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On the basis of "how the business works," I would be very surprised in Hallows doesn't wind up with a Best Picture nomination. The expanded roster space, recently amended form "ten" to "however many qualify," was designed to make such things happen. And even if not, it's a safe bet that a big part of the 2011 Oscar telecast will be given over to any excuse that can be found to cue up John Williams' iconic main theme, run the memorable clips and trot the now-set-for-life actors out onto the stage. Nominations or not, if you don't see some combination of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson taking their hopefully-not-final bows - flanked by enormous blowups of their baby pictures from Sorcerer's Stone - to a standing ovation at this year's show, someone on The Academy's TV production team is supremely bad at their job.
Also, it must be said - Hollywood as a whole loves this franchise. This isn't like Dark Knight or even LOTR - both of which were seen in some big circles as niche properties strictly for fanboys and hardcore geeks - everyone loved (or at least liked) Harry Potter. The books were just as widely devoured by adults as they were by kids, and ten years is an eternity in the entertainment business. There's a lot of twenty-something Academy voters who (literally) grew up with the series, and older voters with kids/grandkids/nephews/nieces/etc. tend to be equally enamored, to say nothing of the affection the all-power Actor's Bloc has for the who's who of British stage legends who rounded out the adult cast. If Harry winds up with a Best Picture nomination, I can't think of a good reason why it wouldn't be an easy frontrunner.
There's also the precedent of a so-called "Special" Oscar, i.e., one-off awards that are given for monumental achievements that change the business, technology or culture of filmmaking. Most famously, eight such Oscars were awarded to Walt Disney in 1938 for pulling off the previously unthinkable success of feature length animation with Snow White - he was given one full-sized Oscar and seven smaller ones. While today it might be seen (justifiably) as a somewhat cynical maneuver - "you won't win, so here's an honorary award so you'll show up and bring your massive audience with you" - I could see something similarly being given to Potter's producers. Though, really, if anyone should get it, it's whatever casting director was able to correctly predict that Radcliffe etc. would still be right for their parts a decade into the future. (Legend has it that, when producers were first shown Emma Watson's screen test, it was only half-jokingly asked whether or not they could put her under contract "until she's 40.")
I'm putting my - admittedly spotty - Oscar prediction cards on the table with this one: The production of Harry Potter is the Hollywood story of the decade, and it deserves some measure of serious recognition for that. And I have a gut feeling that, whether by nomination, victory or even omission, it'll be the story of this year's Oscars, too.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.