The 2009 Academy Award Oscar nominations were interesting not so much about what got the nominations and in what got snubbed. Two popular and critically acclaimed films, The Dark Knight and Gran Torino, were all but shut out.
This is not to say that the actual Academy Award nominees for the major categories are not worthy. It’s just that there seems to be an ideological pattern extant in what got nominated and what got snubbed.
The Dark Knight, which had its first run during the summer, is seen by many to be an allegory of the War on Terror and even of President George W. Bush’s leadership of the same. Heath Ledger (who did get a best supporting actor Academy Award nomination) gives an exquisite performance as the Joker that is as great a portrait of madness and evil as ever was seen on the big screen.
If Heath Ledger’s Joke can be seen as a stand in for Bin Laden, Christopher Bale’s Batman, the “Dark Knight”, can be seen as President George W. Bush. Batman is a man of wealth who fights ruthlessly against the evil that is threatening his community and is eventually despised by many of the people he has successfully detected. The only way to make the parallels more obvious would have been to give Batman a Texas accent and have him mispronounce the word “nuclear.”
Of course genre films are not very often given respect by the Academy, outside the technical categories, of which The Dark Knight has a number of nominations. But the Academy did give nominations to the films that make up the Lord of the Rings trilogy and have the Best Picture award to Return of the King, so there is a precedence.
The other great movie snubbed in the Academy Awards nominations was Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. There was no best picture, no best director, no best original screenplay, and no best actor nomination, each of which Gran Torino could have gotten easily.
The problem with Gran Torino likely stems from its main character, Walt, played with such snarling zest by Clinton Eastwood. Walt is a misanthrope and (apparently) a bigot who yet bonds with the Asian family that lives next door to him. Gran Torino depicts the essential goodness of Americans, especially immigrants and children of immigrants, while examining Clint Eastwood’s reoccurring ideas of what it means to be a man and the consequences of deadly violence.
By contrast, two of the best picture Academy Award nominations, Frost/Nixon and Milk, have decidedly liberal themes. Frost/Nixon resurrects that old, reliable villain, Richard Nixon, to snarl and genuflect one more time to be the modern Shakespearean style heavy. Milk’s main character, played with great alacrity, is the story of a liberal, gay political activist and eventual martyr, Harvey Milk.
Of course, it could be worse. Oliver Stone’s W could have been nominated. But that was such a bad film, even it’s acceptable politics could not have gotten it a nomination for an Academy Award in any major category.
Sources: List of 81st annual Oscar nominations is announced, AP, January 22nd, 2009 T
he Dark Knight Film Review, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, July 18th, 2008
Gran Torino Film Review, Mark R. Whittington, January 10th, 2009