This summer, the “Harry Potter” film series came to its dramatic conclusion with the much-anticipated final installment “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” Maybe you heard about it. Since its release, the film has been the subject of a certain amount of 2012 Oscar buzz, which is warranted considering its critical and commercial success.
The film performed better at the box office than its seven predecessors. It holds the record for biggest opening weekend, is the third highest-grossing film of all time worldwide (the next highest-ranking Potter film is 2001’s “Sorcerer’s Stone”) and holds the all-time record for highest-grossing opening day. It was also widely heralded by critics, earning a score of 96 percent on the popular online film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (“Prisoner of Azkaban” is next highest at 91 percent).
To add to the film’s Oscar chances, the Academy has a penchant for awarding Oscars for sentimental reasons. Al Pacino’s Best Actor win in 1993 for “Scent of a Woman” and Hal Holbrook’s Best Supporting Actor nod for 2008’s “Into the Wild” were both recognitions of brilliant careers, not necessarily brilliant individual performances. And no film could be more sentimental than the conclusion to the cross-generational, culture-defining “Harry Potter” series.
Despite all this, “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” will not win the Best Picture Oscar. It will probably be nominated, but it won’t win. And even those critics who praised it so highly, even the diehard fans of the film, surely would admit that it’s hard to imagine a film like this one winning Best Picture. It just doesn’t seem right.
It’s because the Academy doesn’t give awards in the major categories to films that aren’t “serious,” in their stuffy, conservative definition of that word. “Serious,” to them, means films that aren’t animated, comedies or targeted at a young audience. And “Harry Potter” is a prime example of a film that the Academy doesn’t find to be “serious,” and doesn’t take seriously. If “Harry Potter” were an eight-part series about the Holocaust, it would be a shoe-in for every major award this Oscar season.
Take the 2011 Oscars. “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech” had battled pretty evenly in the awards shows leading up to the Oscars. But when it came to Oscar night, “King’s Speech” beat out “Social Network” in every major category in which they were both nominated — Best Picture, Director and Actor.
This didn’t happen because of either film’s relative quality. I think “The Social Network” was a better film than “The King’s Speech” (and so did the Golden Globes, if that legitimizes my opinion at all). It’s because “King’s Speech” fits the model of what the Academy considers a “serious” film better than does “The Social Network.” It is an uplifting story of a man overcoming overwhelming odds, starring well-established actors, with a conventional narrative structure. “The Social Network,” on the other hand, is a film about and for the youth, with an edgier visual style and more adventurous narrative structure.
This misappropriation of Oscars can be summed up thusly: Regardless of a film’s artistic merit, the Academy will not consider films outside of their aforementioned narrow-minded, arbitrary notions of what is “serious.” Films within these strict parameters are compared based on merit, but anything outside of them is ignored.
This is the reason animated films are not given their due at the Oscars. While the Best Animated Film category assures that animated films will be recognized at the Oscars, it also marginalizes them, implying they are inferior to live-action films. In the history of the Academy Awards, only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture: “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Up” (2009), and “Toy Story 3” (2010) — a fact that is even more shocking when you consider the number of great animated films that have come out just in the last 20 years (all the Pixar films, “The Iron Giant” and Hayao Miyazaki’s films). While the recent increase in animated film representation in the Best Picture category seems encouraging, it becomes less so when you consider the increase two years ago to 10 nominees.
Comedies also fall short of the Academy’s strict conditions for approval. A comedy, clearly, cannot be “serious.” The only comedy to win Best Picture in the last 30 years is “Shakespeare in Love” (1998). To name all the worthy candidates since then would be an undertaking too ambitious for this column. Suffice it to say that comedy gets no respect. No matter how funny, well-crafted or well-written a comedy is, it will still be an underdog to every halfway decent drama.
Clearly, many worthy films are not getting their due at the Oscars. We can only hope that, preferably in the next few years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will remove itself from the stuffy, narrow-minded rut it has become stuck in, and, disregarding a film’s genre or target demographic, judge films only on their value as a work of cinematic art.