Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
Ten Best Picture nominations? Way too many! So Oscar’s keepers decided to slim down the list. Using a tabulation process as complicated as the equation for Fermat’s last theorem, the Academy ordained that, this year, an indeterminate number of between five and 10 films would make the cut. Movies that appeared at the top of the voters’ preferential ballots stood a better chance of being short-listed. After all that, a hefty nine films were nominated. We’re guessing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would have been No. 10. Sorry, director David Fincher. Last year your Social Network lost to The King’s Speech; this time your film was shut out of every major category except Best Actress. Fincher has got to wonder, Don’t Academy members think Terry Malick is kind of a weird dude, and not their kind of weird? Yet they picked The Tree of Life over Dragon Tattoo.
Ordinary moviegoers may scan the list of finalists and mutter, “Didn’t see it. Skipped it. Never heard of it. Heard it was awful.” Of the nine, the only hit film is The Help, a low-budget sleeper, beloved by its audience. Could it be this year’s Driving Miss Daisy, which surprised the touts by winning Best Picture in 1990? Or will The Descendants prevail? Probably not: Alexander Payne’s dramedy about death and property values in Hawaii is widely admired but not deeply cherished. Moneyball is, at heart, a middle-management primer disguised as a baseball comedy. Hugo will have to settle for technical prizes, and Midnight in Paris for Best Original Screenplay. As for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close … actually, I have nothing to say about that post-9/11 family drama, except that I think it won’t win.
The Artist, just inching into wide release, has yet to win over the mass audience. And The Hurt Locker notwithstanding, the Academy likes its biggest prize winner to connect with paying customers. If this nearly silent film flops commercially over the next month, while members are filling out their final ballots, its Oscar triumph may seem no more inevitable than Mitt Romney’s run for President. Yet it remains the front runner, in part because its U.S. distributor is that sacred monster Harvey Weinstein, who promoted four films in the past 16 years — The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and The King’s Speech — to Best Picture wins.
There’s another reason the smart money (and our money) is on The Artist. If there’s one thing Hollywood loves more than itself, it’s a foreigner who loves Hollywood. The film kindles a special glow in people — by which we mean movie people, Academy people — by evoking the cinemagic of the late 1920s, when the industry was in its golden age and somebody dreamed up the Academy Awards as Hollywood’s way of rewarding itself. The Artist is a life-achievement Oscar presented by an unknown friend from afar — the Statue of Liberty in film form. The least Hollywood can do is say thank you with a Best Picture statuette.