The Artist – A Precedence in the Oscar Race?

The other day I was watching a certain Oscar winner when it struck me – The Artist is going to win Best Picture. The odds are theoretically against it as a black-and-white, silent film by a French director, but none of that matters when you look at the film. I’m not saying it’s the best movie of the year. But when people see it, they fall in love. This will get number one votes.

I think the most appropriate comparison in Oscar history is during the 71st Academy Awards in 1998. Perhaps a reviled year, but this is the big Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan year, one of those “They got it wrong!” years. But I think that The Artist and Shakespeare in Love share so much D.N.A. that it is proof in the pudding that The Artist will walk away with Best Picture. 

In case you haven’t seen Shakespeare in Love, it’s about Shakespeare finding inspiration for Romeo & Juliet in a untrue love affair with the aristocratic Viola de Lessups. It’s filled with Shakespearian in-jokes, sonnets, line-readings from his Best plays, and a delightfully frothy screenplay from Tom Stoppard. Even if you are mad at the movie, remember the first time you saw it. You probably thought that it was truly enjoyable – a fun romp, and to anyone that loves movies, entirely unobjectionable. But it’s possible the academy only saw it once. On second viewing, the snarky Shakespearian references and art mirroring life gimmick seem just a little more cloying and a little more forced. It doesn’t hold up as well to multiple viewings. It’s great on the first watch because of it’s fresh and interesting exercise in making Shakespeare accessible, but it doesn’t hold up after multiple viewings.

When I first saw The Artist at a bleary-eyed 8:30AM at Cannes, no one knew what to expect and out popped a surprising and delightful experience that charmed the pants off us. It has cutesy references to the form of the silent movie; it bounces along as a charming comedy, and gives us a great canine performance. I was so enamored with the beauty and novelty of The Artist that I saw it a second time at the festival. I still enjoyed it, but less so. The fresh and exciting silent movie now just seemed like a cool lamp in a curio shop, a novelty, an exercise in a black and white film. The jokes seemed more predictable, the pace slowed just a little, and the charm tarnished.

I firmly believe the majority of the busy academy voters will see The Artist once. They will then fall in love, as I once did. And like Shakespeare in Love, they will love all of its charms and rank it first. But with time and multiple viewings, it won’t stand quite as strong. But it will be too late. The Artist will get buckets of #1 votes and take home the grand prize. Perhaps it can’t win Director, but it’s going to win Best Picture. Maybe Alexander Payne takes director or David Fincher. But The Artist has the one-time charm, it completely wows and elates, and it’s a force to be reckoned with. I may also be predicting that 5 years from now it gets a bad rap. I haven’t seen The Descendants or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or War Horse or a few others, but I’m confident that one of those will eventually be viewed as the better film. But not this year. The Artist has it. This is me going on record.

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