You thought the groaning trophy cabinet for “The Artist” could finally be locked after last month’s Academy Awards? Think again. The reigning Oscar champ has one more honor to collect, and it’s one that brings things neatly back to where the film’s journey started. The International Film Festival Summit has named Michel Hazanavicius’s silent-cinema homage its Festival Film of the Year — an award that will be presented at the Summit in Paris next month.
If you’re looking to award a title that demonstrates the power of film festivals to launch and nurture successful titles, you’d be hard pressed to choose much better than “The Artist,” which relied on positive word of mouth from the festival circuit — artfully amplified by the campaigning savvy of The Weinstein Company — to propel it from niche curio to crossover arthouse sensation. Harvey Weinstein may carry an awful lot of clout on his own, but even he couldn’t have done much for the film if the Cannes reception had been chilly.
As it is, audiences and critics lost their hearts to it at festival after festival, with the likes of Toronto, San Sebastian, New York and London bridging the gap and sustaining the buzz between the Croisette and the awards season — not bad for a film that wasn’t even originally slated to premiere in the Cannes competition. The festival circuit is the only place an item this novel could be safely reared these days, however much of an easy middlebrow lob its detractors later tried to claim it is.
“The Artist” was, of course, just one of several key 2011 titles to go the festival route — two-thirds of the Academy’s Best Picture nominees were introduced to us that way, continuing a recent pattern of festival berths becoming an increasingly essential badge for would-be prestige fare. “The Artist” is the fifth Best Picture winner in a row to emerge pre-approved from the festival pen — a distinct shift from the 1990s and early 2000s, where most winners of the prize were robust studio productions that could afford to skip that stage.
We’re a couple of weeks from the unveiling of this year’s Cannes lineup: whether it’ll feature another success story on the scale of “The Artist” (or “The Tree of Life,” or “Midnight in Paris,” or even “Drive”) remains to be seen, but chances are it’ll turn up at least one or two titles that wind up sneaking past the arthouse ghetto.
For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.
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