Cannes hit “The Artist” an early Oscar fave? – TIFF 2011

By Sean O’Connell Can a silent film actually compete for – and possibly win – a Best Picture Oscar in the year 2011?

We aim to find out. This year, Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” has been burning up the film festival circuit, earning raves at Cannes and, most recently, at Telluride (where it just screened). A black-and-white and largely silent little drama, Hazanavicius’s film is a throwback to Hollywood’s Golden Age, with Jean Dujardin playing fading star George Valentin, who sees his career coming to a close with the advent of the “talkies.”

Next stop for “The Artist” is the Toronto International Film Festival. How will it play?

Previous TIFF previews can be found by visiting our bustling Awards Alley.

For now, though, let’s step into a time machine and flash back through film’s rich history for “The Artist,” screening at TIFF 2011.

The Artist

The Plot: It’s Hollywood in the year 1927, and silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) is at the top of his game. Yet, with the arrival of spoken dialogue, Valentin is on his way out. He just doesn’t know it yet.

The Cast: Jean Dujardin, Malcolm McDowell, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle

The Director: Michel Hazanavicius (the “OSS 117” films)

The Scoop: Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, and “The Artist,” so far, is tapping into that vein. The compact slice of film history won over Cannes crowds, earning a Palme d’Or nomination and scoring Dujardin the fest’s Best Actor prize. Now “Artist” is getting off to a great start on the fall film circuit with excellent buzz building in Telluride as it prepares to shift into TIFF gear. Can it ride this wave of momentum all the up to Oscar nomination morning?

Awards Potential: Of course it can, primarily because The Weinstein Company acquired the film and is guiding it through the choppy waters of the annual awards season. If anyone can generate waves of nostalgia for “the way things used to be” among Academy voters, it’s Harvey Weinstein. The fact that the film is something special doesn’t hurt. We’ll see if “Artist” has enough muscle to get into the Picture and Director races, if Dujardin’s Cannes win means he can get a Best Actor nom, and if the film has locks on the technical categories as the season plays out.

“The Artist” plans to open in the U.S. on Nov. 23.

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