Film

The Batman vs The Fabelmans: Paul Dano on what makes an awards-worthy film as the Oscars 2023 nominations are announced

Paul Dano starred in two critically acclaimed films, but riddle me this: why do popular genre films get overlooked at the Oscars?

Oscars nominations: Paul Dano with Fabelmans co-star Michelle Williams and Steven Spielberg

Paul Dano with co-star Williams and writer-director Steven Spielberg. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Are genre films, franchise films, action films, superhero films – which made up so many of the biggest and most popular films of the last year, unfairly overlooked at the Oscars?

Before the Oscars 2023 nominations were revealed, it was suggested that box office hits The Batman, Top Gun: Maverick, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Avatar: The Way of Water, Jurassic World: Dominion – films that made more than $6billion at the box office last year – would feature heavily.

In the end, they had an ok showing. Angela Bassett secured the Marvel’s first acting nomination for her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Top Gun: Maverick is up for Best Picture. None of them came close to leading the nominations, though. That honour went to Everything Everywhere All at Once (with 11 nominations), closely followed by The Banshees Of Inisherin and All Quiet On The Western Front with nine nods each.

Paul Dano stars in two huge movies eligible for this year’s awards. The Fabelmans, directed by Steven Spielberg, could be a multiple award-winner, with seven nominations including Best Picture.

Spielberg’s autobiographical story is beautifully made, wonderfully acted, and a distillation of everything we’ve ever loved about his films over so many decades. As a love letter to filmmaking, it was instantly flagged for Oscars glory.  

But The Batman, in which Dano plays The Riddler did not get a look in outside of the technical categories – with nominations in Best Make-up and Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. Although his co-star Colin Farrell was nominated as Best Actor for The Banshees of Inisherin, he arguably put in as good a turn as the Penguin.

There still remains a divide between popular films and what is assumed to be more serious fare. Paul Dano has tents in both camps so ahead of the Oscar nomination announcement, we asked him why…

“I really liked making The Batman and I really liked the film too,” Dano told us. “I think it’s an incredible piece of work. Matt Reeves did incredible work. It’s a big piece of work. Every element of it – the cinematography, the production design.

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“So I feel like that’s a real movie. And I think it should be considered for anything. I was surprised by how rich The Batman was emotionally and thematically. I don’t think a lot of films like that are. And that is why they are [overlooked]. Because I don’t think a lot of those films are offering more than just the front layer. It depends on the film and the filmmaker.”

“Film is a very rich medium. And I love the medium. I think it is different from TV – not better or worse. But by it being a more compact medium, it is asking for a finer level of attention to how the camera is telling the story, how the sound design is, how the score is and how every component adds up to one piece. And what experience is it giving you, what is it leaving you with.

“And every once and again, you have really big films that are really artful. And I think The Batman is. But I’m excited to see Avatar just as much as I am to see Tár. I haven’t seen Tár yet, because we have just had a baby – but I’m going to see all these films.”

On working with Steven Spielberg (a man who has two directing Oscars), Dano couldn’t find enough plaudits.

“The thing that hooked me was the look in his eyes when he told me what it was about,” he said.

“My heart leapt. I thought for him to make something so personal at this point in his career? You could tell it felt important, that the stakes are high.

“His father had only passed about eight months before we spoke. So this was raw. And it took a moment to digest. I thought, well, golly, that’s quite bold and brave to be diving right into this.

“Steven is highly intuitive filmmaker and trusts his gut and what he sees. He’s following some very clear line of intuition and imagination – it was so inspiring.

“Steven is a sprite. He’s a very excitable director. And with each new character that came in that was based on someone from his life you could feel the energy shift slightly on set. It was very, very powerful.

“It was not like any other shoot I’ve ever been a part of in terms of the director, the way his heart was on the line. The crew he’s worked with for 30 years were all saying this one’s different. From the first Zoom to the toast he gave when we finished filming, it was a big and special experience.”

The Oscars 2023 winners are announced on March 13.

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