Se7en

A movie that nobody of any consequence really loves is going to win seven Oscars on Sunday, in the view of Hollywood Reporter forecaster Scott Feinberg. How can this be? There’s a solid current of like for this agreeable little film, and that’s about it. No one who knows or cares about Film Catholicism truly respects The Artist as a work of striking originality or spirit or technique or anything. All through the season people haven’t voted for The Artist — they’ve defaulted to it.

I’m trying not to pay too much attention to this or give it too much weight, but when I do I get a little bit sick. It’s 1953 all over again, and we’re about to give the Best Picture Oscar to The Greatest Show on Earth.

Who are the gelatinous AMPAS members who are voting for it? Are they feeling at least a twinge of regret or inner conflict as they mark their ballots? Because — this is the truth — I haven’t spoken to a single person who’s been really knocked flat by The Artist…not one.

That euphoric current that many of us felt when Roman Polanski‘s The Pianist won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor? That electric-jolt feeling that says “wow, amazing…the good guys are winning for a change”? That was one of the biggest Oscar highs I’ve ever felt. Who in the world is going to really be jumping for joy when The Artist starts sweeping the table? Most of us are going to be feeling the opposite — resignation, melancholia, puzzlement. This pastiche is the best we could do? This hodgepodge of imitation?

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

I personally blame the New York Film Critics Circle for getting the ball rolling. They were first out of the gate and gave The Artist their renowned stamp of approval, and that in turn made it easy (or certainly easier) other critics groups, voting bodies and guilds to follow suit. Award voting is about pack mentalities and currents in the river. It’s very easy to get swept along. Nobody wants to be a loner.

From a 2.18 entry in Andrew O’Hehir‘s Salon column:

“So here we are, a week out from the big night in the No-Longer-Kodak Theatre, with Oscar’s big prize all but awarded to a silent black-and-white film made by French people. If we can pull that fact free of the massive ennui we’re all feeling about Oscar season this year, it remains objectively amazing. I mean, don’t get me wrong: The Artist is agreeable lightweight entertainment, and I can see exactly why it appeals to the wounded, nostalgic and crisis-ridden industry insiders of the Academy. Jean Dujardin is an irresistible performer, and I bet he’s been hitting the ‘apprenez l’anglais’ CDs hard in preparation for his likely Hollywood career.

“Still, the likely Oscar triumph of The Artist, like the movie itself, is a novelty hit, a one-off parlor trick that demonstrates the weakened cultural position of the Academy Awards and the lack of confidence endemic to mainstream American filmmaking.

“As a spoof and tribute to the glories of Hollywood’s silent age, The Artist is not especially subtle, but a lot of love and talent and pure high spirits went into making the movie, and that shows up on-screen. It’s not a great film and may not even be an especially good one, but it’s going to win the prize because it resounds with good cheer and confidence and willingness to entertain. Those are precisely the qualities usually associated with American cinema, good or bad, and precisely the qualities lacking in this year’s other nominees.”

Here’s how I put it the day after the NYFCC voted on 11.29.11:

“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.

“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.”

  • Ray

    Movie gods, film catholics, zzzzzz.

    We KNOW what you hate Jeff. Tell us what you’re LOOKING FORWARD TO on Sunday.

    Share joy.

  • HJV

    Yes. Yes. Yes. I’ve been secretly hoping for a Pianist-like sweep with either Moneyball, Tree of Life or …oh wait, that’s it. But judging by their lack of support in other categories (The Pianist was nominated for 7 awards including the BP.BD.BScr trifecta) I can’t see it happening. And that depresses me. Because, yes, Wells, The Artist is a passionless vehicle headed inevitably to the finish line. Sigh…at least it gives me an excuse to get wasted and yell at the screen come Sunday.

  • raygo

    Truly the most bizarre disconnect between critical consensus and popular opinion in all of Oscar history. People in the suburbs where I live no nothing about The Artist. It doesn’t register with 99% of the public. TIme for some new(er) voting rules.

