Bloomberg News

‘Artist’ Set to Bring New Fans as Oscar-Odds Favorite

February 26, 2012

Actors Jean Dujardin, left, and Berenice Bejo perform in "The Artist" at an undisclosed location on Nov. 11, 2010. The film is by Michel Hazanavicius. Source: The Weinstein Company via Bloomberg

Actors Jean Dujardin, left, and Berenice Bejo perform in "The Artist" at an undisclosed location on Nov. 11, 2010. The film is by Michel Hazanavicius. Source: The Weinstein Company via Bloomberg

U.K. betting websites have already crowned “The Artist” as the favorite to win this year’s Academy Award for best picture, offering as little as $1 in return for a $20 bet. Moviegoers are still casting their votes.

The question is how much more money “The Artist” will make if a best-picture Oscar is added to its accolades when the 84th Academy Awards are handed out late today in Hollywood. The film has taken in $73 million worldwide on a $15 million production budget, according to researcher Box Office Mojo.

Weinstein Co.’s silent, black-and-white film about an aging actor and an up-and-coming ingenue fits the profile of recent small-budget winners. The movie by director Michel Hazanavicius is ahead of “The Hurt Locker” from two years ago and far behind exceptional performers like “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” All were made for about $15 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

“This year, there is just not a blockbuster in the group,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office division of Hollywood.com, a movie research website. “There’s always a disconnect, and that’s the way it should be. It’s the best picture, not the best box office.”

“The Artist,” about a silent-era film star unable to make the transition to “talkies,” is among several movies that have led to a critical and commercial revival for the studio, which struggled after founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein left Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s Miramax to create the company in 2005.

Weinstein Comeback

The comeback began in 2009, when the Weinsteins garnered six nominations and one win for “The Reader,” according to the Academy database.

In 2010, they captured 13 nominations for films including “Inglourious Basterds.” Last year, the New York-based studio collected 13 nominations, and won awards for “The King’s Speech” and its male lead Colin Firth. The period drama took in $414 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

This year they have a total of 16 nominations, including ones for “The Iron Lady” and “My Weekend With Marilyn.” Weinstein has U.S. distribution rights to “The Artist.”

“We’ve had a tremendous track record with ‘The Artist’ and should we garner awards, it could have a positive effect on the box office,” said Erik Lomis, Weinstein Co.’s president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment.

The studio increased the number of theaters where the film plays this weekend to 966 from 808, Lomis said in an interview.

Critical success has coincided with improving finances for the studio. In 2010, Weinstein eliminated debt by transferring ownership of some 250 movies to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Assured Guaranty Ltd. (AGO), a person with knowledge of the situation said at the time.

Loan Request

Now the company is seeking a loan of about $150 million to further support its filmmaking, people with knowledge of the situation said last week.

EasyOdds.com, a site that aggregates betting lines, lists “The Artist” as the favorite among 18 oddsmakers to win best picture. Ladbrokes Plc (LAD) offers the shortest odds at 1/20, meaning gamblers have to risk $20 to win $1. AllYouBet offers a $1 return for $8 wagered. “The Descendants,” the family drama featuring George Clooney, is the second favorite at a distant 5.1 to 1 at AllYouBet and longer odds elsewhere.

If “The Artist” wins, it will be the second silent film to win best picture. “Wings” was crowned outstanding picture at the first Academy Awards on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, walking distance from this year’s ceremony.

Golden Globes

“The Artist” already won the Golden Globe award for best musical or comedy and was named best film by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Producers Guild of America, and the Toronto Film Critics Association. Its 10 Oscar nominations include best actor for star Jean Dujardin and best director for Hazanavicius.

This year, the academy chose nine best-picture nominees, the third year since the number was increased from five.

Others are Martin Scorsese’s 3-D fantasy “Hugo;” “The Help,” from Disney and DreamWorks Studios; Warner Bros.’ “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close;” Woody Allen’s romantic comedy “Midnight in Paris;” Sony Corp. (6758)’s “Moneyball;” director Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life;” and Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.”

Since the nominations on Jan. 24, tickets sales for “The Artist” have more than doubled in the U.S. and Canada to $28.1 million through Feb. 20, according to Hollywood.com.

The biggest beneficiary of a nomination, on a percentage basis, was “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” The film had taken in $10.7 million before the nominations and sales almost tripled to $30.8 million, according to Hollywood.com.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael White in Los Angeles at mwhite8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net


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