This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting Oscar races in a long time and not because it necessarily features the best films in a long time, but because at this point there isn’t a decided front-runner though several would like you to believe there is.
The Artist is the film most are pointing to as the current front-runner. Sasha Stone at Awards Daily is one such prognosticator throwing in the towel and declaring The Artist the winner before the nominations have even been announced, but I think she shows her hand when she says, “As an Oscar watcher this year, since my heart was pulled from my chest and stomped all over last year, I have to just shut down this year and play it as it lays.”
Stone was a big supporter of The Social Network, as were many, and was incredibly dispirited, as were many, when The King’s Speech took home the award for Best Picture after David Fincher’s film won several of the year’s precursor awards. The thing about this is, I think Stone may be jumping the gun as The Artist isn’t the clear de facto winner or loser of anything to this point as far as I can tell. There is diversity among the ranks when it comes to naming the best film of the year and the awards race is all the better for it. So let’s show it some support.
If you hop over to my “Oscar Overture” section you’ll see The Artist has won with the New York, Washington D.C. and Boston Film critics, but then you’ll see a win for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo from the National Board of Review, recent wins for The Tree of Life from the San Francisco and Chicago critics and then there’s The Descendants, which won with the Los Angeles Film Critics and just last night at the Satellite Awards. The Artist is the front-runner? Really?
If I were to place a bet today it would be on The Descendants, a challenging, yet easy enough to watch feature from Alexander Payne who is already in the Academy’s good graces following the widely adored Sideways in 2004 among other achievements.
Beyond that, even though I did enjoy The Artist (read my review from Cannes here), the love it seems to have found is more out of people that may have discounted the effect a silent film could have on them. They went in doubting it before seeing a single frame and as a result, while director Michel Hazanavicius didn’t intend for the nature of the film’s storytelling to be a gimmick, in this current environment that’s sort of what it is.
I even asked Hazanavicius about this very thing as the first question when I interviewed him and he agreed saying, “The format, for a lot of people, is new and people were so sure that nobody could do a silent movie, a modern silent movie. It goes against what people think.”
Maybe I’m over-analyzing it, but when it comes to considering the year’s “best” I think if people take a step back they will see The Artist is good, but upon further evaluation to say it’s the best is merely a result of underestimating what a silent film could accomplish, which, as film history will tell us, is silent film can accomplish a lot.
Elsewhere, I’ve had plenty more movement as The Artist does remain my number two, but with moving The Descendants to #1 it meant I had to bump Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close from the #1 spot for the first time since I made my first Best Picture predictions back on September 6.
I loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as anyone that has read my A+ review already knows, but Warner Bros.’ decision to hold off on releasing it, screen it and drop the embargo until so late in the game has proven detrimental to the film’s awards chances… at least for now.
Both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety offered non-committal opinions of the film that were extremely weak and in the case of Todd McCarthy’s at The Hollywood Reporter, incredibly spoilerish. So nothing is gained there, but I am still confident it will be among the year’s nominees.
My fourth place prediction is a film that seems to be continually creeping, especially after it received three individual acting nominations from the Screen Actors Guild along with a fourth nomination for ensemble tells me the largest branch in the Academy may be able to propel The Help to top contender status in the blink of an eye.
The other notable title is in my seventh position as I have moved Scorsese’s Hugo into the nomination ring and expanded my expected number of nominees from seven to eight with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris serving as the eighth and final nominee.
Just on the cusp is Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, The Ides of March and Drive as early nominations and critical kudos have been kind to all three, but is there enough goodwill to move one of them into the top eight or perhaps inspire upwards of nine or ten nominees?