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Will Oscar Offer Any Tolkiens of Esteem to ‘The Hobbit’?

After an incredibly long and intense Phase One of awards season, the Oscar nomination deadline has come and gone. Just as New Year’s Eve inspires backward AND forward glances, this day stirs up memories as well as speculation. And one of the questions is about the Oscar chances of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”  In truth, not many people are bringing up the subject. Which may provide the answer right there.

The costume designers guild on Wednesday nominated Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor and Bob Buck in the fantasy category, one of the few awards recognitions for the film. Those three, and some other contributors, may show up when Oscar noms are announced Jan. 16. When the first “Lord of the Rings” opened in 2001, the public and Academy members were wowed. The three films collectively scored 30 nominations and 17 wins. But Oscar voters like to be surprised and even though audiences were just as smitten with the 2012 “The Hobbit,” Oscar seems to have lost interest. The film scored only three nominations and zero wins.

And sequels rarely surpass the original, so it’s doubtful if “Hobbit” will have an Oscar rebound. “Smaug” wasn’t on the makeup/hairstyle short list, but it’s still eligible for costumes, as well as visual effects (spectacular, even though that category is tough), production design, editing and music score (Howard Shore, who won for each of the three “Lord of the Rings” movies but wasn’t even nominated for the first “Hobbit”).

And, of course, “Smaug” boasts a song by Ed Sheeran that is terrific and neatly sums up the film’s themes. Eligible, yes. Likely: Who knows? As a bonus, all awards hopefuls should have a good backstory to personalize the work and Sheeran provides a fun one. The English singer-songwriter was a longtime fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and the films, so when he was in New Zealand, he had dinner with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. In discussing “Smaug,” the conversation got animated and Sheeran suddenly got up and started writing the song then and there.

After only a month, “Smaug” has entered the 2013 top five B.O. scorers. So it belies the theory that Oscars are just a popularity contest. (If that were the case, George Clooney and Tom Hanks would win every year, and “Iron Man 3” would be the best-picture front-runner.) But “Smaug” also points up the indefinable buzz that surrounds awards contenders. Sometimes a contender just catches people’s fancy and folks say “It’s his year.”

I don’t think the Academy dislikes Jackson and his films, or is snubbing him. But in terms of buzz, maybe it’s just not his year. Ah, well. Thirty years from now, people will still be watching these movies, thrilling to the fight with giant spiders, the barrel escape down the river, the slow appearance of dragon Smaug, the acting (especially by Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Luke Evans and Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sheeran’s song.

But as for Oscar, we will find out Jan. 16 whether it’s the desolation or the admiration of “Smaug.”

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