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Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 01-30-12


 
Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” – Winner of SAG’s Male Actor in a Leading Role Award

Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” – Winner of SAG’s Male Actor in a Leading Role Award

“THE HELP” FF-001 Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) overhears the exchange between Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone, center) and her friends in DreamWorks Pictures’ drama, “The Help”, based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. &copyDreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“THE HELP” FF-001 Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) overhears the exchange between Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone, center) and her friends in DreamWorks Pictures’ drama, “The Help”, based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“THE HELP” 946_D_08558R In Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, (left to right) Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) together take a risk that could have profound consequences for them all in DreamWorks Pictures’ drama “The Help” based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. Ph: Dale Robinette &copyDreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“THE HELP” 946_D_08558R In Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, (left to right) Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) together take a risk that could have profound consequences for them all in DreamWorks Pictures’ drama “The Help” based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. Ph: Dale Robinette ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Golden guilds: Hollywood’s two most powerful guilds spoke last weekend, but came to different conclusions as to who deserved their golden awards.

Despite the “The Artist’s” recent momentum in both the Golden Globes and Producers Guild of America contests, it didn’t sweep the weekend’s votes by directors and actors.

While the Directors Guild of America (DGA) named Michel Hazanavicius best director for The Weinstein Company’s “The Artist” Saturday, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) gave DreamWorks and Disney’s “The Help” its best ensemble cast award Sunday.

In eight of the last 16 years, SAG’s best ensemble cast winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar. “The Help” actually swept the SAG vote, also winning for best lead and supporting actress.

Nonetheless, “The Artist” still looks like the film to beat for best picture and “The Help” now looms as the film most capable of achieving an upset victory. Previously, insiders saw Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants” as the most likely alternative to “The Artist,” but now that it’s lost in the SAG best ensemble vote and with George Clooney having lost in SAG’s best lead actor race and Alexander Payne having lost in the DGA’s best directing contest, “The Descendants’” prospects have clearly descended.

That’s not to say “The Artist” is a sure thing to win — because there are no sure things in Hollywood. However, the odds do seem to favor this French-made, silent, black & white comedy drama that Harvey Weinstein acquired after it made a huge splash at the Cannes Film Festival as a Palme d’Or nominee and best actor winner (Jean Dujardin).

A SAG victory would have been the icing on the cake for “The Artist” because actors make up the Academy’s largest voting branch — more than 20 percent of the Academy’s roughly 5,800 members are actors — and have a major influence on the best picture vote.

An indication, however, that the actors liked “The Artist” despite not voting it best ensemble cast, SAG’s equivalent of a best picture win, is that they named Jean Dujardin best actor for his performance in the silent movie. Dujardin beat superstars George Clooney (“The Descendants”) and Brad Pitt (“Moneyball”), both of whom are also best actor Oscar nominees.

Dujardin’s co-star Berenice Bejo was a supporting actress SAG nominee and is also a supporting actress contender in the Oscar race. Bejo lost in the SAG vote to “The Help’s” Octavia Spencer, who was favored to win after she took home the supporting actress Golden Globe.

In SAG’s best lead actress category, Viola Davis beat Meryl Streep, who won the Golden Globe for best actress - drama for playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Weinstein Company’s “The Iron Lady.” Davis was one of the nominees Streep beat in the Globes.

It’s a major achievement that the DGA applauded “The Artist” with its best directing award to Hazanavicius. Although the directors branch of the Academy isn’t nearly as big as the actors’ branch, the DGA’s endorsement of Hazanavicius carries great weight. That’s because only six times in the 64 years that the DGA has been handing out awards has its winner not gone on to win the best directing Oscar.

Moreover, winning the best picture Oscar usually goes hand in hand with winning the best directing Oscar. Only 13 times in 64 years has the film whose director won the DGA award not become Oscar’s best picture winner. The most recent of those exceptions was in 2005 when Ang Lee was the DGA and Oscar winner for directing “Brokeback Mountain,” but “Crash” wound up winning the best picture Oscar.

A big disadvantage for “The Help” is that its low profile director, Tate Taylor, wasn’t a DGA nominee and doesn’t have a best directing Oscar nod. “The Artist” has both of those key nominations as well as a film editing nom, which is widely regarded as the other key race in which a likely best picture winner needs to be nominated. “The Help” is not a film editing Oscar nominee.

So while there are no guarantees that “The Artist” will triumph at the Oscars, it seems a safer bet to do so than “The Help.” In all likelihood, media coverage of the Oscar race in the coming weeks will position “The Artist” as the best picture frontrunner and “The Help” as the most likely spoiler.

Despite “The Artist’s” awards season strength, it hasn’t actually been seen by a lot of moviegoers. “The Artist’s” boxoffice cume through Sunday was only about $16.7 million. With an average national ticket price of $8.01, that works out to only 2.1 million tickets sold. That could be a serious problem for the Academy because Oscar telecast ratings typically hinge on how passionate viewers are about the best picture nominees. The rooting factor goes way down if they haven’t seen the movie that’s most likely to win.

Of course, The Weinstein Company will be rolling “The Artist” out into more theatres on the strength of its early awards success and that should boost its audience. Last weekend, for instance, the picture added 235 more theatres for a total of 897 and grossed about $3.3 million. Nonetheless, it’s not likely that it will become a $100 million grossing film before the Oscar telecast Feb. 26.

“The Help” is actually the only one of this year’s nine best picture nominees that’s grossed over $100 million. After opening last Aug. 10, it went on to gross $169.6 million in domestic theatres. That works out to a healthy 21.2 million tickets sold.

Bottom line: With “The Help’s” SAG sweep, there’s a two-way best picture Oscar race to talk about, but “The Artist” remains the safest bet to win.