The unofficial theme of the 2012 awards season could be "Vive la France," with the French-helmed "The Artist" picking up dozens of awards and going into Oscar night with 10 nominations, second only to 11 nods for "Hugo."
The movie has picked up wins for director Michel Hazanavicius and leading man Jean Dujardin at the BAFTAs, Critics Choice, Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as a multitude of trophies for the film, its score, art direction, editing and costumes. It's not just picking up steam, it's a veritable awards locomotive.
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With "The Artist" positioned so strongly for the Academy Awards, and its key players, including nominated costar Bérénice Bejo, being French (even though the film was shot entirely in Los Angeles, where it is set during the dawn of the talkies), we decided to take a look at the roster of other French talent that has broken out of the foreign film category to become part of Oscar history.
Not surprisingly, French actresses have fared the best, going all the way back to Claudette Colbert in the 1934 comedy classic "It Happened One Night," for which she took home an Oscar. She plays a runaway heiress who takes the bus from Miami to New York, thinking it's the safest way to travel. Clark Gable is a struggling reporter who recognizes her at the bus station and decides to go along for the ride. Initially, it's all friction between them, but naturally, amour smoothes the way.
Colbert won the love of Academy voters as well in 1935 and in 1944, with best actress nominations for "Private Worlds" and "Since You Went Away." Leslie Caron picked up a nod for 1953's "Lili," but it wasn't until 1959 that another French actress snatched the trophy for best actress, and that was Simone Signoret for "Room at the Top."
Caron and Signoret each won additional nominations in the 1960s, as did Anouk Aimée for the poignant 1966 relationship movie "A Man and a Woman." The beautiful Isabelle Adjani won the first of her noms for the riveting "The Story of Adele H." in 1975 and scored another one in 1989 for "Camille Claudel." Oscar voters decided Marie-Christine Barrault was worthy of a nomination for her lead role in the 1975 French marital infidelity drama "Cousin, Cousine."
In 1993, Catherine Deneuve, whose face has graced a thousand magazine covers and ads for Chanel No. 5 and L'Oreal Paris,, scored a best actress nod for "Indochine," set in French colonial Indochina in the 1930s. Deneuve has appeared in dozens of films since 1959, including a vaunted role in 1983's "The Hunger" as part of a love triangle with Susan Sarandon and David Bowie -- and she even took a shot at American television with an appearance on "Nip/Tuck" in 2006.
The charming romance film "Chocolat" (2000), set in a repressed, small French town, earned a best actress nomination for its leading lady Juliette Binoche. She had already earned Oscar gold in the supporting actress category in the landmark 1996 drama "The English Patient" opposite Ralph Fiennes, who was nominated for lead actor.
Marion Cotillard, most recently seen in roaring '20s garb with Owen Wilson in last year's "Midnight in Paris," holds a special piece of Oscar history. In 2007, she became the first French actress to win the leading statuette for a French-speaking role, playing chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose."
In addition to Bérénice Bejo and Binoche, the only other French actress to be nominated in the supporting category was Colette Marchand for her role in the 1952 version of "Moulin Rouge."
Not a single Frenchmen has been nominated for supporting actor in the history of the Academy Awards, and only four -- including Dujardin this year -- have ever been accorded the honor of being recognized as lead actor material, though none has claimed the trophy as his own.
The legendary Maurice Chevalier was nominated in 1929 and in 1930. More than 30 years passed until Charles Boyer was nominated for his role in the 1961 film "Fanny," and it was another 20 years until the Oscar leading man nod went to Gérard Depardieu for "Cyrano de Bergerac," in which he spoke only Francais.
French directors have a somewhat stronger track record at the Oscars, and Hazanavicius (pronounced Hazana-vee'-shus) is well-positioned to follow in the footsteps of Roman Polanski -- yes, he's French -- who won for directing the 2002 masterpiece, "The Pianist."
Polanski is on the short list of French-born directors who've been on tap for Best Director two other times, for "Tess" (1980) and "Chinatown" (1974). Several of the other French directors so honored as nominees are cinéaste gods to many, with a list that includes Jean Renoir, Claude Lelouch, Édouard Molinaro, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle and Barbet Schroeder.