Harry Potter

In this film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, from left, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe are shown in a scene from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Jaap Buitendijk)

Jaap Buitendijk

While I praised "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" as a terrific beginning of the end, you might have noticed that the film did not make my top 10 list last year. 

My reason for excluding the film was primarily because I felt that I had only seen the first half of a great movie. I can guarantee you, however, that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" will appear on my list of 2011's best films.

Director David Yates and company deserve the highest praise for this epic, tragic and stunning achievement that ranks alongside "The Return of the King" and "Return of the Jedi" as one of the most satisfying cinematic finales of all time.

All hell had broken loose when we last left Harry, Ron and Hermione. Lord Voldemort has retrieved the elder wand and five of the seven Horcruxes remain undestroyed. Worst of all, Dobby the house elf got the ax. *Sniff.*

The search for the Horcruxes eventually takes Harry and his friends back to Hogwarts, which has fallen under the stern authority of Alan Rickman's Severus Snape. This leads to the lengthy Battle of Hogwarts, which will inevitably end with Harry having a showdown with the dark lord.

Like all summer blockbusters, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is heavy of special effects and action sequences. But it's not a meaningless extravaganza like "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" where the effects acted as a replacement for character and plot. There's a meaningful and well-told story here with monumental stakes. Nobody is safe and not every character survives the ordeal. At a point it even appears that Harry will have to sacrifice himself to save the day. The fact that we've come to care about these characters so much over the years only increases the audience's level of suspense and concern.

As an added bonus, the look of the film is a revelation of craft. The great composer Alexandre Desplat delivers yet another breathtaking musical score that's at times lingering and others time heartfelt. Between his unforgettable score for "The Tree of Life" and now this, I can't imagine anybody beating out Desplat for the Oscar.

Everything from the menacing art direction to the makeup effects to the moody cinematography from Eduardo Serra perfectly personifying the images that comes to mind while reading a "Harry Potter" novel.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I also have to commend Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint for their spot-on portrayals of the timeless characters they've been playing for the past decade. I'm so grateful that over the course of eight films, they stuck with this continually charming and endearing trio.

They even keep the three actors in their roles for a 19 years-later epilogue. Admittedly, the three still look like 20-year-olds rather than 36-year-olds. But it would have felt wrong for any other actors to take their places.

In addition to the three leads, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" comes equipped with a remarkable supporting cast. Numerous individuals who might have appeared like secondary characters return to play pivotal roles here.

The seemingly wimpy Neville Longbottom, played by Matthew Lewis, rises as an unlikely hero and at long last we finally learn Snape's true intentions. Even the Malfoy clan demonstrates more essence of humanity than one ever expected.

And who would have ever thought that Julie Walters' Molly Weasley would be the first character in this series to drop a major swear word?

This is truly an ensemble piece where every character is allowed a chance to shine, even if some of them are only allowed five minutes of screen time.

Credit is also due to J.K. Rowling for her exceptional source material. Harry Potter had become such a global phenomenon by the time Rowling wrote "Prisoner of Azkaban" that she could have allowed her creation to become a never-ending saga of books and movies.

Like the best franchises though, Rowling stuck to a plan and allowed her baby to go out with a bang. David Yates, who has acted as the director of this franchise since "The Order of the Phoenix," stays loyal to Rowling's vision and delivers an emotional and exciting final curtain that will stick with you for days in addition to giving you closure.

Outside of technical categories, the "Harry Potter" movies have never performed that well in terms of awards. But could "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" finally receive serious recognition in the same sense of the third "Lord of the Rings" movie? We'll have to wait and see if the Academy will step out of its comfort zone.

But I know in my heart that this is undoubtedly one of the year's most superlative entertainments.

It fills me with substantial glee to declare that after 10 years and eight movies, Warner Bros. managed to not ruin Harry Potter.

The series' perfect record remains intact ... until we get another book and movie about how Harry got his GED for missing a year at Hogwarts.

• Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at nspake@asu.edu.

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