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Warner Bros. has put the full weight of its impressive resources behind an Oscar campaign for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” As the last in the franchise, the film represents the final opportunity for Potter and friends to receive a non-crafts nomination (the series has received nine Oscar nods throughout the crafts categories with no wins to date). "For Your Consideration" billboards recommending the film for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography have sprung up all over Los Angeles, while producer David Heyman and director David Yates have dug in for fresh media rounds over the last several months.
Recently it seems that the studio has shifted its focus slightly to pin a last minute Oscar hope on Alan Rickman in the Best Supporting Actor field. Rickman’s character, Professor Severus Snape, is the most inherently conflicted in the adaptation and Rickman has embraced Snape’s nuanced motivations with increasing depth as the cinematic depictions have evolved. He understood what followers of J.K. Rowling’s creation have always known: as the kids age, the themes, content and severity of the stakes evolve. There were always layers present, but Rickman’s portrayal culminated in what was, for me, the most emotionally evocative sequence in the final film: the reveal of Snape’s role as a double agent, his tortured, unrequited and steadfast love for Harry Potter’s mother Lily and ultimately, his demise.
In a sense, Rickman was playing a character that for a long period of time even the producers and directors didn’t fully comprehend. “I was always aware of my place in the story even as others around me were not,” the actor said in a recent interview with the LA Times Hero Complex. Author J.K. Rowling made a rare confidant of Rickman at an early stage in the cinematic adaptations when she revealed the scope and scale of Snape’s role in the larger tale in order to give Rickman the necessary tools to create an accurate portrait. “It was quite amusing, too, because there were times when a director would tell Alan what to do in a scene and he would say something like, ‘No I can’t do that – I know what is going to happen and you don’t,’” said producer David Heyman in the same interview.
For Potter lovers it is a fascinating exercise to go back and re-watch the films with the knowledge of Rickman’s foresight in mind. You will likely find new meanings in the variance of his expression and the bewildering nature of both his and Dumbledore’s choices and respective responses to Harry.
There is certainly a case to be made for a Best Supporting Actor nod for Rickman. For some, Ralph Fiennes’s Voldemort was the showstopper. But there are two moments that left an indelible impression on me in the penultimate and closing installments. The first provided the clearest sense of Yates’s directorial voice: Harry and Hermione dancing in the tent (a bittersweet, quiet act of rebellion and willful embrace of life and the present); the second is the aforementioned disclosure of Snape’s purpose and identity.
Rickman, in some ways, had more to dig into than any other cast member (other than perhaps Dumbledore, had they chosen to highlight the harsh lessons of his misguided youth). More than that, Rickman never gave the impression that he knew he was in a children’s film, or that he was particularly concerned with the genre. Snape evolved as the story needed him to, becoming richer, ever more heartbreaking and stronger, even as his frailties were unveiled.
However, as much as I love Rowling’s novels, and though I have a deep affection for the films, they never really rose to the level of the "Lord of the Rings” trilogy, as the current marketing campaign would indicate. The cinematic prowess and ingenuity involved in Peter Jackson's films was both groundbreaking and astounding, the tone far more adult throughout and the endeavor intensely ambitious.
Now, full disclosure: I have a time-turner in my possession. I truly am a “Potter” appreciator, and as I believe I have said, remain convinced that if Joseph Campbell was alive today, Bill Moyers would be conducting several hour-long specials with him on “Harry Potter” as it relates to the hero’s journey and other mythological, cross-cultural archetypes.
Having said that, the context of the film can and will affect a performer’s chances come Oscar time. Jonah Hill is at his absolute best in “Moneyball,” but the quality of the film itself heightens his chances for a real bid. Viggo Mortensen delivers a fine performance in "A Dangerous Method," but the lukewarm response to the project on the whole may have undercut his impact. Context is key (other than when it’s a veiled lifetime achievement award or popularity contest). I do not believe the Academy is prepared to take “Potter” seriously as an Oscar contender, which will absolutely affect the interpretation and response to the performances.
With several other dark horse contenders vying for a spot, Nick Nolte (“Warrior”), Armie Hammer (“J. Edgar”) Patton Oswalt ("Young Adult") and Andy Serkis ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") among them, Rickman’s chances are a bit diminished. The fact that he has received almost no precursor attention fairly seals the deal. Though I for one would be delighted to see him in the hunt.
Oscar seems to be the elusive golden snitch for the “Potter” franchise. On the craft end of the spectrum, it could be argued that these last two films have been the strongest. But “The Deathly Hallows: Part Two” is facing fierce competition from several other players, including “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” for visual effects (which is no real contest). In terms of the flashier fields, it would be a grand upset for the film to receive a nomination in any major category at this time. The studio may do better to reserve this kind of blockbuster as Oscar campaign for another film. Of course there is no way to predict, but perhaps “The Dark Knight Rises?"
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