In case you hadn’t yet got the message that people love “The Artist,” the French-made Oscar hopeful got further festival valentines over the weekend, taking prizes at both the Chicago and Hamptons International Film Festivals — the Audience Award in the latter case, and the Founder’s Award in the Windy City. (Apparently, that goes to the film across all categories that best captures the spirit of the Chicago fest. Now you know.)
We’ve discussed before how Michel Hazanavicius’s film is the type of novel crowdpleaser that tends to win scads of audience awards without even trying, building the platform for a healthy awards run outside the quarantined festival zone. (If I was surprised it didn’t take the equivalent prize at Toronto, I’m even more so after watching Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now?” yesterday — but that’s another conversation.) This pair of wins may be small potatoes in themselves, but they’re just further fuel for the fire of an inevitable Oscar big-hitter. The film, incidentally, has its UK premiere at the London Film Festival tomorrow, and could well add to its trophy cabinet there.
Chicago’s top prize, meanwhile, went to a film that, since Cannes, has closely trailed “The Artist” in the festival-charmer stakes: Aki Kaurismäki’s gentle, socially conscious comedy “Le Havre,” which remains a strong possibility for Finland in the foreign-language Oscar race. At this stage, the appeal of Kaurismäki and especially Hazanavicius’s films hardly needs to be further proven with festival honors, so it’s nice to see both the Chicago and Hamptons list of winners touching on some highly deserving lower-profile names and titles.
Most gratifying of all is the Chicago Best Actress prize for British actress Olivia Colman, whose stunning breakout performance in “Tyrannosaur” I discussed in last week’s review. Colman has devoted fans in the blogosphere (Jeffrey Wells the loudest of them) and critical fraternity, but needs every bit of help she can get to bring her hard, tiny film to wider attention. All it takes, in this case, is for enough crucial voters to take a chance on the film — the performance speaks for itself. (Indeed, people are starting to hear the whispers: Colman today cracks the top five of Gold Derby’s Best Actress pool.)
Further down the winners lists are several strong indies I’ve recently seen at the London Film Festival and am delighted to see further recognized, including savage Australian true-crime drama “Snowtown” (champion in the After Dark category in Chicago), slippery US psychodrama “Without” (Pioneer Award and Best Cinematography at the Hamptons) and Iceland’s Oscar submission “Volcano” (New Directors’ prize in Chicago), a deeply moving drama of old-age regret and romance.
Speaking of the foreign Oscar race, US director Joshua Marston, whose Albanian blood-feud drama “The Forgiveness of Blood” was contentiously disqualified by the Academy, he at least got some compensation this week in the shape of accolades at both festivals: a special mention in the Hamptons and Best Screenplay (the same award he took at Berlin in February) in Chicago.
Finally, the list of Breakthrough Performance prizewinners at the Hamptons touches on several worthy names, including Emily Browning (“Sleeping Beauty”), Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) and Ezra Miller (here cited for “Another Happy Day,” but really one to watch this season for “We Need to Talk About Kevin”). Why Anton Yelchin was tapped for “Like Crazy,” and not the film’s clear standout Felicity Jones, is a mild head-scratcher.