Pete Hammond

This weekend Harry Potter proved he can rule the worldwide box office in a big way but can he wave his magic wand at the Academy and get a Best Picture nomination to put a cherry on the Potter pie? “The Academy has never really favored us in that way before. I’m just happy that people seem to be liking the movie,”  David Yates, director of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II told me on the eve on Potter’s phenomenal opening.  Last week  I also asked the same question of Chris Columbus , director of the first two Harry Potter flicks. Does he think now that the final chapter has been written on the most successful franchise in film history that the Academy will finally recognize it with a prized Best Pic nod?  “You never know about these things,”  he said shrugging his shoulders but considering the Oscar track record of the previous seven Potters I could tell he wasn’t putting money down on the prospect anytime soon.

But why not?  Although the Academy historically shuns this type of film and doesn’t favor fantasy, sci-fi or kid flicks you can point to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and say there is an exception to every rule.  Between 2001 and 2003 the three Rings films racked up a total of 30 Oscar nominations including an unprecedented three Best Picture nods  with a total of 17 Oscars including a grand sweep of 11 wins for 11 noms for the finale, Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King in 2003.

Some pundits have speculated that like Rings maybe the Academy has just been waiting for this finale to shower that kind of love on Potter which to date has racked up a total of nine nominations spread among the seven films. The first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone got the largest number with just three, all in technical categories.  The Academy branch that seems most impressed by Potter would be the Art Directors who have nominated three different Potter films in the past. No Harry Potter has won a single Oscar unlike Rings which just seemed primed for ultimate Oscar success by the time its finale came around.

But considering the impact this franchise has had on the industry, the record-breaking numbers and the near-unanimous critical acclaim for Deathly Hallows Part II is it time for the Academy to take a serious look at Harry Potter for the first time awards-wise? It currently stands at an impressive 97% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (and that’s out of 233 reviews) , the best showing for a wide release of any film in 2011, even over such presumed awards-magnets as The Tree Of Life and Midnight In Paris. Plus the series , and the finale in particular , has regularly attracted a who’s who of British acting royalty, a fact that if emphasized should certainly impress the large actor’s branch whose opinions carry a lot of weight in the Academy. And as Lord of the Rings and Titanic have certainly proven acclaim and money can equal Oscar. There’s also heavy emotion in this edition, a big plus among voters.

Warner Bros won’t reveal their Oscar campaign strategy on Potter yet but they are already showing signs that they plan to give this final send-off a big push into categories even Harry’s magic hasn’t been able to crack. The studio has always seemed to support each Potter film equally (trade ad wise at least) with their more likely contenders but no one’s ever really believed it would reap results outside of the tech categories. But Thursday night Yates appeared before a packed SAG Nominating Committee crowd at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood. They gave him a standing ovation. This is the type of thing the studio does for its big fall contenders or Christopher Nolan summer blockbusters, not usually Potter. It’s a potentially smart strategy because an appeal to actors reducing emphasis on all the special effects could open doors campaign-wise.

A Sunday afternoon “official” Academy screening was held at the Acad’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre and , despite Carmageddon fears, drew a house about three quarters full, I am told with enthusiastic, if not overwhelming, applause at the end.  I asked my Academy voting spy if he thought it had a prayer for a Best Pic nomination and he seemed even surprised at the question. “Usually you can smell it (Best Picture buzz) in the room like I did for Titanic, Crouching Tiger, Lord Of The Rings among those types of epic movies but here I didn’t smell it, even though it did seem to be received very well,”  he said adding he thinks the usual technical nominations are more likely.

The 3D technology could be a turn-off. Other than Avatar and Pixar, 3D movies have not figured heavily into the Best Picture race  plus new rules that say five to ten movies may be nominated instead of the solid ten of the last couple of years could kill any chance Harry Potter has of grabbing a ticket to Oscar’s big time. Are there really at least 250 to 300 first place Best Picture votes out there that would likely be needed to place this wizard in the race?

Ultimately the Academy snob effect could kill Harry’s chances at a Best Picture nomination. But it’s fun to speculate.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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