infusing even more reality, like Smell-O-Vision, into the fantastical cinematic experience. But one day — probably tomorrow at this rate — even the latest 3-D technology, Dolby sound and CGI gimmicks will seem amateurish.
So which is it? Do we want our films realistic or crazy-far-out? Do we go to the movies to divine truths of our world and behaviors, to mirror ourselves, or do we want our minds blown discovering new worlds? Do we ooh and ahh at special effects pulled out of someone’s butt, or at actors like Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig who perform so many of their own stunts? It’s a smorgasbord. Movies bring everything to the table, to serve us all. You can turn up your nose if you don’t dig a dish.
Escaping reality. That’s the horror of what happened in Aurora, when unimaginable reality visited upon them, their brains in an altered state akin to dreaming and truly defenseless because of their own suspended animation. A shattered reality.
And yet the “magic” of The Dark Knight Rises, for me — despite it being a kick-ass great film made more suspenseful as I watched dreading what I imagined those people felt and when they felt it — is that it sits there in the shadows of every film I have seen since July 20, 2012. It is there when the slide comes up instructing me to locate my exits. And I’ve already checked, so no need to remind me. It is there when I am in a sold-out, crowded theater and I don’t know whether to take comfort in that thought or to be frightened out of my wits. It is there when I am alone in a theater, watching the last show before closing and my third movie of the day because I am cramming on Oscar nominees, thinking no one else could be this crazy … and then someone strolls in and I wonder: Could he be crazier, and also be packing?
It is there when I emerge from the Metro station at DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C., on my way to see yet another show, and the Walt Whitman quote etched in granite above my head reads: “Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals; the hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all dark night — some are so young; some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad.”
And if The Dark Knight Rises is not there, somewhere, during Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, I may become just as disillusioned with awards shows as my pal Briggs.
It deserves to be there, resurrected, along with the shadows of those innocents who expired just because they sought diversion from reality at the movies.