Mark Hughes, Screenwriter, Forbes Blogger
There are the general, more obvious reasons, and then there are secondary reasons.
The general and obvious reasons are that it's really a wonderful story, with great acting and directing that demonstrate how even a silent, black and white film can so clearly express emotion and character. Technically, the film is a great achievement because it so successfully captures the look and style of old films (apart from some musical choices, which didn't bother me personally but which I do think probably detract from the "illusion" for some).
In addition, it's a very daring choice to make this kind of film during a modern age when 3D and special effects, etc., are so dominant. To make this movie and tell this story, and to do it so successfully, is truly a testament to the faith the filmmaker had in the power of cinema -- he believed that yes, even without color or sound, movies have a hold over us and transport us and capture our imaginations. The film works, audiences love it, and that speaks to just how great the film and story are, that modern audiences so jaded by effects and modern filmmaking can be taken in by this throwback to classic storytelling.
Now, besides those general and obvious reasons, there are the secondary reasons. This is a film that honors filmmaking, and so it appeals to the Oscars in a self-referential way. It is loving toward the past, but ultimately embraces the future and the movement toward ever-newer and more sophisticated technological achievements. It is cool and artsy, and appeals to the desire of Hollywood to feel at once relevant and mainstream but also unique and enlightened. Perhaps there's also a degree of subconscious identification going on, to a limited extent, since the AA is slowly seeing an influx of younger, newer members and so the older, long-time members might feel a sense of nostalgia and identification with the broader themes in the film.
Which raises a final point. At a time of so much technological advancement in filmmaking, when the industry is moving from celluloid to digital and when 3D is becoming a permanent fixture while CGI has taken over effects and design in even simple dramatic films, The Artist comes and reminds us of a simpler time when storytelling had far less extra tools at its disposal, and so had to make the utmost of the very few tools it did have. The film speaks to some part of us that, while enjoying and utilizing all of the technology and fast-paced changes in our world, perhaps still appreciates and longs for something that feels simpler and more pure. It's like a moment of calm reflection, watching the leaves blowing in the wind, during an afternoon respite on an otherwise hectic day. The rest of the day might be awesome and filled with Internet, iPods, new cars, and fast-paced living, but that quieter moment in the afternoon can fill a need inside us that we might usually not even realize is still there somewhere deep down.
Oscar is inherently about Hollywood rewarding Hollywood; it's the industry gathering together to pat one another on the back and point to favorites and stand-outs every year. It's only natural that a film meeting the requirements of high quality, daring production, and both critical and box office success while also being a love letter to Hollywood would attract the attention of Oscar.
Notice that the other top contender for the Best Picture award is Hugo -- another brilliantly realized film about filmmaking and the history of movies as transformative and magical. (I'm personally guessing that the Oscar for Best Picture will come down to a fight between The Artist, Hugo, and The Descendants.)
More questions on the 2012 Academy Awards: