No matters what happens with this morning’s Producer’s Guild nominations, the 2011 awards well has been poisoned by the persistent default prominence of The Artist as the reigning Best Picture favorite.

The rising of The Artist to the top of the flagpole is a reminder to one and all that 2011 wasn’t a very strong year, although any fair-minded observer would at least call it an unusually spirited, original-thinking year if — if! — films like A Separation, Moneyball, Drive, Tyrannosaur, Take Shelter, The Tree of Life and The Descendants are factored in.

The problem or wrinkle is that too many critics and guild members have chosen to elevate and celebrate an enjoyable little black-and-white trifle that amounts to very little in the grand scheme, and call it the year’s best. Shame on them for degrading the 2011 awards season and sending almost everyone with an inkling of taste into a pit of slumber and indifference. Among people I know and speak with the response to The Artist has been a collective shrug. Nobody is jumping up and down about it, and yet it won’t go away on the awards circuit

“This year you can mostly forget the critics,” Sasha Stone wrote yesterday. “Advocacy was never really their thing but it is even less their thing this year, after what happened last year.” But many if not most of them have advocated The Artist as their 2011 champ, and this has apparently had some kind of collateral effect.

“For all of the bitching the top-tier critics do about the Oscar race, and the people who cover it, from where I sit, the Oscar race is the only place where the celebration of real movies is still alive and kicking,” Stone said. “It’s the only place where a film like The Descendants, Moneyball or The Artist really matters. It’s the old guard, preserving what we’ve had for eight decades. But they can’t really do it alone. If Oscar buzz only drives a limited section of the general public to the multiplex of what use is it, ultimately? It’s been steadily becoming less relevant as the years progress, but that’s mainly because the general public is so dumbed down now compared to twenty years ago.”

Yes, the taste of the general moviegoing public reflects, as always, a community of cretins and simpletons. But at least they’ve rendered a kind of judgment on The Artist, which has only $5,398,000 in the domestic till so far.