The Artist Adds 1st Ever OC Film Society Best Picture Award to New York Film Critics Honor

Categories: Film
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The Orange County Film Society screening of the sorta-silent, black-and-white, buzz-deserving The Artist Monday night drew a packed audience to the historic Lido in Newport Beach, insider stories from executive producer Richard Middleton and supporting actors James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller, and a first-ever best picture award. After leading an entertaining post-screening Q&A with The Artist artists, moderator Gregg Schwenk, dual chief of OCFS and the Newport Beach Film Festival, presented the first best picture award bestowed by the nonprofit that shows indie and mainstream movies to society members before the flicks hit the cineplexes.

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Gregg Schwenk
Schwenk mentioned that his festival programmers who fell in love with The Artist while viewing French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius' unusual movie at the most recent Toronto International Film Festival were quickly joined by other staffers (including himself) who saw it subsequently. They then decided to create the inaugural best-picture award from the OCFS, which has been around for five years. (The 13-year-old film festival has its own annual awards for entries.)

"If our small voice can be any help" in filling future seats and award-season ballots for a film that's not on everyone's radar (yet), the society's bump will have been worth it, Schwenk explained. A Palme d'Or nominee at Cannes (where lead actor Jean Dujardin won as best actor), The Artist recently received best picture honors from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. It's also won audience awards at various festivals, and is considered a contender for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.

While that's heady company for the OCFS, The Artist is a worthy first choice. It's a visual love letter to Hollywood's golden age of cinema. But I must admit that about a third of the way in, it was starting to feel to me like a mash-up of Singing in the Rain, A Star is Born and The Twilight Zone's "Once Upon a Time" episode with Buster Keaton. That feeling quickly disappeared like an intertitle card as Hazanavicius' simple story and Dujardin's captivating performance washed over me.

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Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo light up the screen (but not the sound board) in The Artist.
I think it's best if viewers go in knowing no more than I did: that foreign actors are in the leads (Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo) and Academy Award buzz is growing deafening, as is usually the case when constant Oscar campaigners Bob and Harvey Weinstein are attached to a film. Oh, and I also knew Cromwell and Miller were in the cast thanks to the OCFS invitation. Here is the barest plot info: In 1927 Hollywood, silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) harnesses his toothy/swashbuckling/ol' soft-shoe mojo for boffo box office. But his charmed life changes with the arrival of starlet in the making Peppy Miller (Bejo) and talking pictures.

American audiences that know not of Dujardin will have an easier time buying him as a silent film star than someone already familiar to them like, say, George Clooney. It also helps that the Parisian seems to be having a ball hamming it up for a live audience, eluding captors ala Douglas Fairbanks and snuggling up with his co-star pooch (played by Uggie). OK, now I feel as if too much is being given away. And when I look over my notes from the Q&A with fresh eyes, I see that many of the answers will also make matters worse.



Stop here if you don't want to know any more. Otherwise, an abridged version of my notes follow on the next page . . . 

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