Is The Artist Worthy of a Best Picture Oscar?

The Artist
Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in The Artist | The Weinstein Co.

I finally saw The Artist this week, and while it’s a wonderfully creative film, I’m just not sure it’s worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture. And yet, it seems poised to bring home that award.

It’s already scored Best Film wins from BAFTA, Golden Globes, Boston Society of Film Critics, Broadcast Film Critics Association, Australian Film Institute, London Critics Circle, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics, Vancouver Film Critics, and many others.

It’s also landed a slew of other nominations and wins, including Golden Globes for Best Original Score and Best Actor. Just what IS it about this silent black-and-white film that people are loving so much?

It makes me wonder if moviegoers find the straightforward plot of The Artist a refreshing change from the more complex movies that grace theater screens these days. Sometimes I like heavy plots, and sometimes, I just want a nice, light-hearted movie that doesn’t weigh me down for days. The plot of The Artist couldn’t get much simpler:

It’s Hollywood in 1927, and silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is wondering if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion. A chance meeting with a young dancer and rising star named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) turns his world upside down. It’s a little bit [amazon_link id=”B00006DEF9″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Singin’ in the Rain[/amazon_link], a little bit Ziegfeld Follies.

In fact, there are some interesting vintage connections in The Artist, including:

  • Peppy’s house in the film is Mary Pickford’s house, and the bed where George Valentin wakes up is Mary Pickford’s bed.
  • Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo rehearsed the climactic dance sequence for five months, practicing almost every day in the same studio that Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly used to rehearse for Singin’ in the Rain.

Still, let’s be realistic regarding a Best Picture win. There’s no dialogue in The Artist (well, very little). It’s not a complicated plot. And while perhaps it’s more difficult to portray a character without the use of dialogue, the characters in The Artist aren’t complex. One’s a fading star and the other is a rising star.

Does The Artist deserve to win Best Picture? I say no. My vote is for Hugo, a rich film brimming with color, sounds, beautiful dialogue, complex characters you can root for, and a plot that weaves the history of filmmaking into what is essentially a family film.

But if I was in charge of the world (or at least the Academy), I’d have nominated My Week With Marilyn, a film that could have been this year’s The King’s Speech if all the right elements had fallen into place.

What are your thoughts? Do you think The Artist is worthy of Best Picture? If not, which film should take the trophy home? In addition to The Artist, the nominees include Midnight in Paris, Hugo, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, War Horse, The Tree of Life, and Moneyball.



34 responses to “Is The Artist Worthy of a Best Picture Oscar?”

  1. Alexandra Avatar

    Oh, I really wanted to see the Marilyn film, but we went with Tinker, Tailor, which hubby had heard was so good. I have not seen The Artist. My daughter was not enthused by it though, which is usually a good indicator, so hearing you say the same only confirmed it for me. Will be watching tonight to see whether you are right!

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      I still haven’t seen Tinker Tailor, but think it comes out on DVD in the next couple weeks, so I’ll pick up a copy. What a great cast. It may still come to our downtown vintage theater, but it never played at our Carmike Cinemas.

  2. Living Large Avatar

    I’ve been wanting to see this. Makes me wonder if it got a nod just because it’s different.

  3. Roxanne Avatar

    I don’t know. We’re going to see The Artist next week. My MIL wants to see it as her b-day outing. I used to love watching the Oscars, but in recent years … not so much. Though, do love me some Billy Crystal.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Billy Crystal did such a great job. He should just do it every year.

  4. Sheryl Avatar

    Sadly, I saw neither The Artist nor Hugo. Woefully behind on my films. But I AM looking forward to seeing the Oscars and Billy Crystal tonight!

  5. Melanie Votaw Avatar

    I agree. I do think The Artist was beautifully shot, but I’d have gone with a more complex film. I also thought The Artist was an homage to A Star Is Born, by the way. Maybe the fact that it was so different is what captured everyone’s imagination, but time has proven that the Academy doesn’t always get it right. Many of the films that have won Best Picture have been forgotten, while “losers” have been remembered and beloved for decades. I also think bravado acting usually wins over much more difficult subtle acting. That frequently bothers me.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Yes – you’re so right on the subtle acting. People who can act with just a tilt of the head or raised eyebrow. Requires so much more finesse and skill than the more action-packed roles.

