Alan Rickman may be ‘Harry Potter’s’ best shot at Oscar

With “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” landing impressive reviews and making a killing at the box office, Hollywood is quickly moving on to discussing the film’s Oscar prospects.  Yes, it’s never too soon.

Critically, “Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” earned almost universally positive (some might use the term “rave”) reviews with an 87 grade on Metacritic  and a 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes (the highest scores among wide releases this year).  The only “Harry Potter” film to come anywhere near that level of acclaim was Alfonso Cuaron’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” in 2004.  Taking into account the film’s consistently laudy box office grosses across eight films, many would suggest that “Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” could find itself the recipient of a best picture nomination as recognition for the entire series.  Of course that was before the Academy decided to implement the 5% rule this spring.

Over the past two years, even this far out, it wouldn’t be hard to predict that “Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” would have an excellent shot to be the 9th or 10th film on voters ballots when submitting their best picture nominees.  The new 5% rule, however, changes things.  It means 5% of the voters not only have to select “Deathly Hallows, Pt.2,” but they have to make it their top choice.  As much as members may praise the film now, will they still want to mark it as no. 1 in January?  Only 5% of the membership may seem like a small amount, but until the new process settles in its going to be very hard to predict.  Especially with a genre, blockbuster franchise like “Harry Potter.”

The “Harry Potter” series has already scored 11 nominations including best original score, best cinematography, best art direction (three times) and best visual effects, but has never actually won an Oscar. Those categories seem like easy bets this upcoming year and the franchise may finally win one this time around.  Where “Deathy Hallows, Pt. 2” could really make its mark, however, is in the supporting actor race.

Now, expect Warner Bros. to give series stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint all their due with an appropriate campaign, but the real contenders to land an acting nomination are Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes.

Fiennes, a previous Academy Award nominee for “Schindler’s List” and “The English Patient,” completely disappeared under the makeup and villainousness of Voldemort.  Did anyone feel sympathy for the Dark Lord at the end? Probably not, but you certainly didn’t think he was a one note evil wizard and that was mostly due to Fiennes performance.  Distracting voters from his “Potter” work, however, may be his lead performance in “Coriolanus,” a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s play that Fiennes also directed.  After debuting at the Berlin Film Festival, the drama has a prime Dec. release date to try and make some noise during awards season.  It will also likely be his first priority in any personal campaigning.

Rickman, on the other hand, may finally get his due this season.  Best known for his work as the villain in “Die Hard,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Love Actually” and a genius turn in “Galaxy Quest,” Rickman is a sentimental favorite for many who has still not been nominated for Oscar.  A fact that will no doubt surprise many.  As Prof. Serverus Snape in the “Harry Potter” series, Rickman had the unique challenge of delivering a performance that cumulates in a “surprising” twist over a decade.  Snape’s fate and function in the “Potter” universe may not have been revealed in print until 2007, but author J.K. Rowling let Rickman in on his arc much earlier in the process.  It all adds up to an emotional turn even for those of us who haven’t read the more detailed books.  You could even argue that moment in “Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” makes everything else in the film anti-climactic.  Any other actor could have failed to allow Snape’s actions to add up to something meaningful, but working with director David Yates over the past four films, Rickman makes it one of the highlights of his professional career.

Of course, Rickman and Fiennes will face some stiff competition.  Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) and Albert Brooks (“Drive”) have already received rave reviews for their work and other players such as Jim Broadbent (“The Iron Lady”), Kenneth Branagh (“My Week with Marilyn”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Ides of March”) and Matt Damon (“Contagion”) will be in the running among others.  Still, if the bell can be rung for Gary Oldman to finally land a best actor nod (here he’s hoping with “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”), it’s not to early to bang the drum for Rickman.

Do you think Alan Rickman deserves a nomination for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2”?  Share your thoughts below.

For year-round entertainment commentary follow Gregory Ellwood on twitter @HitFixGregory.