No Magic at the Oscars for ‘Potter’ Lovers

Photo: Warner Bros PicturesThe Hogwarts student body flunked out at the Oscars again. There was a rabid group of fans that fought to get Alan Rickman a best-supporting actor nomination. They failed. Daniel Radcliffe, the boy we saw grow up into a man right on the screen, never even got nominated. The pride of British acting -- Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, John Hurt, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Jason Isaacs, and on and on -- all snubbed.

And what about best adapted screenplay, anybody? Not. Forget about even making the top 10, er, 9 nominees for best picture. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"? Really?

To me, it's significant to the fate of "Harry Potter" franchise that the Oscars' funniest moment was the Christopher Guest ensemble bit fantasizing about what a focus group would have said about "The Wizard of Oz" (more flying monkeys, less Dorothy). But isn't the way that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences totally dismisses -- and disses -- its contemporary classics part of the same problem?

The academy tepidly nominated "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" for three second-tier awards: Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects. And the movie lost all three! The "Potter" series is arguably the most popular franchise of the past two decades. I heard women weeping at the theater as it concluded. Weeping!

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What does it say that "HPDHp2" won four People's Choice Awards? It scored Favorite Action Movie, Favorite Book Adaptation, Favorite Ensemble Movie Cast, and Favorite Movie. I'm not here to shill for the People's Choice Awards, but this fact -- no Oscars versus Favorite Movie -- exemplifies the gap between what audiences want to see and what the academy rewards.

"Don't get me wrong," said Yahoo! Features Editor Matt Whitfield. "The academy is incredibly stuffy, but "Harry Potter" and "The Hangover" picked up plenty of trophies at the People's Choice Awards, the MTV Movie Awards, and the Teen Choice Awards."

"Movie Mom" Nell Minow agreed: "People complain that the Oscars have lost some mojo because of the clutter of other award shows, but I think it's a good thing. The Oscars were never intended to be the ultimate determinant of artistic merit, any more than the MTV awards or even the box-office numbers. They are a reflection of the voters, who, as the L.A. Times has documented, are overwhelmingly old white males from the industry. So it isn't surprising that we get a lot of big prestige movies like "Tree of Life" and "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" and even "The Artist" instead of the big crowd pleasers like "Harry Potter," "Bridesmaids," and "Avatar." ... The Oscars are the industry congratulating itself, and its choices are interesting and often meaningful but just one piece of the puzzle about merit."

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On Yahoo!, searches spiked this past week for the "Harry Potter" books -- and of the searches, 87 percent are coming from women. Some of the top searches on Oscar day included "Harry Potter Oscar nominations", "Has Harry Potter ever won an Oscar?", "Harry Potter Academy Awards", and "Harry Potter Oscar wins".

Why, oh, why is there this disconnect between Oscars and movie fans? I asked our Yahoo! Movies editor, Jonathan Crow. "Oh, it's the self-pat," he said without a moment's pause. "The academy, judging from its track record, loves to see itself as serious, so it chooses movies that it deems as serious. Of course, serious doesn't actually mean good. 'Crash' was about as serious as you can get -- I've been to Lutheran funerals with more jokes -- but it was also breathtakingly awful. I'd actually prefer it, and it would be much more honest, if the Oscars were handed out to the 'Harry Potters' and the 'Hangovers.' Those movies made buckets of money, and at the end of the day, that's what Hollywood is all about. Leave the arbitration of taste to the juries at Sundance, Cannes or Venice."

While the academy micromanages, continuing to wonder about dwindling ratings and the need to reanimate Billy Crystal as host and drag Cirque du Soleil to the party, the answer to its problems is right there in front of it: The people have spoken. AMPAS just isn't listening.

An Oscar history timeline >>

Some of the best movies are not just indie gems like "The Artist" or "The Descendants" or "The Iron Lady." Some of them actually make billions at the box office. The final episode of "Harry Potter" grossed $1.3 billion -- yes, billion -- worldwide without a single major Oscar nomination. Not that size matters (entirely), but "The Artist" struggles toward a global gross of $77 million, largely because of its Oscar status.

Returning to our Christopher Guest focus group, the academy didn't think all that highly of "The Wizard of Oz" when the film first came out in 1939. At the 1940 Oscars, one of the greatest American movies of all time lost best picture but won best song and best score, the consolation prizes of that era. Judy Garland wasn't even nominated!

And, Potter-heads, take heart: "The Wizard of Oz" was magic, too, and continues to thrive more than 70 years later.

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