  6. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Well, the awards just wrapped up, and as usual, I’m disappointed. Not only that one of the two movies I saw–Midnight in Paris and Hugo–didn’t win best picture, but I felt Scorsese was slighted in so many ways. Granted the competition was tough this year, but as you note, The Artist is a lightweight. I was particularly chagrined that Hugo did not get best film editing. Come ON!

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      I know – Hugo did score some nice awards, but it still felt slighted for being such a wonderful film. But I’m really glad it won the awards it did: art direction, visual effects, sound editing, sound mixing, and cinematography. Especially cinematography. Such a beautiful film.

  7. Marty Avatar

    I like The Artist and I believe that it deserves the award. I guess that it is the simplicity that added to its artistic value. I mean it is easy to complicated things when one is making a film, it is hard to come up with something very simple yet packed with strong message.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Yes, so true. It reminds me of what my violin teacher always used to tell me: it’s much harder to play slow than it is to play fast. You have to have more control and the notes have to be spot-on because you can’t skim over them. Probably much the same with a simpler film. Ok, I’m liking The Artist more and more, now that I’ve thought about it!

      1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

        I can only speak from an actor’s point of view, but “bigger” is usually easier than toning down and being real. You CAN skim over the “notes” if you’re just mugging facial expressions at a camera and using large gestures to get a very general emotion across to the moviegoer. So, while I did think The Artist was charming, I thought The Descendants certainly required more of the actors, as well as the writers. I can’t speak to cinematography. From what little I know, I do think The Artist was beautifully shot. There were certain visual images from the film that have stayed with me.

  8. ruth pennebaker Avatar

    I’m inclined to think the quietness of The Artist charmed many of us in a year of explosions and constant and mindless action on screen.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Good theory – you could be right, Ruth. I see so many movies that are fast-paced with lots of weaponry, explosions, car chases, peril, etc. It’s refreshing to see a quiet film with such a straightforward storyline. And Uggie the dog is adorable.

  9. Melanie Votaw Avatar

    I don’t know. There were plenty of movies without explosions (like The Descendants, for one.) Jane, maybe it’s because we’re word people that the silence was annoying.

  10. Joe Donatelli Avatar

    I liked The Artist. The dog should have got a nom. There, I said it.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      So agree. Uggie deserves an award. There was even a campaign for it, but I guess it didn’t go anywhere. At least it plants the seed for future Oscars.

      1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

        There should be an Oscar for best animal actor. The monkey from Hangover Part II could’ve been a contender, too.

        1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

          Hmmm… I’m seeing a piece on Best Animals in the Movies… the monkey from Hangover, Uggie the dog, I’m sure we could come up with more…

          1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

            Well, and of COURSE Joey the horse.

  11. Connie Avatar

    sadly I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to see any of these films- and thus I opted out of watching the Oscars because I didn’t want them to ‘spoil’ what I might later watch via dvd.

    I’m too busy and so I might enjoy a mindless movie- something teenagerish maybe so that I don’t have to think….when you described The Artist it did remind me a bit of A Star Is Born- except in silent mode- I think I might pass it up.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Hmmm… a mindless movie… let’s see… I wish I could recommend This Means War (Reese Witherspoon), One For the Money (Katherine Heigl), or Gone (Amanda Seyfried), but none of them were all that great.

      Project X is coming out this Friday – about 3 teenage boys who throw a wild party – but it looks kind of stupid. Or not. Todd Phillips is the producer, so maybe it’ll be another Hangover, which I loved.

      And next Friday is Friends With Kids (platonic friends agree to make a baby) and John Carter (a fantasy sci-fi about a Civil War vet who’s transplanted to Mars). Both of those look fun.

