Friday, December 9, 2011

Harry's Return of the King?

For most people, the word "consider" means ... well, exactly what you think it means.

For Hollywood types, it connotes something very specific: an Oscar campaign in full swing.

Which is why Los Angeles is the only town where there could be billboards all over the city, featuring grandiose stills from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and the word CONSIDER in big letters, and there would be no explanation necessary about what was going on.

Simply put, the push is on by Warner Brothers to get the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize the final installment in the Harry Potter saga, the same way they recognized the final installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy eight years ago.

And I guess they might have a shot.

On the surface, it would seem like an uphill battle. There are a number of important differences between Potter and Rings. For starters, Rings featured three films released in consecutive years from the same director, which were filmed concurrently, so they benefited from the same look. What's more, each of the previous two films was nominated for best picture before Return of the King finally took home the statue.

With Potter, there had been seven previous films over the course of a decade, none of which have been nominated for best picture. (Neither have there been any acting nominations, and overall, not as many technical nominations as you might think.) What's more, these movies represented the creative vision of four different directors, whose approaches sometimes differ sharply from one another. (And whose backgrounds in film are quite different as well.) It's not so easy to re-frame the Potter movies as one holistic viewing experience that maintained a consistent tone and quality from start to finish.

But Deathly Hallows Part 2 does have certain things going for it. For one, 2011 has yet to produce an obvious front-runner for best picture. I'd say The Descendants probably has the best shot right now, but it doesn't have nearly the heat other front-runners have enjoyed at this point in the campaign. (Of course, being the front-runner in early December doesn't usually work out well. Just ask The Social Network.)

Before it would have the chance to vie for top honors, the film would have to first get nominated -- a feat none of its predecessors has accomplished. Here too there is some hope. Most of those predecessors didn't have the advantage of a field of possibly as many as ten nominated pictures. Given the love Part 2 has gotten, it shouldn't seem like a stretch that it would finally score the series' first nomination. However, cancel some of this advantage because of the change in rules this year, which will allow as few as five films to get nominated if only that many films get a certain minimum percentage of first-place votes from Academy voters.

The thing that's noteworthy about this push by Warner Brothers is that a typical CONSIDER campaign is found in the pages of trade magazines, not on billboards around the city. If you were not previously familiar with the indelicate machinations involved in getting an Oscar nomination, you may remember that Melissa Leo was widely chastised last year for funding her own crass yet ultimately successful CONSIDER campaign for best supporting actress, which was a full-page glamor shot of her wearing some kind of animal fur. (Her awful acceptance speech at the Oscars only compounded the sense of tackiness that started in that campaign.)

So taking the campaign beyond the insiderish world of industry types and bringing it to the masses could indicate two things: 1) A skepticism that people are reading the trades as much as they used to, and B) A sense that this year's best picture statue really is there for the taking.

It could also represent a growing acknowledgment of the power to create buzz that's now in the hands of everyday citizens. With the ways people can reach each other through Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere, maybe your average citizen really does have the ability to influence the way industry people fill out their Oscar ballots. It's all one powerful interwoven force known as "hype."

Well, we'll know if all the money Warner Brothers is spending was a success on January 24th, when the nominees are announced, and then again on February 26th, when some movie will take home that coveted statue.

Only with a victory on that second night will Warner Brothers "consider" its mission accomplished.

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