As one Oscar season comes to a close, another opens (at least to speculation) with Matt Reeves’ newest take on the Batman franchise starring Robert Pattinson, Jeffrey Wright, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano and Colin Farrell.
The director and co-writer (along with Peter Craig) delivers a dark take on the world’s greatest detective as he battles villains the Riddler, the Penguin and (sorta, but not really) Catwoman. Receiving positive reviews from critics, will this new take on the Caped Crusader land major Oscar attention — including best picture — following in the footsteps of “Black Panther” (2017) and “Joker” (2019)?
But with a limited sense of what the rest of 2022 will have to offer the cinematic landscape, there are certainly two spots well worth considering “The Batman” for recognition: cinematography and original score.
The camerawork, executed by two-time nominee Greig Fraser, is divine, framing an intimate and tension-filled experience that only a master of his caliber can achieve. In fact, with the film set to open in theaters this Friday, his work may end up pushing him over this year’s Oscar finish line with his nomination for “Dune.” The Australian DP has also been nominated for Garth Davis’ “Lion” (2016).
Composer Michael Giacchino is no stranger to the Oscar world. He landed both his Oscar noms for Pixar outings: “Ratatouille” (2007) and “Up” (2009), the latter winning him the Academy Award. Since then, Giacchino hasn’t been invited back to the ceremony as a nominee despite worthy outings like “Inside Out” (2015), “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016), “Coco” (2017) and “Jojo Rabbit” (2019). But “The Batman” score could be the defining one of his career, shepherding a bombastic richness that feels signature and only adds to every frame presented.
All of this is utterly speculative. I was very taken by Kravitz and Dano’s performances, but they don’t seem to be the type of “showy” work that they tend to fall for, even newer members. The film’s production design, sound and visual effects are well within arm’s reach. The major categories like picture, directing, lead actor for Robert Pattinson and adapted screenplay don’t seem attainable, although social media will attempt to frame a narrative saying otherwise. However, you should expect it on multiple top 10s of next year from some critics and a few regional awards to cite it in a significant way, providing false hope for the fandom.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s also important to know how other Batman efforts have done with the Academy.
“Batman” (1989) from Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton was nominated and won for best art direction and set decoration (now called production design). It was the first and only nomination for the late production designer Anton Furst, who died in 1991. Set decorator Peter Young would win a second statuette on another Burton classic, “Sleepy Hollow” (1999).
Burton and Keaton’s final outing together for “Batman Returns” (1992) scored mentions for best makeup and visual effects. Fans often cite the snub of Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on the villainous Catwoman for supporting actress as one of the Academy’s most egregious blunders. However, the same year produced one of the coolest Oscar wins in history, with Marisa Tomei as the hilarious Mona Lisa Vito in “My Cousin Vinny” (1992).
Continuing the uptick in the Oscar nomination tally, under the direction of Joel Schumacher and a new Bruce Wayne/Batman played by Val Kilmer, “Batman Forever” (1995) landed three noms for cinematography, sound and sound effects editing. It lost its prizes to one best picture winner and another nominee: “Braveheart” and “Apollo 13.”
Perhaps not as well-known is the hit track “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal, which was featured in “Batman Forever” but wasn’t eligible for the original song category because it was on his second album. The song went on to the 1996 Grammy for record of the year, song of the year and male pop vocal album, selling eight million copies.
The Caped Crusader made its first stumble with Schumacher’s next effort “Batman & Robin” with George Clooney taking up the mantle, which critics criticized and is widely considered the worst cinematic outing for the comic book hero. However, the film has garnered a cult following, especially for the performances of its villains: Mr. Freeze by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Poison Ivy by Uma Thurman.
The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy gave the franchise a gritty reset with Christian Bale putting on the cowl. Starting with “Batman Begins” (2005), the film landed one mention for cinematography by Wally Pfister, losing to Dion Beebe for “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
“The Dark Knight” (2008) changed the game for not just the superhero genre, but the Academy Awards themselves. Following the untimely death of actor Heath Ledger, the second installment went on to gross more than $1 billion worldwide and was the highest-grossing film of 2008 as well as the fourth-highest grossing film of all-time domestically. Ledger’s turn as the Joker is considered one of the best villainous performances in cinematic history, ultimately winning a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor — only the second in history following Peter Finch for “Network” (1976). The film landed an impressive eight Oscar noms, but was notoriously snubbed for best picture and director. Nevertheless, it’s widely credited for the Academy’s decision to expand the number of best picture nominees from five to 10, which happened the following year.
Nolan’s final outing with Bale on “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) didn’t get any residual goodwill, ultimately being shut out of the Oscar nominations.
Since then, the DCEU has had Batman as part of larger character vehicles like David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” (2016), which despite getting thrashed by critics, won an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling. Todd Phillips’ “Joker” (2019), starring Joaquin Phoenix, only shows a young Bruce Wayne but landed the most Oscar nominations of its respective year with 11, ultimately winning two for best actor and original score.