What was clear last night is that the Oscars are now a surprise-free zone. By the time the statuettes are dished out on a Sunday night in late February, there have been so many other awards ceremonies already that it is already ordained what will win.
You could be forgiven for stifling a yawn at the news that Michel Hazanavicus’s The Artist has won the major prizes. There wasn’t really any other contender likely to usurp its position as the critics’ and the Academy’s favourite. Hugo did well in the technical categories, The Descendants made up for being roundly ignored at the BAFTAs, Meryl Streep won Best Actress yet again and there was acknowledgement of The Help. Nonetheless, the Academy voters – a conservative bunch by all accounts – were never likely to pull a major surprise by rejecting a movie that had been so enthusiastically championed by so many.
Then again, take a step back in time to May last year, when The Artist premiered in Cannes, and the idea that this (then) unsung film might win Oscars seemed unlikely in the extreme. Nobody really knew who Hazanavicus was. When the Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux added this French-made silent movie to the festival competition, nobody was talking Oscars.
As always happens, there has been a backlash against The Artist. Some have grumbled that this is a weak year. Others have called the film kitsch and superficial. However, for those of us lucky enough to see it at its Cannes press screening, when we knew nothing about it, The Artist seemed an absolute delight. Six months on, we certainly don’t begrudge its Oscar success.