César Awards Set To Celebrate Big Year For French Movies

‘The Artist’, ‘Poliss’ Lead Cesar Nominations

Tonight, the French film industry converges at Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet to celebrate what was a banner year for French film. Along with Oscar darling The Artist, the French will fête a year in which the local box office hit an all-time high (about $1.7 billion), with 67.5% of the population buying a cinema ticket. The two biggest grossers of 2011 were home-grown pics: Gaumont’s Untouchable directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (now third on the all-time gross list behind Titanic and Welcome To The Sticks and acquired by the Weintseins for the U.S. along with remake rights), and Pathé’s Nothing To Declare, starring and directed by Dany Boon, who was also behind 2008’s Sticks. Nothing To Declare is a straight comedy and as such has no nominations tonight — the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma does not typically like rewarding broad fare or films that rock the box office. Untouchable, however, has several nods including Best Picture, Director(s) and acting mentions for its two leads.

The actual César ceremony, a sometime stilted affair, is on its way to improving — they’ve recently learned the wonders of dimming the lights in the theater — and this evening portends better than most. Meanwhile, Cannes Film Festival general delegate and artistic director Thierry Frémaux has to be feeling pretty good right about now since many of the films rolling through awards season started their careers on the Croisette back in May. Not only does Cannes competition pic and Oscar favorite The Artist have 10 nominations this evening, director Maïwenn’s Poliss, with 13 mentions the most-nominated, was also on the 2011 Cannes roster as was House Of Tolerance (eight nods), while Un Certain Regard title L’Exercise De L’Etat has 11 nominations. Six-time nominee Declaration Of War was a Critics Week selection.

Kate Winslet will be on hand to accept an honorary César from Roman Polanski before the official party starts on the Champs Elysées. Regardless of how they fare this evening, however, the currently highest-profile names won’t be sticking around too long after the ceremony: Artist director Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, along with the rest of the team, are understood to be high-tailing it to LA in order get to Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards and Sunday’s Oscars. I’ll be reporting on the major winners later today.

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