Sunday, March 07, 2010

568 - You Aught to Know - The Dark Knight - #1

The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, 2008, 119 points

Christopher Nolan, one of the master auteurs of the aughts, achieved the unthinkable by helming a $185 million, 155-minute sequel to a superhero movie that was once all but assured a sequel. As if that wasn’t enough, he did it with a superhero and a villain who had already waged war in a terrible earlier movie. And he made The Dark Knight one of the most emotionally complex, politically prophetic, visually groundbreaking, epically entertaining, wispily romantic, terrifyingly violent, and downright moving films of all time. Yes, I've succumbed to adjectives by now, but to pointedly analyze the greatness of The Dark Knight would mean writing several pages. - Danny Baldwin

Juggernaut of a movie. Did everything right. Christopher Nolan is a genius. What more is there to say that hasn't already been said? - Tiffany Bullen

When putting together top 10 lists, I tend to make a point of including more than one film by the same director. For my best of the aughts list, I made a point of including at least two films by Christopher Nolan, who turned out not one but three masterpieces this decade: Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight. As fond as I am of The Prestige, it was impossible for me to resist The Dark Knight's enthralling zeitgeist, the near-universal audience rapture to a work of art that's breathtakingly exciting, the elevation of fundamentally silly material into a work that's incendiary and occasionally terrifying. There might be films that I liked better, but this was the film of the decade. - James Frazier

Putting The Dark Knight on this list kind of speaks for itself. There couldn't possibly be a better villain for Batman. The Joker simply is the other side of the story. The way that the two battle each other in this film puts all other Batman movies to shame in vast ways. It shows that in order for a superhero film to truly be great, it needs a villain of the highest caliber. - Tony Girard

After seeing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, I vowed to never again watch another film if it is based on a comic book. I made two exceptions: Watchmen (which I thoroughly enjoyed), and the latest rendition of Batman by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, the very artists who are responsible for the aforementioned Memento. I was not impressed by Batman Begins, but The Dark Night was beyond belief. The Joker was the most sinister menace I have ever seen as an antagonist: "I believe... that whatever doesn't kill you only makes you [unmasks himself revealing the crudely painted clown-face beneath] stranger!" (until I wrote that down I never noticed that there is but one pen-stroke's difference between the word "stronger" and "stranger"). In another scene, in order to force a motorcade off the main road, he blocks the road with the somber image of firetruck set ablaze; a "fire" truck, how ironic! Also, I do not know how they thought up the scene where he does a "magic trick" with an ordinary pencil. And the jaw-dropping moment when the Joker plays a trick on two boatloads of people by putting them in a situation that game theorists call "the prisoners dilemma" -- but with real prisoners on one of the boats; how very ironic! That is not to say anything about the character of Batman, who's personal struggles and difficult ethical decisions make him seem truly heroic. I did not have to think twice about adding this film to my list. - Ramin Honary

A top pick for a 2000’s list should select one of the decade’s most influential films- not just a personal favorite- a certain classic that made a wide cultural impact. A film like The Passion of the Christ offers this type of candidate (a movie that also functioned as a major cultural event, drawing in people who hadn’t been filmgoers in years, and likewise serving as not only an incredible box office draw but a serious religious experience as well) but the drawback to selecting this as the top film is that due to the anguish of the Passion, it’s rightly unpleasant to watch, and the film is a more a testament to its subject than a standout film in its own right. A film like United 93 would also comment on a major historical event and summon the spirit of the 2000’s, yet it too, despite its unflinching and masterfully direct take on the event, did not capture my imagination in the highest sense that a great movie should. Enter The Dark Knight. The 2000’s had an endless supply of big productions and even bigger box office sales, but the biggest movie in the culture, and the best movie made this decade, was the sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, itself an exceptional film that took up the origin of the iconic Batman in a charged, dynamic film that hardly seemed to miss a step. A fresh take on familiar characters, engaging, swift plotlines, and the incredible explanatory narratives detailing how Bruce Wayne became Batman, how he made his tools and weapons, and most importantly why he became Batman made Batman Begins a revelatory film and instant favorite. The Dark Knight, following this formula and combining with even better filmmaking and the timing of Heath Ledger’s tragic death, captured that perfect mixture of elements, that elusive “lightning in a bottle” which composes all excellent movies.

Most remarkable among all of The Dark Knight’s perfect filmmaking choices was its superb pacing and storytelling. Perhaps a pro-Bush parable for the war on terror, the two-and-a-half hour, never-dull opus follows, no, pushes through the intricate storylines which intertwine and escalate into powerful conflicts and sequences far elevated above mindless CGI action and splash screens. Consider that in the climax, as the Joker’s diabolical scheme sets two boatloads of people against each other (operating under the condition that if they detonate the other boat, theirs will be saved) the tension builds madly and sets the full cast of characters in motion, but we are spared resolution through explosions. True, the problem is solved through action, but it is smart action. And elsewhere, in the showpiece chase scene, the action and direction of the Joker gleefully blasting away at police vans with an RPG is spectacular, and most importantly- it has meaning; it is relevant to the plot and characters, not a special effects scene meant to show off the film’s budget.

Much more could be said about Ledger’s idiosyncratic and charismatic Joker, I won’t try and focus on that now, and also Bale’s Batman, who was explored more fully in Batman Begins but still continued in The Dark Knight as a complex character with noble, altruistic intentions for his city and the people who don’t deserve help as they resent and persecute him in their corrupted ways. Let it be said though, that The Dark Knight speaks for itself as a mesmerizing cinematic artwork. No other film this decade was as meaningful, relevant, and well made. - Dustin Lilleskov

A crime saga. It’s Star Wars for cool people. - Eric Mohling

I find it a bit distasteful that another movie starring Christian Bale made it onto my list, but considering the other major players including Aaron Eckhardt, Heath Ledger, Micheal Caine, Gary Oldman and Maggie Gyllenhall I think I'll swallow it and move on. As the second part of an amazing reboot to the Batman series, The Dark Knight outclasses Batman Begins in almost every way imaginable. It brought us the most recognizable of the Batman villains while bringing true depth to an established hero. Many are sure to follow trying to match the grandeur and darkness, but the bar has been set high. - Ryan Toppin

Tonight's the Oscars. My predictions:

Best Picture: Avatar
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique

Next time on You Aught to Know: Epilogue

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