A Plea to Nation’s Critics

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 — a little love for Moneyball (which produced, remember, yesterday’s Best Screenplay and Best Actor winners), a sprinkling of Artist bits, a few Descendants olives, a little Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close vinaigrette, etc. Spread it around, be brave.

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. The Artist is basically a 2011 version of That’s Entertainment! in a silent, black-and-white mode with a narrative assist from A Star Is Born and Sunset Boulevard.

  • Sams

    NYFCC wanted to be seen as influencing the race — the reason they advanced their vote in the first place. So they went with what they thought was the safest , surest choice. The other critics groups are under no such pressure but they also don’t want to appear out of step.

  • JR

    Jeff, if they had picked Moneyball, your plea would be for every other critics group to get in line and validate the NYFCC to carry your beloved Moneyball across the finish line.

    Nice try, but your plea will fall on deaf ears; nobody likes to be told what to like, what to vote for, and in this case, what NOT to vote for.

    How about a plea along the lines of “vote your conscience” or something like that?

  • eddie mars attacks

    Is this movie going to be more or less disappointing than HUGO?

  • George Prager

    They’re suckers for movies like TOPSY-TURVEY and FAR FROM HEAVEN, so THE ARTIST winning is no surprise.

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Wells to JR: How about a plea for critics to vote for a film that really does something on its own, that isn’t primarily about backwards gazing and recreating old glamour, that has a little originality of its own devising? Whatever will be, will be…but don’t retreat to the presumed safety of a default Best Picture favorite like The Artist, which in the end means nothing because it doesn’t play the second time, after you’ve gotten through the novelty.

  • joe banks

    misanthropes of the world unite!

  • JR

    Jeff, for many, myself included, THE ARTIST does exactly that. Ditto MELANCHOLIA.

    Since when is a sllent film in black and white a ‘safe’ pick? I think it is a bold pick, not safe at all.

  • roland1824

    This kind of feels like the equivalent of a negative political attack ad.

    It’s one thing to go to bat for your own picks, but to plainly advocate against a film is really something else all together.

    Anyhow, you might be overestimating just a tad what a NYFCC award means in the grand scheme of bringing home Oscar.

  • Mr. F.

    How long before Wells is dressing as James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause… shrieking “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!!!” at the next awards presentation that doesn’t go his way?

  • Ray

    “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. ”

    So it’s just like JJ Abrams making Super 8 as an homage to Spielberg?

    (backs slowly away from angry man……)

  • ROTC

    I wholeheartedly agree with Jeff. The Artist certainly isn’t bad per se, but the only thing truly remarkable about it is that it was made at all. Once the final credits roll, it’s instantly forgettable.

  • CinemaPhreak

    Ah, the year’s Tallest Midget Contest has begun! Let’s debate the pointless, meaningless virtues of awards for what is ostensibly art!

    I thought MONEYBALL was very good film and THE DESCENDANTS a satisfying if not very robust one, but unless THE ARTIST is one of those critics’ darlings that leaves me going “wha…?” I really don’t anticipate feeling either was “robbed” by it. Both are marred by lead actors not shedding their personas. When Pitt is first seen challenging the scouts to think different, it just seemed like Brad Pitt had become Oakland’s newest manager, not Billy Beane.

    Worse is Clooney, who apparently can deliver a performance free of his usual grab bag of “Clooney-isms” (the cocked head, the deliberate awkward run, the mid-sentence stop to mug) for a still wet behind the years Reitman yet for a veteran like Payne chooses not to (or did Reitman benefit from his prep for THE AMERICAN?).

    I probably also wouldn’t mind Jeff’s yearly exercise in futility attempting to cajole/berate/shame (usually in the same sentence) fellow critics to his way of thinking if some of his sacred cows weren’t plucked from the same post-Labor Day pool. You want to do some real good? Go back to last winter and spring for films & performances that are long forgotten to champion. Because the only concrete value these awards have is to elevate those who truly need acclamation for their work so they can get more.

    All the rest is an industry circle-jerk.

  • The Reek

    Ah, so now we have this year’s PRECIOUS/KING’S SPEECH target. Hope everyone enjoys the next three months of bitching.

  • LexG

    This Dujardin guy looks like a TOTAL douche.

    This is SO obviously the Second Coming of Robert Benigni (unfunny foreign mugging asshole takes the Oscars by storm… in a movie NOBODY will be watching two, three years from now.)

    Of course, I haven’t seen it, so maybe I’ll love it. The chick is like a better version of Marissa Tomei/Joanne Whaley-Kilmer…

    Re: Wellsball:

    I know we all contain multitudes and Jeff’s as likely to be singing the praises of Ken Russell or Malick or Kubrick than any of the following, but at the end of the day I think Wells’ picks are always somewhat in that Pollack/Lumet/Pakula/Beatty smart-’70s drama realm. Nothing wrong with that at all, we all have our predispositions and it’s not a bad place to be… I think those kind of layered, nuances but unflashy and forward-thinking “adult pictures” are Jeff’s sweet spot, proven time and again, and it doesn’t do the rest of you lot much good to browbeat him about why not some Aki Kiratutusuusoki camcorder movie or Asian feudal deal or Bela Tarr (whoever THAT is, I have NO idea/don’t care) or Gaspar Noe opus instead of MONEYBALL.

  • K. Bowen

    You know, what would we think of The Artist if it had been released in 1927, with all of those great silent films of that era? Would it stand on its own without the novelty of being a latter-day silent movie? I’m still thinking about that one.

  • Colin

    I only saw Tilda Swinton.

  • Colin

    First time I saw it I thought it was Bowie.

