Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Oscar season. The Academy Awards are right around the corner and everyone is abuzz with who will and won’t win when Jimmy Kimmel hosts the show this coming Sunday. For many people, the glitz and glam of the Oscars are what Hollywood’s all about.
But there is a certain type of film that gets overlooked every year: the superhero movie. That’s right, comic book movies never make it to the big show, aside from popping in for a few technical awards. That hardly even counts, as they sit those people in the back! Indeed, superhero flicks never earn the respect that they often deserve. Some people thought that would change this year when it looked liked Deadpool would be earning a Best Picture nomination. Alas, it wasn’t to be. So aside from a few bright highlights in Oscar history, the heroes and villains of the big screen are left unrecognized.
Let’s change that. Let’s create our own categories for these caped characters of cinema and give them their own Oscars. We may not have the red carpet, the witty presenters or the wrap-it-up music, but we can still have fun without all that. And let’s not just include superhero films from this year. No, let’s appreciate movies from any year. There’s a ton to choose from, so let’s get started. Drumroll please.
Best Villain – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Also nominated: Hugo Weaving, Captain America: The First Avenger; Gene Hackman, Superman: The Movie; Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2
Seeing as how this did win an Oscar, this one is a no-brainer, right? Heath Ledger gave it all for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Some would say he gave too much, suspecting his method acting led to his untimely death just months before TDK’s debut. I don’t buy that, but his performance is haunting nonetheless. Ledger does something with The Joker that no one else ever has (or, if Jared Leto is any indication, ever will): He made The Joker scary. Not only scary but unpredictable. Rabid. Real. Ledger plays the Clown Prince of Crime like a wild dog on the hunt. He’s a natural disaster in human form. He takes no prisoners, knows no bounds. As a character it’s unique, new and endlessly fascinating. As a performance it’s unparalleled.
Most Faithful Adaptation – Watchmen
Also nominated: Captain America: The First Avenger, Batman: The Movie, Punisher: War Zone
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is — with a major exception — a very spot-on take of the source material. In many ways, it feels like a motion comic — as if Dave Gibbons’s artwork just came to life on screen. It should come as no surprise that Snyder used Gibbon’s panels as storyboard material.
The movie feels like it’s missing something but that’s because the story itself is cold and almost heartless. It’s a chillingly cynical look at the world and what it means to be a hero. You can find problems with the story or the characters or the script but you can’t deny that Snyder deftly brought this comic masterpiece to life in fine, perfected detail. He even added some great features, like the opening credit sequence which is still one of the best of all time. Way to go, Zack. I’m sure you’ll never make another superhero film that people endlessly debate and fight over!
Best Costume – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Also nominated: Iron Man, Hellboy, Superman Returns
The members of the Academy (i.e. me) thought long and hard before choosing a winner for this category. Despite all its faults (and there are many… so many), the costume in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is fantastic. In fact, much of what Andrew Garfield does in this movie rocks: The way he flips and flies through the air, his witty dialogue, even his unorthodox but still equally awkward Peter Parker works. The movie was painfully bad but there were certain things they nailed. Spider-Man looks terrific in this film and the costume delivers perfectly. Now, if only the movie followed through on the script… and villain… and supporting characters… and run time…
Best Heroine – Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass
Also nominated: Scarlett Johansson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns; Selma Blair, Hellboy
Oh, boy. There are few things as fun as seeing Chloë Moretz Grace play Hit-Girl in Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. On paper, the character is already pure gold: a foul-mouthed, violent, nearly sociopathic girl who befriends our hero Kick-Ass. However, Vaughn was incredibly lucky to find a performer as game and as smart as Moretz. Her delivery is excellent, of course, but she also gets the jokes and that makes all the difference. She’s playing the role straight, not for laughs and it’s exactly what the part called for. She also instills humanity in the character and you end up caring for this possibly insane young lady. It was a star-making performance for Moretz and with good reason: She’s absolutely dynamite in this film and delivers one of the most memorable turns in any superhero movie ever.
Best Sequel – The Dark Knight
Also nominated: Spider-Man 2, X2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Here we have the hardest category, the one that in many ways is the most important. Creating a worthy and better-than-the-first sequel is hard to do, especially with superhero films. When someone pulls it off, it can be something special. There are a lot of great comic book film sequels but nothing tops Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a movie that is more than just a superhero epic. It’s a crime epic and character drama too. It’s a director evolving, finding his groove and pushing everything to 11. This was the Batman movie that every fan wanted for generations, one that took this often silly comic book character and realistically placed him in the material world. People give the terms “grimdark” and “gritty” a hard time (and rightfully so), but this is an example of it being done perfectly.
The Dark Knight is a film about escalation and it’s an example of that very concept. Everything was ratcheted up, from the scope to the story to the themes. The Dark Knight is what a sequel should be. It was a giant leap forward for the series and for the genre as a whole.