A movie that nobody of any consequence really loves is going to win seven Oscars on Sunday, in the view of Hollywood Reporter forecaster Scott Feinberg. How can this be? There’s a solid current of like for this agreeable little film, and that’s about it. No one who knows or cares about Film Catholicism truly respects The Artist as a work of striking originality or spirit or technique or anything. All through the season people haven’t voted for The Artist — they’ve defaulted to it.
I’m trying not to pay too much attention to this or give it too much weight, but when I do I get a little bit sick. It’s 1953 all over again, and we’re about to give the Best Picture Oscar to The Greatest Show on Earth.
Who are the gelatinous AMPAS members who are voting for it? Are they feeling at least a twinge of regret or inner conflict as they mark their ballots? Because — this is the truth — I haven’t spoken to a single person who’s been really knocked flat by The Artist…not one.
That euphoric current that many of us felt when Roman Polanski‘s The Pianist won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor? That electric-jolt feeling that says “wow, amazing…the good guys are winning for a change”? That was one of the biggest Oscar highs I’ve ever felt. Who in the world is going to really be jumping for joy when The Artist starts sweeping the table? Most of us are going to be feeling the opposite — resignation, melancholia, puzzlement. This pastiche is the best we could do? This hodgepodge of imitation?
The Artist is a 2011 version of That’s Entertainment! in a silent, black-and-white mode with a strong narrative assist from A Star Is Born and Singin’ in the Rain.
I personally blame the New York Film Critics Circle for getting the ball rolling. They were first out of the gate and gave The Artist their renowned stamp of approval, and that in turn made it easy (or certainly easier) other critics groups, voting bodies and guilds to follow suit. Award voting is about pack mentalities and currents in the river. It’s very easy to get swept along. Nobody wants to be a loner.
From a 2.18 entry in Andrew O’Hehir‘s Salon column:
“So here we are, a week out from the big night in the No-Longer-Kodak Theatre, with Oscar’s big prize all but awarded to a silent black-and-white film made by French people. If we can pull that fact free of the massive ennui we’re all feeling about Oscar season this year, it remains objectively amazing. I mean, don’t get me wrong: The Artist is agreeable lightweight entertainment, and I can see exactly why it appeals to the wounded, nostalgic and crisis-ridden industry insiders of the Academy. Jean Dujardin is an irresistible performer, and I bet he’s been hitting the ‘apprenez l’anglais’ CDs hard in preparation for his likely Hollywood career.
“Still, the likely Oscar triumph of The Artist, like the movie itself, is a novelty hit, a one-off parlor trick that demonstrates the weakened cultural position of the Academy Awards and the lack of confidence endemic to mainstream American filmmaking.
“As a spoof and tribute to the glories of Hollywood’s silent age, The Artist is not especially subtle, but a lot of love and talent and pure high spirits went into making the movie, and that shows up on-screen. It’s not a great film and may not even be an especially good one, but it’s going to win the prize because it resounds with good cheer and confidence and willingness to entertain. Those are precisely the qualities usually associated with American cinema, good or bad, and precisely the qualities lacking in this year’s other nominees.”
Here’s how I put it the day after the NYFCC voted on 11.29.11:
“With The Artist having taken yesterday’s New York Film Critics Circle Best Picture prize, there will be a natural tendency for critics groups around the country to regard this Weinstein Co. release as a safe and likable default choice for Best Picture in their own balloting. Plus any critic voting for an entertaining black-and-white silent film is sending a message to colleagues, editors and especially readers that he/she is willing to embrace the novel or unusual, which indicates a certain integrity.
“Most Joe Schmoe readers are going to say ‘what?’ at first. And the critic will be able to say, ‘Yes, a black-and-white film without dialogue….which you should really see! It’s fun! Trust me!’ And they should. The Artist is a special film and a very nice ride. But the critics need to take two steps back and think things over. Please. I’m begging them.
“The Movie Godz are just as concerned and nervous as I am, trust me, that over the next two or three weeks other critics groups are going to tumble for The Artist like dominoes. Please tell me this won’t happen and that we’ll be seeing some kind of mixed awards salad out there.
“I understand how celebrating a film that mimics how movies looked and felt in the 1920s is a way of saying that you respect classic cinema and Hollywood’s history, blah blah. And by doing so critics will get to lead at least some of their readers into the past, and seem wise and gracious in the bargain, and all the while supporting a film that’s mainly about glisten and glitter and decades-old cliches.
“Have The Artist supporters within the NYFCC given any thought to what it actually meant to choose this film as the best of the year? It presumably meant that they feel it amounts to more than just a sum of delightful silver-screen parts. It means that in their estimation The Artist delivers something in the way of mood or narrative or meaning or style that really got them, Kinks-style. In a truly profound, bone-marrow, deep-soul way, I mean. More than Hugo or The Descendants or Moneyball or whatever…right?
“The NYFCC obviously rejected this notion in choosing The Artist. They said ‘look, whatever…there’s nothing really lifting us up this year so let’s choose something we really like, at least.’ Terrific, guys. It must have taken a lot of character and conviction to hand out your prestigious Best Picture award to the shiniest bauble.”