  • great scott

    What a hilarious irony it would be if Weinstein’s movie won most or all of the critics awards, and Scott Rudin’s movie Extremely Loud won the guilds and the Oscar. Payback is a beyotch.

  • Rorark

    “The Artist is basically a 2011 version of That’s Entertainment! in a silent, black-and-white mode with a narrative assist from A Star Is Born and Sunset Boulevard.”

    Credit where it’s due, that’s a perfect description of what The Artist is.

  • Kakihara

    Actually, during the TG weekend, there was at least one screening of The Artist at the Landmark which sold out. Anyway, I liked it overall, but I’m starting to feel diminishing returns on Michel Hazanavicius’ sense of indulgence. I appreciate his love of atmosphere and detail, but it’s getting in the way of his sense of pacing. Did so much emphasis really need to be placed on the lead’s decline?

  • Zach

    I agree with JR- The Artist is anything but a “safe and likable” choice. Okay, it’s extremely likable, but only to cinephiles, not to Joe Schmoe in Bumblefuck, Arkansas.

    When it comes down to it, voters should simply choose the film that they deem the most enjoyable of the year, and not let themselves be guided by some self-righteous obligation to, what exactly? Choose the film that they think encapsulates our current zeitgeist? Registers on a “bone-marrow, deep-soul” scale? What happened to movies being movies?

    The politics of awards season is both amusing and infuriating. At the end of the day, it’s one big circle-jerk climaxing in a tin statue of a naked dude.


  • Kakihara

    Lexg: That’s his persona. He’s actually pretty sympathetic at times. Didn’t really like Benigni, partly ‘cus I have to google his fucking name to spell it every time I type it, since a silent g makes so much sense in there. And I also think he’s some goofy Italian Jerry Lewis-wannabe more than a real actor/director, who only got lucky ‘cus he did another Holocaust movie. Dujardin seems like a class act, though.

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    ^Thank you for walking us through that enthralling, Benigni-themed episode of Daniel: Portrait of a Serial Asperger.

    “When it comes down to it, voters should simply choose the film that they deem the most enjoyable of the year,”

    Hobo with a Shotgun meet Mr. Oscar…

  • Kakihara

    Kane: “Hobo with a Shotgun meet Mr. Oscar…”

    If only.

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    If you ever find yourself agreeing with me — and I mean ever again — please keep it to yourself, Kon-head!

  • Krillian

    What’s the difference between Joe Schmo and Joe Popcorn?

  • Cadavra

    I hope it wins everything and makes $100 million, if for no other reason than the next time Scorsese or Eastwood or Alexander Payne wants to make a movie in B&W and some sorry-ass studio punk says that B&W would kill the box office, they can then reply…

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    I just hate this awards-people hive-mind attitude of, OH WHO IS THIS HAZANAVICIUS, HE’S MADE SUCH A MARVEL OF A FILM!

    Yeah, he’s done it twice before, with those OSS 117 movies. Same genre subversion, same winking homage, same leading man. And yet, no one sneezes in either film’s direction, only to, years later, fall head over heels for this one.

    I hate this bullshit of OH WHERE DID THIS FILMMAKER COME FROM?? I saw that second OSS 117 movie on Instant. It’s not exactly an unwatchably obtuse art film.

    Think Peter Jackson would have ever won that Oscar if anyone had seen Meet The Feebles?

  • Jeffmc2000

    LexG, if you’re not sure about Jean Dujardin, you need to see Jan Koenen’s 99 Francs. That movie was MADE for you.

  • Sasha Stone

    “What a hilarious irony it would be if Weinstein’s movie won most or all of the critics awards, and Scott Rudin’s movie Extremely Loud won the guilds and the Oscar. Payback is a beyotch.”

    Extremely funny. But I’m thinking Moneyball instead. Rudin exec produced, Sorkin co-wrote. This reminds me of the year The Departed won. No one really saw it coming (except me, sounding like Kathy Bates in Misery — I SAW IT COMING….) Cut to: and the Oscar goes to … The Artist.

    We’ll see. It needs to be able to live up to the hype – if it can do that, it can’t lose. It’s been thundering onward by being perceived as the underdog — as in “no way can a black and white silent film win.” Well, of course it can win.

    So that — two years running the Weinstein Co, will have pulled off a Best Pic win for two films that weren’t American films. One was a UK British council film, and the other is a French film (though they’re trying to sell it as an American-made film).

    So you know, what does that say about our industry? Does it say “let’s take braver chances with our movies?” The King’s Speech was anything but brave. But the Artist is. Hats off to the Artist people. If voters think it’s the best of the year they should vote it. It’s a hell of a lot better than the King’s Speech, which was like a masterpiece theater episode. I’m for Moneyball, The Descendants or Hugo for the win. America, fuck yeah.

    Written moments before I drank a bottle of scotch and blew my brains out.

  • Sasha Stone

    Oh but p.s. a word to my pal Jeff. Just remember, “the more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers” Bashing either The Artist or War Horse is like bashing The King’s Speech — akin to smacking around a puppy. That isn’t how you disable a potential Best Picture win. You have to practice reverse psychology. Don’t give voters a chance to quote Susan in Citizen Kane, “I can’t do this to you? Oh yes I can.” You must try to continually raise the expectations of films you want to dismantle. That’s the only way, grasshopper.

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    Wow, Sasha getting her Trey Parker/Matt Stone, and Prinny Leia on up in here this ayem.

    VERY nice.

  • Yes, please look for a film with more substance than The Artist which is beautiful, but nothing more than a well done gimmick.

  • Wow very beautifull film
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