  • Storm Serge

    I don’t mean to cheapen the conversation, or go all LexG, but every time I see pic or clips of The Artist, my only reaction is to yet again hope Bejo does more Hollywood work.

  • BoulderKid

    It’s not the worst film to win in the last ten or twenty years, but it is baffling seeing the voters champion against a total sense of apathy from the general public. Plus no film in 1.33 should ever win BP. A win for “The Descendants” or “Moneyball” (my preference) would have been a nice compromise between the two groups, sort of like the year “Ordinary People” won.

  • DeafEars

    I think THE HELP will take it in the end. People went batshit over that movie, and while THE ARTIST got hyped, I didn’t sense the same sort of groundswell going on. Personally, I’d rather see TREE OF LIFE or MONEYBALL win.

  • econeywaaa

    “nobody of any consequence really loves ” All due respect, Wells, but I’m curious to hear who you consider to be of any consequence?

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    This system rewards “passion,” weighing the first place votes higher, right? Am I remembering that right?

    And while I’m sure The Artist was at the top of a whole bunch of top ten lists, there’s really only one other movie that has that sort of “top of the list” allure to some voters, and that’s Tree of Life.

    Dare I forecast a bizarro upset? Or do I have the voting process totally wrong?

  • DiscoNap

    True film Catholics know that the Oscars are bullshit, and therefore don’t really care who wins the lion’s share. On top of that, it’s nice when the movie that people go crazy for is more charming than usual.

  • BobbyLupo

    Every year there’s an upset in Cinematography. This year, Feinberg finally predicts one, and I’m fully expecting this to be the year it actually goes to the favorite.

  • Edward Havens

    I liked The Artist much more than I expected to, and I am now resigned to it winning Best Picture, but Hugo was far and away the better film. That being said, there is no way in hell it wins seven. Two, at the most: Picture and Original Screenplay.

  • Rashad

    The Descendants should win nothing for not cutting out Sid. Watch it upset

  • Webster

    If people vote with their hearts, THE HELP will win, hands down (followed by MIDNIGHT IN PARIS). I know more people who disliked THE DESCENDANTS than any other movie on this list, even though it was my personal favorite of this year’s nominated films.

    The biggest problem with the modern awards season is that the Gurus of Gold and their brethren have taken all the suspense out of the Oscars. It was a lot more fun before it became as drawn out as an election campaign.

    My hope is that a win by THE ARTIST will turn a lot of people on to a terrific little film that swam upstream to win it all.

  • Raising_Kaned

    “This system rewards “passion,” weighing the first place votes higher, right? Am I remembering that right?”

    You are correct, sir, and that’s why the essence of this piece rings pretty hollow. You want to know a movie that a lot of people “liked,” but very few actually “loved?” The Descendants. Yeah, I said it (I would probably even argue that the one thing about that flick that almost everyone seems to love — Woodley’s performance — wasn’t even nominated).

    “That euphoric current that many of us felt when Roman Polanski’s The Pianist won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor? That electric-jolt feeling that says ‘wow, amazing…the good guys are winning for a change’?”

    The Pianist was pretty much my “best” (although not “favorite”) of 2002, too. But the irony of you using the actual term “good guys” is pretty thick to the degree that the jokes really do write themselves.

  • RJ

    ‘That euphoric current that many of us felt when Roman Polanski’s The Pianist won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor? That electric-jolt feeling that says “wow, amazing…the good guys are winning for a change”?’

    Jeff, you are trolling for negative comments with this, and you know it.

  • George Prager

    What film do you think James L. Brooks and Mickey Rooney voted for?

  • Kakihara

    “That electric-jolt feeling that says “wow, amazing…the good guys are winning for a change”?”

    I’m guessing that’s what his supporters felt when OJ got acquitted.

  • FlashDust

    It would be great if the Academy released the information on who voted for what after the fact then we could tag them with a scarlet letter A.

  • Dan Revill

    If Terrence Malick somehow pulls off an upset win for BD, I’ll never make fun of the Oscars again.

