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.