[Editor's Note: Oscar Prospects is your weekly analysis of an awards contender and how it's likely to fare come Oscar nomination morning. The column is comprehensive, so beware of spoilers.]
For those who thought 2012 would be the year in which the Academy made amends to Christopher Nolan, that auteur of urban spectacle whom many believe has twice been robbed of a directing nod, a certain mad gunman likely dashed those already slim hopes. Before James Eagan Holmes opened fire in a Colorado screening of The Dark Knight Rises, ultimately leaving 12 viewers dead, there might have been a chance for Nolan's trilogy capper to at least crack the Best Picture shortlist, if not shuffle him into the running for Best Director. It wouldn't have been the first time Oscar voters rallied around a beloved hopeful, anointing his latest work as a way to honor all of his recent output (which, it should be noted, has made gajillions of dollars for the industry). But many will probably prefer to make a statement with abstention, celebrating films that don't stoke the fire of the whole too-much-violence-in-cinema argument. It's absurd that a freak incident, albeit tragic, is causing such drastic Hollywood ripple effects (like the re-cuttingof the upcoming Gangster Squad), and it's a bit of a shame that, on top of all else, such a nasty PR mess had to befall the folks at Warner Bros. But all that says nothing of the movie's disappointing stance as the weakest of Nolan's Batman epics. Even if there'd been no bloodshed beyond what appears on screen, The Dark Knight Rises likely wouldn't have reached its expectations as a reparative honoree, making up for the 2008 Best Pic snub that allegedly revived the 10-wide field.
If there's anything working in this third installment's favor, it's the timely socioeconomic themes, part of an arc of real-world parallels that's served the saga well. But The Dark Knight Rises wears its Occupy Gotham messages on its sleeve so explicitly, it's hard to appreciate their relevant implications. In the end, this doesn't feel like the hard-hitting, revolutionary blockbuster it tries to be, especially when it insists that you digest its "authenticity" while chewing on comic-book hogwash, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's risible reveal as Robin. There's some scattered buzz about potential in the supporting acting categories, with rumored dark-horse chances for Michael Caine's final bow as Alfred and Anne Hathaway's slinky take on Selina Kyle. Neither, however, seem the least bit probable, as Caine could only nab Supporting Actor love in a Dark Knight Rises sweep, and Hathaway will already compete in Supporting Actress for her work in Les Misérables. What the cat-suited performance will surely do is bolster support for the latter, as screen ubiquity is always good when one is courting Oscar.
Conventional wisdom says this film would surely have the sound categories in the bag, as The Dark Knight netted a nod for Sound Mixing and won for Sound Editing. But even the aural experience of Dark Knight Rises is lackluster, as best evidenced by Tom Hardy's near-inaudible grumbling as Bane. Richard King may score again for his sound editing work, but the sound mix here is one of the year's more egregiously unsuccessful. What's also likely to happen is a break in the Cinematography nomination streak for Wally Pfister, Nolan's go-to DP and a winner two years back for Inception. Despite the much-reported-on camera techniques, including a generous wealth of IMAX footage, The Dark Knight Rises lacks the 65 mm grace of The Master, or the probable 3D majesty of Life of Pi. It's also up against the sure-to-be formidable lensing of Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, and, perhaps, Cloud Atlas. Which brings us to Visual Effects, the annual bone-throw category for genre fare. Even with heavy hitters like Life of Pi, The Avengers, and The Hobbit in the mix, this field holds the closest thing to a nomination lock for Batman Part Trois, which offers contrast to the sea of CGI with its no-frills city action (that arresting stadium scene doesn't hurt either). Of course, it's quite possible that Nolan's latest will be shut out completely, a turn of events that would solidify an unlikely development of the filmgoing year—that one of 2012's most anticipated is also one of its least essential.
Surest bets: Best Visual Effects; Best Sound Editing.
Possibilities: Best Cinematography; Best Sound Mixing; Best Art Direction; Best Editing; Best Picture.
Shouldn't be Overlooked: None.