Best Picture winner ‘The Artist’: Two ‘First Times’ in Oscar history
Pictured above are several cast members of Best Picture winner The Artist – Uggie, Jean Dujardin, James Cromwell, Bérénice Bejo, Penelope Ann Miller, and Missi Pyle – in addition to director-writer Michel Hazanavicius and producer Thomas Langmann while backstage at the 84th Academy Awards, held at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 26, ’12. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
That evening, The Artist made Oscar history by becoming the first Best Picture winner solely produced by a non-English-speaking country: France, with some financing from Belgium.
Besides, The Artist was the first silent film – well, apart from one line – to take home the Best Picture Oscar during the “talkie” era. In other words, since the very first Academy Awards ceremony (not yet known as “the Oscars”), held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929.
That was when William A. Wellman’s World War I aviation drama Wings was selected as the Best Production and F.W. Murnau’s romantic fable Sunrise as the Best Unique and Artistic Production released in the Los Angeles area during the second half of 1927 and the first half of 1928.
In case you’re wondering, that year – and only that one time – there were what amounted to two types of Best Picture categories: Best Commercial Movie (“Best Production”) and Best Art Movie (“Best Unique and Artistic Production”).
Nine Best Picture Oscar nominees
This year, there were nine Best Picture Academy Award nominees. Besides The Artist, the other contenders were:
- The Descendants.
Director: Alexander Payne.
Cast: George Clooney. Shailene Woodley. Judy Greer. Beau Bridges.
- War Horse.
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Cast: Jeremy Irvine. Emily Watson. Tom Hiddleston.
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Cast: Asa Butterfield. Chloë Grace Moretz. Ben Kingsley. Jude Law. Sacha Baron Cohen.
Director: Bennett Miller.
Cast: Brad Pitt. Jonah Hill. Robin Wright.
- The Tree of Life.
Director: Terrence Malick.
Cast: Brad Pitt. Jessica Chastain. Sean Penn.
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Director: Stephen Daldry.
Cast: Thomas Horn. Sandra Bullock. Tom Hanks. Max von Sydow.
- Midnight in Paris.
Director: Woody Allen.
Cast: Owen Wilson. Rachel McAdams. Marion Cotillard. Adrien Brody. Kathy Bates. Michael Sheen. Carla Bruni.
- The Help.
Director: Tate Taylor.
Cast: Emma Stone. Viola Davis. Bryce Dallas Howard. Sissy Spacek. Mark Vogel. Mary Steenburgen. Chris Lowell. Octavia Spencer. Allison Janney. Cicely Tyson.
Had these movies been around for the first Academy Awards, chances are only The Artist and The Tree of Life – perhaps also Midnight in Paris – would have been shortlisted in the Best Unique and Artistic Production category. The others would have been all Best Production contenders.
First Academy Awards were last of the silent era
The Academy Awards were born – the ceremony itself – the year silent movies basically died the death in the United States.
That means the Academy Awards’ second year, covering the second half of 1928 and the first half of 1929, mostly dealt with talking pictures. The Best Picture winner, in fact, turned out to be Harry Beaumont’s (sort of) all talking, all singing, all dancing The Broadway Melody.
For the record, these were the silent films nominated for the first Academy Awards in the Best Production and Best Unique and Artistic Production categories.
- Wings (1927).
Director: William A. Wellman.
Cast: Clara Bow. Richard Arlen. Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers. Gary Cooper. Jobyna Ralston. El Brendel.
- The Racket (1928).
Director: Lewis Milestone.
Cast: Thomas Meighan. Louis Wolheim. Marie Prevost. George E. Stone.
- 7th Heaven (1927).
Director: Frank Borzage.
Cast: Janet Gaynor. Charles Farrell. Gladys Brockwell.
- Wings (1927).
Best Unique and Artistic Production
- Sunrise (1927).
Director: F.W. Murnau.
Cast: Janet Gaynor. George O’Brien. Margaret Livingston.
- The Crowd (1928).
Director: King Vidor.
Cast: Eleanor Boardman. James Murray.
- Chang (1927).
Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Cast: Faux documentary features Siamese locals as “themselves.”
According to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences records, there were no official nominations for the period 1928-1929. Certain movies and “achievements” were, however, “considered” for the award. Among the five Best Picture contenders for the second Academy Awards, the only silent film was Ernst Lubitsch’s period drama The Patriot (1928), toplining Emil Jannings, Florence Vidor, and Lewis Stone.
Kay Johnson, John Cromwell connection
As an aside: Cecil B. DeMille’s talkie Dynamite (1929) was one of the films considered for the Best Art Direction 1928-1929 Academy Award. Its leading lady was none other than Kay Johnson, who happened to be the mother of The Artist actor James Cromwell. (The art director in question, by the way, was Mitchell Leisen, best known as a director of high-end Paramount comedies and dramas of the 1930s and 1940s, among them Midnight and Kitty.)
James Cromwell’s father, director John Cromwell (Of Human Bondage, Anna and the King of Siam), also began making movies at the dawn of the talkie era, but none of his three 1929 releases – Close Harmony, The Dance of Life, and The Mighty – were “officially” considered for the Academy Awards.
Photo of The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius, producer Thomas Langmann, and cast members Jean Dujardin, James Cromwell, Uggie, Bérénice Bejo, Penelope Ann Miller, and Missi Pyle: Richard D. Salyer / © A.M.P.A.S.
‘The Artist’ dog Uggie: Most famous canine film star since Lassie
Uggie – the most famous movie canine since long before Benji‘s Higgins; in fact, since the days of Lassie, Asta, and Rin Tin Tin – poses backstage at the 84th Academy Awards. All but unknown until a few months ago, the Golden Collar winner became an overnight film star – along the lines of Katharine Hepburn in A Bill of Divorcement, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and Audrey Tautou in Amélie – after playing a key role in The Artist.
In addition to costarring opposite Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, Uggie had a supporting role in another major 2011 release: Francis Lawrence’s circus drama Water for Elephants, toplining Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, and the elephant Tai.
Besides The Artist‘s artists mentioned earlier in this post, Uggie’s fellow costars in Michel Hazanavicius’ silent movie were John Goodman and veteran Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, If….).
Uggie photo: Todd Wawrychuk / © A.M.P.A.S.
Michel Hazanavicius, Bérénice Bejo
Michel Hazanavicius and companion (wife?) Bérénice Bejo at the Governors Ball on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. Hazanavicius was the Best Director Oscar winner for the silent comedy-drama The Artist, which won a total of five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin). Bejo was a Best Supporting Actress nominee for The Artist; she lost to The Help‘s Octavia Spencer. On the positive side, two days before the Oscar ceremony, Bejo took home the Best Actress César – the French equivalent of the Academy Awards. (Image: © A.M.P.A.S.)
Hazanavicius’ Best Director competitors were The Tree of Life‘s Terrence Malick, Hugo‘s Martin Scorsese, Midnight in Paris’ Woody Allen, and The Descendants’ Alexander Payne. In addition to Octavia Spencer, Bejo’s Best Supporting Actress competition consisted of Janet McTeer for Rodrigo García’s Albert Nobbs, Jessica Chastain for Tate Taylor’s The Help, and Melissa McCarthy for Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids.
Below is a partial transcript (courtesy of AMPAS) of the Michel Hazanavicius q&a held in the pressroom during the Academy Awards ceremony. Bear in mind that Hazanavicius’ command of English is somewhat limited. The same goes for some of the journalists.
Q. [Speaks in French] If you don’t mind translating, please.
A. Yeah. So I I thanked Billy Wilder three times because I had to make it short, but I could thank him, like, a thousand times because I think he is the perfect director. [He?] is the perfect example and he’s the soul of Hollywood, and most of all, I wanted to thank him. And I love him.
Q. … What was for you the most challenging anecdote? If you consider the road is over as a foreign director, what was the most challenging for you to make it here in Hollywood? If you can give us a little bit some kind of anecdote, what it is the most difficult to make it here?
