December 10, 2010 in Features

Will ‘Harry’ finally conjure an Oscar?

Mary Mcnamara Los Angeles Times
 

There is something touching about the fact that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” opened in mid-November. It’s the unofficial beginning of Oscar season, after all.

Whether Warner Bros. is thumbing its nose at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or is still holding out hope for getting voters’ attention, it’s hard to imagine that this year will be any different from the previous six because Oscar just does not like Harry.

Think about it. Six films and no Oscars. None.

There have been nominations – for art direction, score and costume – but no wins, which, frankly, is hard to fathom. How could none of these films have won for costume?

None of the actors in six of the most popular films of all time has been nominated for an Oscar for their “Potter” roles. It’s not surprising that the young leads – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint – have been passed over; the academy prefers to nominate children in supporting roles and even then only in such scrappy, emo-heavy indies as “The Piano” or “Little Miss Sunshine.”

But the supporting adult characters have consistently been played by some of the best actors around from Britain and Ireland. Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Brendan Gleeson, Kenneth Branagh, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent and now Bill Nighy – the list borders on the absurd.

No doubt some academy members regret not nominating Harris for his final role before his death, but Gambon has been consistently passed over as well. As Albus Dumbledore, the two actors wore a ZZ Top beard, sometimes with little charms hung in it, and funny hats, and yet in both cases created a fully believable headmaster who is not just the wisest and most humble of men, but also the kindest, projecting a sorrowful optimism up until the moment of his death.

The academy has never been too fond of fantasy, especially in the acting category. “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” may have cleaned up in 2004, but none of its actors was even nominated.

It’s ironic, or infuriating, depending on what side of the screen you’re on, because the key to great fantasy is characters who are both extraordinary and utterly human. It’s one thing to play a serial killer or a corrupt company gal; it’s another when that character also has to be believable as an evil wizard or officious witch.

Perhaps the academy is waiting until the final “Harry Potter,” just as it waited for the third “Lord of the Rings.” Or maybe now, with 10 best picture nominees, there will be room not only for animated films but for fantasy as well.

Either way, there must be some acknowledgment not just of the success of this film franchise but also of the brilliance and effort it has required of so many.

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