1. His role may be considered the most challenging
-INSERTS:30-Granted, this is very subjective. But Jean Dujardin carries an entire film with virtually no audible dialogue. His facial expressions, mannerisms and movements in “The Artist” all create the full arc of the character. Did you ever wonder what George Valentin was thinking or feeling? Were you ever bored while watching him onscreen?
Acting without speaking has proved to be golden for many thespians, like Jane Wyman in “Johnny Belinda,” Marlee Matlin in “Children of a Lesser God,” and Holly Hunter in “The Piano.” Surprise winner Adrien Brody went through much of “The Pianist” without uttering a word. People in the industry seem to appreciate how difficult this is.
Dujardin gets bonus points for his big breakdown scene, countered by his lighter dance numbers. George Clooney in “The Descendants” and Brad Pitt in “Moneyball” were excellent, but were their roles that much of a stretch? The challenge factor is probably the key reason why Dujardin prevailed at the SAG Awards. This leads me to my next point.
2. He won BOTH a Golden Globe and the SAG Award
Since the first SAG Awards were handed out 17 years ago, almost every man who won both Globe and SAG lead actor trophies has taken the Oscar. The sole exception is Russell Crowe, whose loss for “A Beautiful Mind” can largely be attributed to his bad boy behavior at the BAFTA Awards (not to mention his win the prior year for “Gladiator” and the Academy’s desire to finally give Denzel Washington the Best Actor Oscar. )
Clooney was widely expected to finally take home the SAG Award this year – his decades of work in both television and film seemingly gave him a clear advantage over the unknown Dujardin. “The Descendants” and “The Artist” were probably seen by equal numbers of SAG voters, unlike the actress contest which favored Viola Davis in the summer blockbuster “The Help” over Meryl Streep in the tiny and tardily released “The Iron Lady.” If SAG members saw both performances and judged Dujardin’s to be better, it’s quite possible that Academy members will do the same.
3. He stars in the expected Best Picture winner
When a character-driven film wins Best Picture, the performance at its center often wins the Oscar. Just look at Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech,” Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby,” Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty,” Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” Jodie Foster in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Jessica Tandy in “Driving Miss Daisy,” Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” and Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment.”
The lead performance was very much the heart of each film, and it would have been hard to reward the film yet snub the actor. In the case of “The Artist,” the picture focuses on one artist – played by Dujardin. True, it’s a period piece and could largely be viewed as a directorial and technical achievement. But Dujardin could still ride to victory on the film’s coattails.
4. Clooney already has the Oscar, and pretty much everything else
What do you give the man who has everything? In the case of Clooney, that includes it all: fame, fortune, beautiful women, an Italian villa and the 2005 Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, for “Syriana.” What more could he possibly want? More importantly, what more could Academy members want to give him? Despite two losses in the Best Leading Actor category (for “Michael Clayton” and “Up in the Air,”) Hollywood may be reluctant to throw him the top prize just yet.
Four years ago, he was hailed “The Last Movie Star” on the cover of Time, the week before the Academy Awards which had nominated him for “Clayton.” On the red carpet, he was shown the magazine cover. “That’s going to make me real popular in there,” he laughed. He hit the nail on the head. As respected as he is for his talent and his charm, many people (particularly men) probably can’t help but envy his success. When marking their ballots, some Oscar voters may see Clooney’s name and think, “Why not go for the underdog?” Since Uggie isn’t nominated, that means Dujardin.
5. Pitt will steal votes from Clooney
Despite everything written above, Clooney definitely IS in the running. He delivered a strong performance in critics’ darling “The Descendants.” He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. It will hardly come as a shocker if his name is called out at the Kodak Theatre.
But what about his pal Pitt? The New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics named Angelina’s beau the best actor of the year, for his work in both “Moneyball” and “The Tree of Life.” Both films are up for Best Picture. “Moneyball” even outdid “The Descendants,” scoring six nods to the latter’s five. This is Pitt’s third nomination and he’s never won.
Since he’s been a major movie star even longer than Clooney, some may think that he’s finally due for Oscar recognition. In reality, a Pitt win still looks like a longshot. But one thing seems probable: any votes for him come at Clooney’s expense. If it’s a photo finish, that means it’s Dujardin, just like his character in “The Artist,” who gets the last laugh.