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AP critics pick 'The Artist' for top Oscar wins

Associated Press movie writers David Germain and Christy Lemire are boringly in lockstep on their picks for this season's top Academy Awards categories, depriving them of their usual snide debate over who's going to win.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Associated Press movie writers David Germain and Christy Lemire are boringly in lockstep on their picks for this season's top Academy Awards categories, depriving them of their usual snide debate over who's going to win.

Both predict the silent film "The Artist" will win for best-picture prize and for director Michel Hazanavicius. They also expect "The Artist" star Jean Dujardin to claim best actor, with "The Help" co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer earning the actress honors and Christopher Plummer taking supporting actor for "Beginners."

Here are their thoughts, with both sounding off on best picture, Lemire offering their take on best actor and supporting actress, and Germain giving their opinion on best director, actress and supporting actor.



Nominees: Best Picture: "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life," "War Horse."

GERMAIN: The buzz began at Cannes, as last May's crowd considered the prospects of "The Artist," a last-minute addition to the world's most-prestigious film festival competition. Here's what the Cannes festival program promised for this throwback to silent cinema: "Hollywood 1927. George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies will sound the death knell for his career and see him fall into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller, it seems the sky's the limit — major movie stardom awaits." Before "The Artist" premiered, Cannes critics asked one another, "Do you suppose it's really silent?" And they thought: "How unlike the usual Cannes snoot-fest. This one actually could be fun." Well, "The Artist" has been great fun ever since, winning Jean Dujardin the Cannes best-actor prize as George, launching him and fellow Oscar nominee Berenice Bejo to worldwide celebrity, and charming fans with its grand black-and-white visuals, its sweet comic melodrama, its rich score and sound effects, its show-stopping dance numbers, and its adorable canine co-star Uggie. Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius delivers a glorious dose of nostalgia with hip, modern flair, creating what will be the only silent film to win best picture since the first year at the Oscars 83 years ago. For the principals of "The Artist" — Hazanavicius, Dujardin, Bejo, Uggie — major movie stardom no longer awaits. It's here.

LEMIRE: I am not nearly as enamored of "The Artist" as Dave is. I think it's a very lovingly crafted, meticulously detailed gimmick. It's sweet but it drags; the dog is the best part. But everyone in this town is clinging to the nostalgia this film offers, pining for the moment in history that it captures, so I'm just going to have to surrender to the juggernaut and acknowledge that it's going to win best picture. For a little while last year, it looked like "The Descendants" was your front-runner; many consider it Alexander Payne's best film. If it were up to me, "The Tree of Life" would win; Terrence Malick's gorgeous meditation on the origin of the universe is the real accomplishment here — gorgeous, ambitious and challenging. I'm just happy it was nominated. "Hugo," Martin Scorsese's first film in beautifully immersive 3-D, is a great visual achievement and should do well in the technical categories (it leads all films with 11 nominations). The heavy-handed "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" doesn't even belong here.



Nominees: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"; Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"; Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"; Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"; Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life."

GERMAIN: At the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Kristen Wiig and her "Bridesmaids" co-stars Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy came up with a funny drinking game involving the last name of Martin Scorsese, whose pronunciation they hilariously debated. Good thing awards season has given presenters plenty of chances to practice pronouncing the name of the directing front-runner Scorsese's up against. Michel Hazanavicius (ha-zahn-a-VISH'-us) has gone from solid success at home in France with his "OSS 117" spy romps to international innovator for his crazy little idea to resurrect the silent film. Hazanavicius came up with a lovely story lovingly told, combining sumptuous music, stylish costumes, gorgeous black-and-white images and only the barest whisper of spoken dialogue into an experience that's nothing short of transporting. Charles Chaplin continued making silent films well into the sound era, and Mel Brooks scored a comic hit with his spoof "Silent Movie." But no filmmaker of modern times really took silence seriously until Hazanavicius, who bucked every trend of kaleidoscopic color, ear-shattering sound and digitized 3-D visual spectacle to make old Hollywood fresh and new again. For that, and for the great film he made, he'll get his Oscar.



Nominees: Demian Bichir, "A Better Life"; George Clooney, "The Descendants"; Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"; Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"; Brad Pitt, "Moneyball."

