Barring a box office blow-out by War Horse or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and/or stunningly good reviews for the still-hidden Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it does look like this year's Oscar race is all-but finished, with the presumptive winner being The Artist. And I can think of no more fitting choice. No, I don't think it's the best film of the year. I don't even think it's very good (review). The reasons I don't like it are ironically why it makes tragic sense to anoint it as the 'film of the year' in 2011. It is, I'll presume accidentally, indicative of much of what ails the entertainment industry at this very moment. It celebrates what is hurting the industry, so it makes sense that the industry would celebrate it in turn.
In a culture ever-more gripped by the need to replicate art of the past, ever consumed by nostalgia for the entertainment they used to consume in their youth, The Artist is the perfect choice. In an entertainment industry gripped by a sense of entitlement, fully believing in the idea that once you're famous or successful that you've earned the right to always be famous and that renewed glory is just a mandated comeback away, The Artist is the perfect choice. In a studio system so afraid of originality at the top levels that they relentlessly remake, reboot, and rehash films and properties for no other reason than that the token recognition factor gives them a marketing edge, The Artist is the perfect choice. In a Hollywood where pundits and bloggers endlessly wonder why the stars of yesterday aren't somehow magically every bit as famous and successful as they were in their peak years, The Artist is the perfect choice. In a time when whole films are constructed for no other purpose than to emulate a genre or a sub-genre of a bygone era with no insight or artistry of their own, The Artist is the perfect choice. In a time when everything is treated like a horse race, where The Artist became the presumptive front-runner purely by virtue of winning the first major critic's group award, The Artist is the perfect choice.
The Artist is not a terrible film, nor is it an evil film. But it is a mediocre film with token entertainment value, but whose widespread acclaim is at least partially rooted in the very things that most seriously threaten the industry that rejoices for it. And I would argue that perhaps some of the adulation is because it celebrates this way of thinking. It celebrates the theoretical bygone era for no other reason than said era is indeed bygone, it celebrates the idea that once you're famous you should always be famous, it celebrates the notion that no concept can or should go out of fashion when a comeback/reboot can bring it back to the forefront, and it celebrates the mere act of mimicry as something worthy of praise. In an insane time, The Artist is an appropriately insane choice.