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A look at which films might win best picture and best director at the Oscars

posted 20 Feb 2012, 06:15 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 20 Feb 2012, 06:16 ]

Which film will take best picture at this year's Academy Awards? Which lucky filmmaker will walk away with the best directing prize? A look ahead at next week's Oscar telecast.

THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY - The race to the 84th Annual Academy Awards has proved that 2011 was the year of "The Artist."

After its well-received debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011, the joint French film billed as a "love letter to Hollywood" by its director, Michel Hazanavicius, has charmed American audiences, and thus, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who will likely give it the movie industry's highest honor, according to film expert Scott Mantz.

"'The Artist' specifically, because it is black-and-white, because it's different, that's really what gave it a chance to break through. And I think in any given year, it still would have had a chance to really speak to people, because, yes, by comparison, 'The Artist' is better than most of the films this year, but 'The Artist' is still better than most of the films last year and the year before," says Scott Mantz, film critic for U.S. entertainment television program "Access Hollywood."

"The Artist" tells the story of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who fails to embrace the advent of talkies and finds himself down on his luck, while his protégé Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) succeeds in the new medium. It is the favorite to win best picture this year, having debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and picking up several awards since, including top prizes at the BAFTA Awards, the Directors Guild Awards (DGA), the Golden Globes, for best motion picture in the musical/comedy category, and the Producers Guild Award (PGA). It is nominated for a total of ten academy awards, including best picture, best actor (Dujardin), best supporting actress (Bejo), and best director and best original screenplay for Michel Hazanavicius, among others.

The biggest competition "The Artist" faces is from Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," a fantasy film about an orphaned boy who lives and works as a clock-fixer at a Paris train station, who discovers that a secretive miser who runs a hobby shop at the station was one of the pioneers of filmmaking, George Melies.

Because "Hugo" and "The Artist" both focus on the early days of filmmaking, and honor the craft respectfully, there is no doubt as to why the films led the pack this year in nominations. "Hugo" received the most, at eleven, and "The Artist" received a total of ten.

"Looking at the two movies, they couldn't be further apart, one is a special effects extravaganza, with really, what I think is the best 3-D that the medium has ever seen," says Mantz. "The other film is a black and white, almost silent film, looks like it could have been made and released back in the late twenties or found under a rock in a time capsule, but if you strip away all the bells and whistles, the two movies, 'Hugo' and 'The Artist,' actually have a lot in common, specifically, they are love letters to the history of movies and the medium," he adds.

But with all the success "Hugo" has had in racking up Oscar nods this year, the top prize will go to "The Artist" because it is such a unique film that stands high above the other eight nominees.

"It is also going to be the first time since the very first Oscar for best picture went to 'Wings' in 1928, that you are going to have a black-and-white silent film win best picture. And it is so different, it is so wonderful on every level, that the other eight nominees in best picture don't have a chance. There is nothing like 'The Artist' this year, or any other year in decades," says Scott Mantz.

Other than "The Artist" and "Hugo," the seven other films nominated for best picture are "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life," and "War Horse."

Behind "The Artist" is its visionary director, Michel Hazanavicius, who no doubt faced enormous opposition when he set out to make a silent, black-and-white film in 2012.

"Certain filmmakers, they move forward, they take chances, they persevere to stick to their vision, and that's what Michel Hazanavicius did with 'The Artist,' and it paid off," says Scott Mantz.

Hazanavicius is poised to win best director, having taken home the DGA award for directing, in addition to the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and BAFTA prizes in the category. He is also nominated for best original screenplay and best editing, and has two children with wife and collaborator on "The Artist," actress Berenice Bejo.

Although Hazanavicius is the clear front-runner, there could be a desire among the Academy to shed some much-deserved light on "Hugo" by awarding it the second highest honor of the night, the best director Oscar.

"Now, I still think that Michel Hazanavicius will win best director, but I think that Martin Scorsese should win best director, and here's why: 'Hugo' is his first family film, but really, 'Hugo' is a very mature family film. We're not talking about 'Alvin and the Chipmunks,' you're talking about a movie that will not only stand the test of time, but will gain its masterpiece status over the years in a way like 'Blade Runner' has. You're also talking about, it's his first 3-D movie, but the 3-D effect is so effective in 'Hugo' that you would swear that Scorsese had been making 3-D movies all along," says Scott Mantz.

"I think there's a chance that, while there's no question that 'The Artist' will win best picture, maybe Martin Scorsese has a shot at best director, and he deserves it," adds Mantz.

Tune into the 84th Annual Academy Awards telecast on Sunday, February 26, to find out which film will win the best picture and best director Oscar.