LEMIRE: A month ago, I would have picked George Clooney to win this. His performance as a father struggling to raise his two daughters while their mother is in a coma — while also accepting the revelation that she's been having an affair and deciding how to handle an important land deal that will alter his family's royal Hawaiian legacy — felt like a rare regular-guy role. He was finally an ordinary, middle-aged man dealing with ordinary, middle-aged problems, and it's some of the best work of his eclectic, sterling career. But then Jean Dujardin won the Screen Actors Guild Award for best actor — beating Clooney, among others — and the tidal wave of love that showered over him that night was an indication that this town is firmly behind "The Artist" in every way. It is an impressive performance in a demanding role, and Dujardin is undeniably charming; he's got this young Gene-Kelly thing going. And so a win for Dujardin will be part of a big night for this little black-and-white movie. (For the record, I'd love to see Brad Pitt win. His performance as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane in "Moneyball" allows him to show everything he can do in one place, and he's due.)



Nominees: Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"; Viola Davis, "The Help"; Rooney Mara, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"; Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"; Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn."

GERMAIN: It'll be sad to see Meryl Streep go home a loser again. The performer with a record 17 acting nominations has won twice, but it's been 29 years since her last victory, and Streep's impeccable transformation into former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looked like her best shot for a third Oscar. Likewise, Michelle Williams' remarkable embodiment of Marilyn Monroe is her own best chance after three nominations and an opportunity for Hollywood to pay some respect-by-association to Monroe, who never was nominated for an Oscar herself. But Viola Davis will mop up Sunday night. Davis, Streep's co-star and fellow nominee for 2008's "Doubt," brings boundless grace, humor, fierceness and resilience to her role as a black maid in the 1960s Deep South who joins other housekeepers in sharing tales of life with their haughty, racist white employers. Critics could snipe that Hollywood hasn't come that far since Hattie McDaniel became the first black to win an acting Oscar — for playing a maid — in 1939's "Gone with the Wind." Yet Davis and co-star Octavia Spencer, the supporting-actress favorite, stamp an unforgettable human face on "the help" — a class of people typically treated as drab and anonymous by Hollywood yet elevated here to nobility.



Nominees: Kenneth Branagh, "My Week With Marilyn"; Jonah Hill, "Moneyball"; Nick Nolte, "Warrior"; Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"; Max von Sydow, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close."

GERMAIN: When Christopher Plummer was quoting "Hamlet" in the "original Klingon" 20 years ago in "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country," the esteemed Shakespearean actor clearly had a grand time hamming up the Bard in outer space. Yet with Plummer's bumpy Klingon cranium and eye-patch riveted to his skull, he looked like a guy resigned never to earn his critical due in Hollywood. "Star Trek" may pay well, but it's not all that kind to an actor's reputation. After a nearly 60-year career that includes roles in such Oscar winners and contenders as "The Sound of Music," "The Insider" and "A Beautiful Mind," Plummer finally picked up his first Oscar nomination two years ago as Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station." At 82, Plummer is set to become the oldest acting winner ever for "Beginners," a down-to-earth role that's worlds away from the Klingon empire. Plummer is joyously genuine as a widower who lived the lie of straight family man most of his life but comes out as gay for a few twilight years of fun, frolic and finally connecting with the son who never really knew him growing up. The film's a testament to Tom Robbins' line that it's never too late to have a happy childhood. And for Plummer, that it's never too late to earn your due as one of the class acts of the big-screen.



Nominees: Berenice Bejo, "The Artist"; Jessica Chastain, "The Help"; Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"; Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"; Octavia Spencer, "The Help."

LEMIRE: It would be a complete hoot to see Melissa McCarthy win. A longtime standup comic and former member of the Los Angeles improv theatre The Groundlings, she would give an acceptance speech we'd never forget. Plus it would be nice to see the Academy acknowledge the difficulty of doing this kind of comedy right; McCarthy is a complete scene-stealer as an inappropriate, brash bridesmaid, taking the role to dangerous and unexpected places. But Octavia Spencer is the favorite here, and justifiably so. In an ensemble cast of strong women (including fellow nominees Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain), she shines as a put-upon maid who dares to tell the truth in the 1960s South. Spencer's very presence radiates joy and grace, humor and heart. Her scenes with Chastain offer the possibility of healing and redemption during an ugly, tumultuous time. And given that she's been winning pretty much every award leading up to the Oscars, we know she'll give a memorable speech Sunday night herself.