[Editor's Note: Oscar Prospects is your weekly analysis of an awards contender and how it's likely to fare come Oscar nomination morning. The column is comprehensive, so beware of spoilers.]
There are still more than two months to go before 2011 closes up shop, and guys like Fincher and Spielberg deliver their latest Oscar-ready opuses, but as of now, no film this year is poised to collect more Academy Award nominations than The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius's silent movie about the silent era that has so many great things going for it, it's hard to organize them all in your head. In no way is this meant to imply that "great" and "Oscar" are linked, but rather that The Artist boasts an all-encompassing panache and irresistibility that, save the inevitable handful of backlashers and contrarians, is going to deeply enchant scads of people, Academy members especially. And yet, as easy as the accusation may be, the film—as some writers have already pointed out—doesn't seem to be actively dangling the carrot. It is genuinely that good, and it unfolds in a milieu that's bursting with an embarrassment of inherent virtues.
Set in Hollywood between the years of 1927 and 1931, when talkies began to displace silents and stars like George Valentin (Cannes Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin) found themselves dropping from A-List to extinction, The Artist offers a richly nostalgic interpretation of one of the most romanticized periods in cinema's history, an industry smooch that's bound to win it even more favor than its brilliant, timeless commentary on the ever-changing state of technology at large (not to mention its perfectly natural and logical inclusion of a certain stock market crash). It almost instantly drops itself into the canon of movies about making movies, and its universal accessibility—otherwise known as hater fuel—will provide voters with the characteristic reassurance that, not only would their endorsement reward something of great value, but something that, goshdarnit, people really like. It will absolutely be one of your Best Picture nominees.
And it is almost certain to net a nomination for Hazanavicius as well, as the Director makes all sorts of unpopular, i.e. heroic, decisions (no dialogue, black and white photography, an incidental jab to profitable, tech-heavy trends like 3D) and still manages to turn out something immensely entertaining. His Screenplay, with all its priceless comic beats (that dog!) and knowing nods to filmic things that stretch well beyond the 1920s, will likely follow suit, as will Best Actor hopeful Dujardin, who has that worldly, Il Postino/Life is Beautiful base covered in a film that, essentially, isn't even foreign (nor was it selected as the Foreign Language Oscar submission for its home country of France). Assuming she'll get a push in the Supporting Actress category (a wise move despite her role being no less of a lead than say, Reese Witherspoon's in Walk the Line), French stunner Bérénice Bejo should also be in the running for her endearing, expressive ham work as Peppy Miller, the love interest whose rising stardom is one of the film's most apparent onscreen/offscreen parallels. There's a chance James Cromwell could get caught up in The Artist's probable sweep and clinch a Supporting Actor slot for his sympathetic turn as Valentin's devoted driver, but it'd be undeserved, as that category is already swatting away contenders.
What's sure to earn recognition is a laundry list of technical and behind-the-scenes disciplines, from Makeup to, without a doubt, Art Direction. Since it borrows a few compositions from movies like Sunset Boulevard, the film may not be eligible for Original Score, and doesn't seem to have its own Original Song (though one assumes Harvey Weinstein would be shoving someone into the recording studio, lest he release something without the utmost awards eligibility). But Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman seems to have as good a shot at this point as The Tree of Life's Emmanuel Lubezki, and he should be joined by Costume Designer Mark Bridges and Editors Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion. Were The Artist to indeed gobble up every available kudo, the most unnecessary, of course, would be those in the areas of Sound, for as sly as one may think himself for recognizing the nuances of sound mixer Michael Krikorian's work, it'd be a join-the-pack slap in the face to the year's great sound accomplishments to hand their nominations to a silent movie. Which is to say, it will probably happen.
Surest bets: Best Picture; Best Director, Michel Hazanavicius; Best Original Screenplay; Best Actor, Jean Dujardin; Best Supporting Actress, Bérénice Bejo; Best Cinematography; Best Editing; Best Makeup; Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Effects Editing.
Possibilities: Best Original Score, Ludovic Bource.
Shouldn't be Overlooked: None.