A. Actually, it was not so difficult … because of the movie and because of the connection between people and the movie. I mean, from the very beginning, it was in September – end of August and September. I’ve been in three festivals: Telluride, Toronto and New York. And then I realized that people really enjoy the movie and really love the movie.
So when people love the movie, it’s not very difficult because you are not selling, you’re not promoting. You just smile and say “thank you,” and it’s not so difficult. You – I mean, you can do that. And maybe the most difficult thing was to [go] back and forth, and being here while the kids were in Paris. But this is a personal difficulty, I mean, difficulties. It was for professional part, it was not so difficult.
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Q. [Speaks in French ] Hollywood, next step Hollywood.
A. It’s not next step. I mean, this movie brings me some opportunities to meet people and some of them propose me send scripts, or told me that they wanted to work with me. And if there’s a chance to make a good movie I will do it … with honor and great pleasure because people know how to make movies here.
So, there’s some beautiful actors, beautiful scriptwriters and, yes, I hope I will make a movie here once. It won’t be the next one. And also, I have a wonderful producer who is French and I want to work with him again. And when you have that kind of producer you don’t drop him off. You stay – you stuck to him. You stick to him. That’s better I think.
Q. With the popularity The Artist and [Martin Scorsese’s] Hugo, what would you say is your favorite silent film or silent films that helped guide you through the process of making the film in that era?
A. Which one of my favorite silent movies?
Q. Yeah, your personal favorite.
A. I would say, like, I don’t know, maybe eight or something. It’s very difficult to say one, because silent movie is not a genre, you know, that because it’s just a format.
I would say that the [F.W.] Murnau’s movies: the American ones Sunrise and City Girl, I think I prefer City Girl, because I think it’s more simple, but both of them are really great. King Vidor’s The Crowd. It’s a wonderful movie. Everybody can see it. It’s easy to watch.
It’s very touching. It’s moving picture and very modern. Tod Browning’s, The Unknown … which it’s a great, great covert and sexy movie set in a gypsy circus, and it’s really great, a short one like one hour and ten minutes. [The Unknown exists in truncated form.] The [Frank] Borzage movies, the [Erich] von Stroheim movies, [Josef] von Sternberg movies like, Underworld and The Docks of New York. Underworld is a great, great movie. The Docks of New York is written by Ben Hecht, who wrote Scarface after that. It’s a great movie. The great [inaudible] old Charlie Chaplin. You can spend a good week with that.
Q. When we talked at Cannes and then Toronto, we talked a lot about taking risks and your risk seems to have paid off. So this is a two-part question. Do you think the success tonight, The Artist, will help people take more risks, and do you think it, also, will encourage other people besides those of us who already love silent cinema to pay attention to the real history of cinema including that era?
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Michel Hazanavicius, Bérénice Bejo photo: Matt Petit / © A.M.P.A.S.
A. I don’t know. I won’t be so presumptuous. If it can be something for directors, if directors can take The Artist as an example in discussion with financiers and say we can shoot in black and white for example. We can do something that is unusual and if it can help, I would be very proud of it, really. But usually, it’s not one movie that can help to change things. If 10 movies or 20 movies in the same year very different in a way, that can change a little bit. But it’s … just one movie. It doesn’t change things. But I don’t know. If it helps, I would be very proud of it.
Q. Now, that you’ve made an accomplished silent film, what is the next door you’re going to open? Are we talking about documentary, action, love story and will your beautiful wife be in this next movie?
A. … [W]hat I want to make now is an adaptation of an American movie [actually a Swiss-American co-production] named The Search. It’s a Fred Zinnemann movie from ’47, 1947 [actually 1948], I think, with Montgomery Clift, and I would like to make an adaptation of this movie. It’s a melodrama with a political background and it would be a modern movie, I mean, today, and it will be with Bérénice [Bejo]. [inaudible]
Q. Often there’s a pattern at Oscar with one film tending to nominate below the line categories and the others doing well in above the line as The Artist did tonight. Can you talk about some of the contributions that your crew head, department head and key heads in the below-the-line categories, the ones that were nominated and didn’t win at all?
