Analysis: Rivals to 'The Artist' Are Down to Their Last Shot

Sun Jan 22, 2012 1:07pm EST

One more chance.

That's all that remains for the films hoping to throw a roadblock in the way of the inexorable march to the Oscar stage for "The Artist."

When Michel Hazanavicius' black and white silent film won the top award from the Producers Guild on Saturday night, it silenced the last nagging notion that the charming film might be too slight to win Oscar's Best Picture award.

(Left, producer Thomas Langmann accepting the PGA award; photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Now that the producers have voted it the year's best, on ballots that were tallied using the same system that the Academy uses, it's all but inevitable that Oscar voters will do the same.

Also read: 'The Artist' Wins Producers Guild's Best Picture Award; Complete Winners List

The only obstacle that remains is next Saturday's Directors Guild of America Awards, where Hazanavicus will be competing against Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris," David Fincher for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Alexander Payne for "The Descendants" and Martin Scorsese for "Hugo."

That's a quartet of directors with far more experience in the United States, and far more ties to the other directors, assistant directors, stage managers and directorial team members who make up the DGA.

In that company, the little-known Frenchman seems like an uneasy favorite. But then, Tom Hooper was in the same position last year with "The King's Speech," and he won -- essentially because voters liked his movie better than the other guys' movies, the same way they seem to like "The Artist" better.

But the DGA does offer an intriguing scenario, particularly if Scorsese or Payne wins.

In that case, the win could create a clear number two, an alternative to "The Artist" for voters to rally around. And maybe, just maybe, the film's curious aura of inevitability could start to fade.

But for that to happen, either "The Descendants" or "Hugo" would have to establish itself as the alternative. "The Descendants" has come closer than "Hugo" to doing that so far, and it has an outside chance to actually establish a little momentum with a DGA win, a SAG ensemble victory and a Writers Guild Award (for which "The Artist" is ineligible).

But it has to start with the DGA, or the game really will be over.

The tricky thing is the guy who is the master of the "we're number two" strategy, Harvey Weinstein, is the guy who doesn't need to use it this year, because his film is number one.

Weinstein began using the strategy when he ran Miramax Films back in 1994, and managed to position a movie that was way too daring for the conservative academy, Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," as the chief rival to frontrunner (and eventual winner) "Forrest Gump."

And he did it again and again over the next decade. When "Saving Private Ryan" was the frontrunner in 1998, Miramax kept pushing "Shakespeare in Love," making it the movie of choice for everybody who couldn't quite endorse the war movie – which, in the end, was enough to give "Shakespeare," and Harvey, a Best Picture victory.

When "American Beauty" had all the momentum but seemed awfully dark and adventurous for the more conservative side of the Academy, Miramax pulled out all the stops to position "The Cider House Rules" as the safer alternative, even if that meant misrepresenting a film whose hero was a drug-addicted doctor who performed abortions.

And when the battle seemed to be between "The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar" two years ago, Weinstein began trumpeting how his film, "Inglorious Basterds," was actually the one that could pull off the upset. 

The strategy doesn't usually work. (It didn't for "Pulp Fiction," or "The Cider House Rules," or "Inglorious Basterds.") But when you're dealing with a frontrunner like "The Artist," somebody needs to persuade voters that if you can't fully endorse the silent flick, there's only one real alternative.

And the fact that nobody has done that is one of the main reasons why "The Artist" now seems all but preordained as a winner.

Related Articles:  'The Artist' Wins Producers Guild's Best Picture Award: Complete Winners List Woody Allen, Michel Hazanavicius, Martin Scorsese Nominated by Directors Guild

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