The Artist has taken the lead in this year’s Best Picture race, according to the Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby handicappers,” a spiritually resigned Sasha Stone wrote yesterday morning on Awards Daily. “There is always that point in the year when you just know. And there is no stopping this movie. If there were any doubts before, there are no doubts now.”

Like any half-attuned, half-perceptive film lover out there, Stone knows that The Artist isn’t necessarily the best of anything. It’s the leading cave-in consensus choice among the under-inspired and easily led. It’s the easiest film to vote for if you take comfort, as most do, from the warmth of a crowd. And Stone, I believe, knows whereof she speaks. She lives and breathes and calculates the Oscar race like no other (certainly well beyond what I’m capable of) and when she throws in the towel, I listen.

“As an Oscar watcher this year, since my heart was pulled from my chest and stomped all over last year, I have to just shut down this year and play it as it lays,” Stone wrote.

The majority surely senses or suspects that The Artist is all about re-creation, backward visitation and reflective surfaces, but they’re down with that. They love the silvery sheen and the novelty and the showboat charm. The fact that it possesses and radiates nothing that is truly its own doesn’t bother them — it stirs heartfelt applause. A film that provides a nice pleasant time…yes!

I’m reminded of a line from Glengarry Glen Ross in which a real-estate salesman tells a colleague that an older couple “imperceptibly slumped” toward the end of a sales call. That’s what’s happening right now. The slump is in and the argument is over, and for people like me that’s unfortunate.

I don’t live for the Oscars but for the season, and particularly the various skirmishes in this and that category. Debating which film truly deserves to win Best Picture has always been a fun diversion. And now, weeks before the nominations and more than two months before the Oscar telecast, that debate has come to an end. Terrific. Pass the pretzels.

“My basic impression is that The Artist is a very well-done curio — an experiment in reviving a bygone era and mood by way of silent-film expression,” I wrote seven months ago from Cannes. “Is it a full-bodied motion picture with its own voice and voltage — a film that stands on its own? Not quite. But it’s a highly diverting, sometimes stirring thing to sit through, and the overall HE verdict is a thumbs-up.

The Artist has been very carefully assembled, but chops-wise it’s not strictly a revisiting of silent-film era language. It visually plays like a kind of ersatz silent film — technically correct in some respects but with a 2011 sensibility in other ways. It has a jaunty, sometimes jokey tone in the beginning, and then it gradually shifts into drama and then melodrama. But it tries hard and does enough things right that the overall residue is one of satisfaction and a job well done.”

I wrote this while sitting on a stool inside the Orange press room, an hour or so after the first Artist screening in the Grand Lumiere. It never crossed my mind that I’d just reviewed the Best Picture Oscar winner for 2011. I doubt that it occured to anyone.

Is there any more tiresome expression in the English language than “whatever”? I’m sincerely sorry to be thinking this right now. My imperceptibly slumping congratulations are hereby offered to the Weinstein Co. publicists and particularly to Harvey Weinstein himself. By any sporting standard they played the game well.

Once more with feeling, HE’s 10 Best of 2011 (in this order): Moneyball, A Separation, The Descendants, Miss Bala, Drive, Contagion, Win Win, Tyrannosaur, The Tree of Life and In The Land of Blood and Honey.