New York critics picks: Will the academy get behind ‘The Artist’ too?


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The New York Film Critics Circle has spoken, giving its best picture nod to ‘The Artist.’ Was that a surprise? Hardly. Does it make the film the leading contender for the best-picture Oscar? In short: It’s way too early to tell.

In the past 25 years, only five NYFCC picks for best picture have gone on to win the Oscar, most recently in 2010, when ‘The Hurt Locker’ took home both prizes. At last year’s Oscars, ‘The King’s Speech’ won the big enchilada after ‘The Social Network’ landed the NYFCC prize. For the most part, the New York critics pick a film that has played far better with critics than with a broader audience, as in 2009, when the academy went with the big crowd pleaser, ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ while the NY critics went with ‘Milk,’ the art-house favorite. Ditto for 2007 when the academy picked ‘The Departed’ while the NY critics chose ‘United 93.’


So the real question is: Can ‘The Artist’ appeal to both constituencies, as ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’ did when they won both awards? The answer lies with the academy. If given a choice, it will pick a more commercial film, as long as there is a commercial film that also has strong artistic credibility. That’s what happened last year when there were two films with artistic cred to pick from--the critics went with the edgier ‘The Social Network’ while the academy went with the more distinguished and old-fashioned ‘The King’s Speech.’

‘The Hurt Locker’ won both prizes because its only serious rival, ‘Avatar,’ was ultimately judged by the academy as being more like an animated film than a true dramatic picture, which sunk its chances, since animated films never win best-picture Oscars. ‘No Country’ won both prizes because its only serious competitor was ‘Juno,’ which out-performed it at the box office but played too young for the academy, which, with a median age of 65, skews older than the audience of any CBS procedural crime show.

So ‘The Artist’s’ Oscar chances depend on whether a rival picture emerges that has most of ‘The Artist’s’ artistic credentials, but even more commercial clout. That would seem to limit the possible contenders to David Fincher’s ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,’ if it hits pay dirt and doesn’t make voters too squeamish, or Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse,’ if it has box-office legs without coming off as too trite and emotionally manipulative. My favorite film, ‘The Descendants,’ remains a plausible threat but only if it can out-perform ‘The Artist’ at the box office.

Nearly all of the other contenders have something else going against them: ‘Moneyball’ is too much of a broad entertainment, ‘The Help’ is too cliched and sentimental, while ‘J. Edgar’ and ‘The Iron Lady’ won’t have the box-office goods to make a run. No one’s seen ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ yet, but it can’t be a good sign that its studio didn’t make the film available to show to the NY critics before they made their picks.

In other words, ‘The Artist’ has the pole position in the Oscar race. Some film will have to make a strong stretch run to catch it before it goes wire-to-wire.



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