Fantasy films are hard done by when it comes to earning acting nominations at the Oscars. “The Lord of the Rings,” which was an academy darling, of course, only garnered one nomination for its cast across all three movies. That was for Ian McKellen who reaped a Best Supporting Actor bid for the first film in the trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The likes of Andy Serkis, Sean Astin and Elijah Wood were repeatedly snubbed.
Harry Potter is another of those fantasy film franchises that was short-changed at the Oscars for its acting despite a plethora of excellent performances from the cream of the British crop. Not to mention the central trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint who developed from child stars to fully-fledged thespians across the eight-film series. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five performances in the Harry Potter film series that should have been nominated for Oscars.
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Robbie Coltrane:”Philosopher’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets”
As the series grew darker, Robbie Coltrane’s screen-time as the lovable Rubeus Hagrid grew shorter. This is understandable but let’s not forget the impact that Coltrane’s mountainous Hagrid in the first two entries. Hagrid was very much the thumping heart of both pictures. He made an impact in “Philosopher’s Stone” when we were first introduced to him when he told Harry he was a wizard (an iconic scene). This nomination would have been similar to McKellen’s “Fellowship of the Ring” bid. However, it’s his turn in the second movie, “Chamber of the Secrets,” that is arguably better. The final scene of that movie is all about Hagrid — he returns from Azkaban Prison to a packed great hall and tearfully thanks Harry, Hermione, and Ron, for freeing him. The entire hall then erupts in cheers as Hagrid cries happy tears. It’s perhaps the most emotional ending of all Potter movies, bar the last entry. It’s so moving and we have Coltrane’s touching performance to thank for that. That final scene would have been the clip they showed at the Oscars ceremony, had he been nominated. That was his Oscar “moment.” The year that “Chamber of Secrets” was released, the Best Supporting Actor nominees were Paul Newman (“Road to Perdition”), John C. Reilly (“Chicago”), Ed Harris (“The Hours”), Christopher Walken (“Catch Me if You Can”), and, the winner, Chris Cooper (“Adaptation”).
Kenneth Branagh: “Chamber of Secrets”
Coltrane’s co-star also made an impact in “Chamber of Secrets,” although for different reasons. Kenneth Branagh starred as Gilderoy Lockhart, the phony Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who was bluffing his way through life. Branagh turned in a wonderfully comedic, breezy performance. His pompous nature, uh, “charming” smile, and self-aggrandizing demeanor make for a great comic foil and his final scene shows the character go from buffoon to sinister, calculating villain, to even bigger buffoon (he loses his memory). It’s a thoroughly enjoyable performance, which fits in with other, similarly comic performances that were nominated for Best Supporting Actor, such as JK Simmons in “Being the Ricardos,” Edward Norton in “Birdman,” and Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle.” Like Coltrane, however, Branagh missed out.
Imelda Staunton: “Order of the Phoenix”
Staunton is memorable as Dolores Umbridge, the loathsome Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Her hiccup of a laugh is haunting. Her pink outfits, love of cats, and sickly sweet demeanor juxtapose so well with her vicious outlook and nasty penchant for punishment. Staunton makes Umbridge one of the most love-to-hate villains in cinema, right up there alongside Kathy Bates in “Misery” and Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds.” Both of those performers won Oscars for those roles but Staunton, sadly, was overlooked entirely. The nominees for Best Supporting Actress that year were Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”), Ruby Dee (“American Gangster”), Cate Blanchett (“I’m Not There”), Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”), and, the winner, Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”).
Tom Felton: “The Half-Blood Prince”
This film features several great performances. Michael Gambon turns in a good final turn as Dumbledore, Alan Rickman once again steals every scene as Snape, and it’s possibly Watson’s best outing as Hermione. The most effective performance, however, belongs to Tom Felton. As the troubled Draco Malfoy, we hate him and feel sorry for him. He’s entrusted to carry out an evil task by Voldemort — to kill Dumbledore. Throughout the film, Malfoy is in a constant state of anxiety and anger, both determined and terrified. That comes to a culmination in his scene with Dumbledore in the astronomy tower. Dumbledore tries to reason with him, arguing that he once knew another boy “who made all the wrong choices” (Voldemort). It’s that line that affects Malfoy the most and we finally see how tragic his story is. Now weeping, Malfoy struggles to bring himself to murder Dumbledore and Felton pulls this scene off — against a seasoned veteran such as Gambon — with emotion and aplomb. Unfortunately for Felton, however, the year that “Half-Blood Prince” competed at the Oscars was also a very strong year in the Best Supporting Actor category. Waltz won for “Inglourious Basterds,” while Christopher Plummer (“The Last Station”), Matt Damon (“Invictus”), Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”), and Woody Harrelson (“The Messenger”) were nominated.
Ralph Fienne: “Goblet of Fire” and “Deathly Hallows — Part 2”
While Felton is pitiable as Draco, Ralph Fiennes is hissable as Lord Voldemort. He first shows up at the end of “Goblet of Fire” when his faithful, pathetic servant Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall) brings him back to life at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. That entry is chilling. The design of Voldemort as a character — barefoot in a simple black robe, as pale as ice, snake-like, and noseless. It makes for an effective villain straight off the bat but Fiennes only adds to that. The hissing voice he utilizes as the villain increases the sinister aura but it’s the physicality that Fiennes brings to the role that is most impressive. Voldemort is new to this body so the actor makes every gesture and movement exaggerated, as someone who has been without physical form would be once they return. The way he touches Harry’s forehead, in particular, is memorable. The year that “Goblet of Fire” competed at the Oscars, George Clooney won Best Supporting Actor for “Syriana” while Jake Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain”), Matt Dillon (“Crash”), Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”), and William Hurt (“A History of Violence”) were nominated.
Fiennes turned in another great performance as Voldemort in “Deathly Hallows — Part 2.” In this series finisher, Fiennes showed us the vulnerable side of Voldemort as he desperately tries and fails to vanquish Potter. His frustration and fear are more palpable the longer the film goes on and, dare I say it, we even see glimpses of humanity in this rendition of He Who Must Not Be Named. It’s a great sign-off for Fiennes as Voldemort. The year that “Deathly Hallows — Part 2” competed at the Oscars, Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Actor for “Beginners” while Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”), Branagh (“My Week With Marilyn”), Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”), and Nick Nolte (“Warrior”) were all also nominated.
It’s a shame that Fiennes couldn’t get in on both occasions, particularly as the academy loves villains in the Best Supporting Actor category. He would have fitted in alongside similar other villainous performances in this category such as Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds,” Tom Hardy in “The Revenant,” Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men,” and Fiennes’ own performance in “Schindler’s List.”
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