  12. David Shroder Avatar
    David Shroder

    I saw all but two of the nominees this year–I haven’t yet seen “Extremely Loud” or “War Horse”–and from the ones I did see, my pick would have been “The Descendants,” followed closely by “Moneyball.” “The Descendants” manages to be both very funny and very painful, veering from one to the other in a heartbeat. What greater accolade can I give George Clooney than that for long stretches of the film I forgot he was George Clooney?
    Brad Pitt turned in a doubleheader this year, producing and starring in both “Moneyball” and “The Tree of Life.” Both were subtle, natural performances. “Moneyball,” while not a great movie, is a very good one, a baseball film for people who don’t watch baseball, and Brad Pitt’s performance is the heart of the film. I might as well admit that I didn’t understand “The Tree of Life” at all. I thought Terence Malick had crossed a movie of the week with an Imax nature special (in fact the 30 minutes that he spent backtracking from the problems of a family growing up in the 50’s to the dawn of time was probably the best half hour of the two and a half hour film, and it IS being expanded and released seperately as anImax film!), with a lot of dreary and unexplained angst and mysticism thrown in for good measure. If “The Artist” wasn’t the best film of the year, at least it wasn’t this self -consciously arty mess that tangled up actors in it’s roots and smothered their performances.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Oh my gosh, I so agree about The Tree of Life. In fact, wrote a bit about it here:

      There were parts of it that were absolutely beautiful, and may have been within that 30 minutes you were talking about. I hadn’t heard that was being made into a separate film, but it makes total sense to me. But it’s such an odd choice for Best Picture, especially given the other films in the category. Really, they’re all so different, which I guess is good.

      Another interesting thing is that I saw almost no campaigning for The Tree of Life, which might not mean much, but then again, might mean they felt the film stood on its own.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, David. I look forward to more of your voice on this site.

  13. The Writer's [Inner] Journey Avatar

    I have not seen it yet, but would like to. I saw the star on SNL and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon! If anything, because of this movie, I’ve learned about the fine art of promoting Oscar picks. It has been fascinating to me, not being in the business, to learn that there is indeed a marketing campaign going on to accrue these votes. It seems like I’ve been reading about this everywhere this year, much more so than ever before.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      The Oscar campaign does seem to get more and more ridiculous every year. I don’t know if it’s like politics, in that the person with the most money wins, but it’s certainly similar. I get The Hollywood Reporter print edition every week, and every week for the past few months, there’d be a big cover ad (on top of the regular cover) of one of the Oscar movies. I mean, there’s some serious cash being spent on getting these awards.

  14. Katherine Avatar

    I agree. When it came down to it, my husband and I recently had to decide if we wanted to see The Artist or Hugo. I do want to see The Artist but I really wanted to see Hugo and I was really happy with it. The Artist seems like a bit of a novelty, but I haven’t seen it yet so for now, I can only speculate.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      I think The Artist is definitely worth seeing, but between the two movies, Hugo is my favorite. It was actually one of my favorite movies from all of 2011, and that’s saying something, since I see about 10,000 movies a year. I don’t know if that’s an exaggeration or not. I’m too scared to figure it out.

  15. Alisa Bowman Avatar

    I haven’t seen any of these films so I really can’t weigh in. I’m very behind on my movie going!

  16. MyKidsEatSquid Avatar

    I saw that The Artist won the oscar. I was rooting for The Help.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Such a diverse group of nominees this year. I was rooting for Hugo. But nice to see Octavia Spencer be recognized for The Help at so many awards shows this season.

  17. Jeanine Barone Avatar

    I’m a very big movie buff — in fact, I’m writing my second feature-length script — and I’ve seen most of these movies. For me, The Artist and Hugo are tied for Best Picture. But, what was interesting about The Artist is that I had no interest in seeing it when it first came out. But I went because a friend wanted to see it. I thought I’d be totally bored. Instead, I found that it was a perfect script. I found myself hooked from the opening scene.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Definitely a compelling story that hooked me from beginning to end, too.

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