Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Can anything stop The Artist?

Probably not. When Michel Hazanavicius’s hitherto unbuzzed about film was inserted as a late entry into the Cannes competition nobody paid much attention. To that point, the director was best known for a series of spy movie parodies that had …

Mon, Dec 12, 2011, 21:35

   

Probably not. When Michel Hazanavicius’s hitherto unbuzzed about film was inserted as a late entry into the Cannes competition nobody paid much attention. To that point, the director was best known for a series of spy movie parodies that had struggled to receive screenings outside France. The new film was — get this — a silent, black-and-white comedy concerning the coming of sound to Hollywood. It might pass the time. But nobody was likely to take it seriously.

The Artist went down a bomb at that Cannes screening and word began to build that we might be looking at a crossover hit. Mind you, the film would have to “crossover” so many barriers it would end up in a state of confused dizziness. Did you read the above? It’s silent. It’s foreign. It’s in black and white. It might as well be carrying some fatal disease. The Weinsteins thought differently and got out their cheque book.

It remains to be seen if the film can draw in serious coin in Anglophone territories. But it certainly deserves to do well. Nicking bits of A Star is Born and Singin’ in the Rain, The Artist follows the gentle decline of a silent movie actor and the sudden rise of a younger actress. Jean Dujardin buzzes with sad energy as the protagonist. Bérénice Bejo is similarly spiffing as the coming icon. The film manages to celebrate every corner of its cinematic era without for a second seeming arch or pointy-headed. There is no doubt that it will receive raves from every sane critic. Have I got the point across: The Artist is an absolute delight. But can it win over the multiplexes? I think it can. Just about.

Returning to more rubbishy matters, we are forced to wonder whether it can fail to win the best picture Oscar. On balance, I’d feel confident placing a reasonably sized bet on its nose. The Help might still emerge as a consensus choice. War Horse is picking up good word from advance screenings. But here’s the thing. Despite being French, The Artist is a film deeply, hopelessly in love with Hollywood. Those voters like to be told they are important. Also remember that the Weinsteins are masters at Oscar promotion. They even managed to garner nominations for crap such as Chocolat. The momentum is all in Hazanavicius’s direction. The film opens round New Year and an interview with Dujardin will appear in The Ticket shortly.

Anyway, here’s my current bet on the likely Oscar nominees for best picture. I am now increasing the list from seven to eight, as I think support is building for quite a few releases.

1. THE ARTIST

See above.

2. THE HELP

Classic, old-school Oscar fare.

3. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

There’s a swelling feeling that the Academy wants to honour Woody one more time.

4. THE DESCENDENTS

Hasn’t done as well as expected in early awards, but still very safe.

5. WAR HORSE

Sources close to Screenwriter tell us that, at a recent screening, hardened journos were weeping into their notebooks.

6. MONEYBALL

Greeted with puzzled shrugs in Rest of the World, but American critics love the thing.

7. THE TREE OF LIFE

Could slip out. But the patina of pseudo-highbrow quality continues to divert voters.

8. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Yeah, you’re all groaning. But it has just opened in the US to the best reviews of the year.

IN: Midnight in Paris

OUT: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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