- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

How can a movie rack up eight nominations at the Oscars and still get snubbed? When only one of those nominations comes in the major categories, it’s pretty easy.

“The Dark Knight” picked up eight nominations for the 2009 Academy Awards, seven of which were in craft categories such as cinematography, visual effects and editing. It did snag a nom in one of the “major” categories: Heath Ledger is up for the best supporting actor Oscar.

But “The Dark Knight” was ignored in the best picture and best director categories; the academy simply couldn’t set aside its bias toward a big-budget, action-adventure movie that subtly commented on society. Without taking into account the academy’s inherent reluctance to honor something so pedestrian as, shudder, a “comic book movie,” ignoring “The Dark Knight” and its director, Christopher Nolan, is inexplicable.

Critically speaking, “The Dark Knight’s” credentials are impeccable. The film scores 99 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the critic-aggregating Web site, and it appeared on countless top 10 lists. The American Film Institute selected it as one of the 10 best films of the year. The Producers Guild of America nominated it for best picture of the year.

The Directors Guild of America also nominated Mr. Nolan for best director of the year. His snub is the cruelest cut of all: He not only crafted a fine yarn about living life in an age of terrorism but also revolutionized the art form from a technical standpoint.

Mr. Nolan’s use of Imax cameras was groundbreaking. While it’s true that some action films and cartoons have been shown on Imax screens in recent years, those films were shot in 35 mm and blown up to fit on the Imax screen. Mr. Nolan was determined to take a different tack, shooting instead on actual Imax cameras, the 70 mm behemoths that produce the giant, crystal-clear images projected onto the football-field-sized screens.

Seeing “The Dark Knight” on Imax — something you can do again beginning this Friday at select Imax theaters — is a singularly breathtaking cinematic experience. The film plays at its standard 35 mm size for most of the film, blowing up into full-on Imax during the action sequences and overhead aerial shots.

The effect blew people away. Jon Favreau, for example, said he wanted to shoot “Iron Man 2” in Imax. At least he did until he realized just how hard it is to do. As anyone who has dived into the special features on “The Dark Knight” DVD knows, shooting the movie with giant 70 mm cameras was no easy task. Special rigs had to be created to utilize the cameras to their full effect, and digital effects must be kept to a minimum, as their imperfections tend to show in the larger, more pristine format.

In addition to its critical success and technical innovations, “The Dark Knight” was a massive commercial success as well, becoming the second-highest-grossing film of all time. This is one of the few times in recent history that critics and audiences have so lovingly embraced the same movie.

The last time Hollywood saw such a confluence of critical fanfare, technical innovation and commercial success was “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” a movie that took home 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director. “The Dark Knight” couldn’t even score nominations in those categories.

Instead, the academy chose to honor a Holocaust clunker like “The Reader,” a bloated retread of “Forrest Gump” like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and a cliched biopic like “Milk” with best picture nominations.

And the academy wonders why people care less and less about the Oscars every year.

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