A. Well, for the cinematography, I have to say first of all, it’s my third movie with Guillaume Schiffman, who did the cinematography, and we connect together. He’s very … We can work together very easily. One of the best performances in that movie is that we shot it in 35 days and to keep that quality of image in 35 days is really something very special. I mean, not all the cinematographers can do that, I think, and he did a wonderful black and white. And he did a wonderful job on that and that film, especially. And the costume designer for example, Mark Bridges, is a great, great collaborator.
… [H]e’s a lovely person, and he’s really, really good. And he did exactly what I – I ask them some things about the costume, the thing that for me was telling the story, but he did so much more, some things I didn’t expect that it will help so much the movie; like, the choice of the texture, the recreation of the dresses and the costumes, and their work on the extras, for example. It’s great it makes things so easy when you can shoot all the extras. … I’ve been very lucky. I mean, with the crew and with the cast as well.
Jean Dujardin, Michel Hazanavicius, James Cromwell, Bérénice Bejo, Uggie, Thomas Langmann, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle photo: Richard D. Salyer / © A.M.P.A.S.
Golden Collar and Palme Dog Award winner Uggie the dog; Michel Hazanavicius, Oscar winner for Achievement in Directing for the eventual Best Picture winner The Artist; and Bérénice Bejo, a Best Supporting Actress nominee for her performance as rising star Peppy Miller in The Artist pose for the media backstage following the 84th Academy Awards held at the Hollywood and Highland Center on Feb. 26, 2012. (Image: Richard Harbaugh / © A.M.P.A.S.)
Hazanavicius’ Best Director competitors were The Tree of Life‘s Terrence Malick, Hugo‘s Martin Scorsese, Midnight in Paris’ Woody Allen, and The Descendants’ Alexander Payne. Bejo’s Best Supporting Actress competition consisted of Janet McTeer for Rodrigo García’s Albert Nobbs, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain for Tate Taylor’s The Help, and Melissa McCarthy for Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids. Spencer was the eventual winner.
The Artist‘s Best Director winner Michel Hazanavicius kisses his off-screen companion, Best Supporting Actress nominee Bérénice Bejo, while Golden Collar and Palme Dog Award winner Uggie proves himself more imposing than Oscar following the 84th Academy Awards held at the Hollywood and Highland Center on Feb. 26, 2012. (Image: Richard Harbaugh / © A.M.P.A.S.)
A first-time Academy Award nominee, Hazanavicius’ Best Director competitors were The Tree of Life‘s Terrence Malick, Hugo‘s Martin Scorsese, Midnight in Paris’ Woody Allen, and The Descendants’ Alexander Payne. First-timer Bejo, for her part, was competing with Janet McTeer for Rodrigo García’s Albert Nobbs, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain for Tate Taylor’s The Help, and Melissa McCarthy for Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids. As expected, Spencer took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Some of The Artist talent: Producer Thomas Langmann, son of Claude Berri; Jean Dujardin, Oscar winner for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role; Michel Hazanavicius, Oscar winner for Achievement in Directing; James Cromwell, Oscar nominee for Babe (2005), and son of director John Cromwell and actress Kay Johnson; Best Supporting Actress nominee Bérénice Bejo; Penelope Ann Miller; Missi Pyle, and, once again stealing the show, Uggie the dog (also seen last year opposite Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in Water for Elephants). The Artist crowd and canine posed for the media backstage following the 84th Academy Awards held at the Hollywood and Highland Center on Feb. 26, 2012. (Image: Richard Harbaugh / © A.M.P.A.S.)
This year, there were nine Best Picture nominees. Besides The Artist, the contenders were:
- Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, with George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Judy Greer;
- Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, with Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, and Tom Hiddleston;
- Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, with Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, and Sacha Baron Cohen;
- Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, with Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Robin Wright;
- Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, with Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and Sean Penn;
- Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, with Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, and Max von Sydow;
- Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, with Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, and Carla Bruni;
- Tate Taylor’s The Help, with Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mark Vogel, Mary Steenburgen, Chris Lowell, Allison Janney, and Cicely Tyson.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (A.M.P.A.S.) website.