The history of the Academy Awards is littered with terrible movies that won Best Picture. It’s almost a tradition that the most worthy movie of any given year will lose, if it even gets nominated. The terrible winners usually fit some sort of standard format - “prestige pictures,” we call them, movies with big social or historical issues at their center, movies that announce their self-importance (and awards thirst) from the first frame.
Which is why The Artist might be among the most unique undeserving Best Picture winners in history. This French pastry, a dialogue and sound effect-free film about Hollywood’s transition from silents to talkies, is all empty calories and sugary cuteness. It’s not Important, it’s not particularly a prestige picture - it’s a cute movie that’s nice enough but that leaves almost exactly no impression whatsoever.
In fact The Artist has become the quintessential “Oh, THAT movie won the Oscar?!” movie for me (step aside, Oliver!). Hell, it’s become one of those movies whose very existence surprises me once in a while; it was a film I felt leaving my brain just as soon as it entered my brain, stopping long enough to do a darling little soft shoe and remind me that it’s been too long since I’ve watched Singin’ in the Rain.
The film gave leading man Jean Dujardin an Oscar and gave his career a tiny bump - he was great in The Wolf of Wall Street - but the thing that sticks with me the most about The Artist is Uggie the dog. Or rather the media's obsession with Uggie the dog. The Oscar campaign that year featured a small sideshow where some websites began a movement to honor Uggie with an Oscar; BAFTA members actually inquired about whether they could vote for him (Uggie did win the Palm Dog award at Cannes, a regular award given to a canine performer). Despite all of that hoopla Uggie hasn’t worked since 2012’s The Campaign.
It’s fitting that Uggie is the most memorable part of the movie as the “Consider Uggie” campaign was a novelty that fit right in with the novelty of The Artist itself. Black and white and "silent" (it's drenched in music), The Artist’s aesthetic gimmick is probably what elevated the film into consideration at all. It’s bizarre looking back at this film and realizing it took home FIVE awards including Best Picture - Actor, Director (Michel Hazanavicius just released his follow-up movie, The Search, to mixed reviews. It has not hit the US yet), Costume Design and Score. It's hard to imagine hating this movie at all - it's perfectly nice! - but it's even harder to imagine loving it, to actually believe it's the greatest movie released that year. It's hard to imagine having particularly strong feelings about this movie at all.
I actually feel bad for The Artist. A movie as light, as pleasantly empty as this one, can be damaged by the Best Picture Oscar. The movie itself can’t carry the weight that award puts on it; while The Artist might have been a movie to be rediscovered ten or twenty years down the road (because it is certainly all but forgotten today, three years after taking home the big awards) but it will always have that Best Picture millstone around its neck. That portentous baggage will always drag it down, as the movie can never live up to the award. Sometimes a trifle is great, and it should be allowed to simply be a trifle. The Artist should have remained a trifle.