  • Jesse Crall

    There really wasn’t another film that generated a large consensus of approval. The Tree of Life came closest, but it had plenty of detractors, Midnight in Paris, The Descendants and Moneyball were more liked than loved (as Kaned said), Dragon Tattoo’s support was too small for a nom…The Artist was the compromise, a film with widespread acclaim and enough vehement support to pull through.

    The Artist wasn’t my favorite, but would any other film bring more approval even on H-E? Drive? Tree of Life? I think even if those films generated more rabid approval than The Artist, they would also provoke a backlash. The worst I’ve heard about The Artist is “It’s pretty good but slight.”

  • Hank94

    “A movie that nobody of any consequence really loves ”

    Who are the people of consequence? Movie critics? Movie bloggers? Are you fucking kidding me?

  • cyanic

    Plus no film in 1.33 should ever win BP.

    What a LexG thing to say.

    —-

    I’m rooting for Malick and TOL just because its the less embarassing alternative.

  • Moviehobbyist

    Jeff, there was an interesting column by Paul Verhoeven in a Dutch newspaper the other day. Every weeks he writes about a movie he loves, in this case The Artist. He opened the article by saying that as an Academy member he wholeheartedly chose The Artist for Best Picture and Director. He also claimed the movie swept him away almost as much as his favorite film, Lawrence of Arabia, did 40 years ago. I believe this is key to understanding the Academy love for this film.

    Let me know if you want the article, I might be able to put it through Google translate. Funny thing also is, he admits to all the “flaws” you’re mentioning but sees them as virtues.

  • Sams

    I continue to hope that Moneyball and Pitt will appeal more to the Academy members who are “94% Caucasian and 77% male, with a median age of 62″.

  • shefhammer

    Jeff, you’re out to lunch on this one. Where was this vitriol last year when it was actually deserved? I know you were very vocal about Social Network being far superior to King’s Speech but I feel there are double the number of take downs this year despite Artist being far superior to KS.

    I’m no huge fan – I liked the artist but it didn’t crack my top 10 – but it is so clearly better than kings speech and would not be the worst winner since The (appalling) Greatest Show On Earth by any stretch.

    And I’m pretty shocked you thought Brody deserved his Oscar. Caine in Quiet American was on a different level and you loved that film I see to recall.

  • shefhammer

    Raygo,

    Biggest disconnect on Oscar history? It’s already doubled The Hurt Locker’s lifetime box office so can that be even remotely true?

  • http://indiemoines.com indiemoines.com

    Analyzing a database of every nomination in Oscar history, correlated to Best Picture Wins, results in a conclusion that “The Artist” is indeed, by the numbers, going to be a limp choice in a dismal year for Oscar Nominations, see:

    http://indiemoines.com/2012/02/07/oscar-by-the-number-2012-and-the-academy-award-for-best-picture-goes-to/

  • York “Budd” Durden

    I fell asleep during The Artist. I can’t understand what is so satisfying and fascinating about this imitation of an earlier form. I’m starting to think all its adherents haven’t actually seen any silent films before, making its conceit seem novel.

  • DeafEars

    “I continue to hope that Moneyball and Pitt will appeal more to the Academy members who are “94% Caucasian and 77% male, with a median age of 62″.”

    The only problem is they all give the ballots to their wives to fill out, which is another reason why I think THE HELP is going to win. It was VERY flattering to white women of a certain age – “Not only were we not racist, we were practically Medger Evers ourselves!” OTOH the ladies like Pitt so maybe you’re right again.

  • DoctorStrange

    The Artist is a beautiful film, a love letter to cinema. Not only that, it’s the ultimate underdog. No stars. Black and white. 4:3. Silent. Seriously, think about that. It has EVERYTHING stacked against it and might just win. If it does, the good guys really will have triumphed imo.

