When we saw "The Artist" back in September at Toronto, we were hesitant about its Best Picture chances. Sure, it was charming and well-liked, but could a silent movie with no stars made by a largely unknown French director acquire the visibility necessary to attract Oscar voters? Well, if there was any question about its Oscar odds now, the New York Film Critics Circle definitely helped them out today: The group named "The Artist" as its best film of the year.
The critics organization, which moved up its award announcement by several weeks to get a jump on the competition (including the National Board of Review), awarded the film both Best Picture and Best Director (for Michel Hazanavicius, who previously made the "OSS 117" spy spoofs with his "Artist" star, Jean Dujardin). This is the fourth time in the last five years that the group awarded those two prizes to the same film. And it probably won't shock you to learn that this is the first time that NYFCC's Best Picture prize went to a silent film.
Of the four acting categories, the group didn't offer a lot of surprises, with all four winners very much part of the Oscar conversation. Brad Pitt grabbed Best Actor, with NYFCC choosing to honor him for both "The Tree of Life" and "Moneyball," and Meryl Streep (who had already won three Best Actress and one Best Supporting Actress prize from the group) took home Best Actress for "The Iron Lady." Those who are hoping "Drive" will have some sort of awards-season presence will no doubt be happy that Albert Brooks won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as the film's villain, while Jessica Chastain garnered Best Supporting Actress for "The Tree of Life," "The Help" and "Take Shelter." (She had a busy year, considering she was also in "Coriolanus" and "The Debt.")
Beyond "The Artist," the only other multiple-win films were "The Tree of Life" (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography) and "Moneyball" (Best Actor and Best Screenplay). As far as the biggest unexpected snubs, we'll confess to being surprised that "The Descendants" and "Shame" went home with nothing. (And since "The Artist" won the top two awards, we wonder how close Dujardin was to winning Best Actor as well.)
As far as its Best Picture chances are concerned, we now think "The Artist" has to be in a great position for a nomination, yes? Critical acclaim is one thing, but to be bestowed the Best Picture prize from the New York Film Critics Circle gives the film a certain stamp of quality. Seven of the group's last eight Best Picture winners have gone on to an Oscar nomination, with three of those winning the Academy Award. "The Artist" debuted at this summer's Cannes at the same time as "The Tree of Life," which ended up winning the Palme d'Or. Back then, it was a French festival awarding an American filmmaker. More than six months later, the first major American critics prize goes to a French filmmaker. Who would have guessed?
2011 New York Film Critics Circle Winners
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Brad Pitt, "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life"
Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Best Supporting Actor
Albert Brooks, "Drive"
Best Supporting Actress
Jessica Chastain, "Take Shelter" and "The Tree of Life"
Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, "Moneyball"
Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"
Best Foreign Film
Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary)
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
Best First Film
Special Posthumous Award
New York critics name 'The Artist' best film of the year [24 Frames/Los Angeles Times]