Tarnished 'Knight' Still Could Win Oscar Gold

Without the Joker, though, Batman is no shoo-in.

When Christoper Nolan's The Dark Knight to score a best picture Oscar nomination in 2009, the outcry from fans was so intense, it led the Academy to open up the best picture race to as many as 10 films. That improved the chances that its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, could secure a b.p. slot -- until the Aurora, Colo., shooting hijacked conversations about the movie.

Could some Academy members now view the movie as tainted, however unfairly, by its association with a mass murderer? Or might others, sharing Nolan's outrage that the gunman had violated the sanctuary of a movie theater, nominate the film out of sheer defiance? "I know people like to play the politics game, but Academy members don't necessarily vote to make a point," says one. "In the end, it's how we respond to the movie."

On that score, Nolan's new movie may face a much more mundane set of challenges. While it currently rates a positive 87 percent on Rottentomatoes.com, even its loyalists concede Tom Hardy's semi-masked villain Bane pales in comparison to the maniacal Joker, for which Heath Ledger won an Oscar posthumously. And while Anne Hathaway may be earning raves for her lithe cat burglar, when it comes to a best supporting actress nom, she's more likely to attract attention for playing the tragic Fantine in Les Miserables. But the biggest hurdle may simply be that Rises isn't really a stand-alone movie. It intentionally refers back to characters and themes in the first two parts of the trilogy. That worked for best picture winner The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but Peter Jackson's three movies were released in consecutive years. Batman Begins debuted a full seven years ago, which could leave some viewers who aren't Batman aficionados puzzled. Plus, another Academy member suggests, "At the end of the day, the Academy always considers the source. Peter Jackson's trilogy came from a piece of literature. This came from a comic book."

Still, Nolan is admired. His last film, 2010's Inception, earned eight noms, including best picture, and took home four trophies. When nominations are announced, this new Dark Knight could still rise to the occasion.