    Tree of Life? Give me a break… That was pretentious rubbish. Sean Penn spiralling on the beach at the end. Everybody was laughing in the cinema. This was in central london, england. Not hicksville. Tree of Life was a joke. Anyone with a brain understood it for the quasi-religious shite it was. And yes, I understood the subtext. Shame it had no ACTUAL story.

    The Artist had people in tears, cheering. It should and will win.

  • Eloi Wrath

    “Everybody was laughing in the cinema. This was in central london, england.”

    Londoners are among the most bitter and jaded people on the planet, so no wonder they were so taken aback by something so earnest. And a lot of the comments I’ve seen from the UK have bashed the religious aspects of the film, due to the new trendy atheism craze.

  • Eloi Wrath

    It’ll surely be one of the lowest-rated Oscar broadcasts in recent years. The only BP nominee to pass $100m domestic was The Help, and that was primarily seen by middle-class women as opposed to having a truly broad cultural impact. Lots of films that simply arrived and people respected but nobody really loved.

    I used to run the office Oscar pool, but this year nobody could be bothered to take part. You wonder if they’ll make up for this general sense of apathy next year by nominating TDKR and a bunch of other big blockbusters to up the audience interest.

  • moviemorlock

    In film school they started us off by making B&W silent films to learn the craft. It is also far easier to take a non actor and make them appear to be a good actor when they didn’t have to speak. The real challenge came when we had to deal with sound. Not saying the Artist was a bad film, but it ain’t the second coming of Christ. It should not win Best Actor and it most certainly should not win best screenplay. Just because someone was successfully able to re-create the silent era, that doesn’t mean it was an excellent film. Heck…the last half hour dragged, was super melodramatic, even for a silent era film, and it missed out on creating tragedy by opting for an upbeat ending. I would have gone the other way. This one is a puzzler for me. But so was The King’s Speech.

  • reverent and free

    I just hope Crystal will not to an obvious lame silent movie skit to kick off the show.

  • Redbeard

    I find The Artist an infinetely more interesting as a Best Pic choice than The King’s Speech – and I haven’t even seen The Artist.

  • Markj74

    Eloi Wrath: “And a lot of the comments I’ve seen from the UK have bashed the religious aspects of the film, due to the new trendy atheism craze.”

    As opposed to the centuries old, un-trendy, swallow a lot of made-up bullshit passed down over the centuries about a cult leader craze?

  • Terry McCarty

    Re reverent and free’s post:

    From the moment I read that Uggie the dog would appear on the show, the inevitability of Crystal doing a silent film parody became ultra clear.

  • Eloi Wrath

    “As opposed to the centuries old, un-trendy, swallow a lot of made-up bullshit passed down over the centuries about a cult leader craze?”

    I’m not religious at all, but you can’t deny that ‘New Atheism’ is quite a trendy movement for UK people at the moment, and aggressive rejection of religion is seen as a sign of cool. Hardly any of the US reviews of TToL seemed bothered by the religious content, but read the comments on The Guardian website and you’d think Malick had made some Passion of the Christ-level Christianity recruitment film.

  • raygo

    I enjoyed Rango more than anything on the best picture ballot.

  • Raising_Kaned

    Re: Moviehobbyist’s post: What is the director of Roboop and Total Recall doing writing a weekly newspaper column instead of directing kickass flicks? His Dutch films movies cool and all, but I actually think he should come back to Hollywood — was his exile self-imposed, or was Hollow Man really the straw the broke the camel’s back?

    His exit always seemed strangely abrupt to me, especially considering how many once-A-list-filmmakers kick around doing hack work or subpar pictures before slowly getting phased out of the industry.

  • Cadavra

    “The Artist is a beautiful film, a love letter to cinema. Not only that, it’s the ultimate underdog. No stars. Black and white. 4:3. Silent. Seriously, think about that. It has EVERYTHING stacked against it and might just win. If it does, the good guys really will have triumphed imo.”

    Not to mention it’s the only one of the nine BP nominees that does NOT have a big star, a name director, or both. One pisscutter of a hill to climb.

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