It may sound shocking to some that the Harry Potter franchise has never won an Oscar, despite nine pre-2012 nominations being spread across five of the films (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix couldn’t conjure a single nod). Perhaps the Academy simply hasn’t been able to brush off the pixie dust with which Chris Columbus ushered in the series, or maybe all those wins for 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King left voters feeling like they’d hit their literary-fantasy quota for the next decade. Either way, though Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 adds three more nods, including Art Direction, to the saga’s final tally, it looks like Harry and his pals are going to ride their brooms into the history books without one nude gold man in tow.
The boy wizard’s last hurrah still, however, has a better shot in this category than Midnight in Paris, which is frankly a surprising inclusion given that design-heavy entries like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows were also in the running. The amber lights and chic salons and abundant fringe of the 1920s may have been more than enough to bewitch Owen Wilson’s rootless romantic, but they’re not about to help Woody Allen’s latest frolic yield anything more than a screenplay win. A better bet would be War Horse, which took minimalistic stage design and opened it up into a great big world where even the ravaged battlefields are picturesque. Better still would be The Artist, which, even if it can’t replicate the true essence of silent cinema, still offers a full and handsome recreation of the physical Hollywood of its era.
But it doesn’t seem like any contender has the arty, cohesive, perfectionist moxie to out-wow Hugo, which didn’t rack up 11 nominations for forgetting to add the right brushstroke or pixel to every corner of its loaded frames. If the eye-popping ones and zeroes of Avatar can take this category, then Martin Scorsese’s cinephilia-for-all commitment to making a posh 3D adventure for kids, grandmoms, and geeky uncles should take it without blinking. Head beautifier Dante Ferretti is a major industry favorite, and perpetual Harry Potter snubbee Stuart Craig is the only competitor here who can match his two-win, seven-nomination track record. Besides, in a year when the Academy chose to emphatically embrace the films that turned back time, only Hugo filled its visuals with the handy reminder of ticking clocks.
Will Win: Hugo
Could Win: The Artist
Should Win: Hugo