It's not often (or indeed ever) that the Louis Delluc Prize overlaps with the Best Picture Oscar race, but here we are: Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist," not content with being one of the leading candidates for US awards glory, has been shortlisted for what is arguably the most prestigious trophy in French cinema.

The Oscar-equivalent César Awards may receive more publicity, but the Delluc, awarded each year to a single French film, has a far longer and more illustrious history -- the list of previous winners is a veritable checklist of Gallic cinema titans, beginning with Jean Renoir in 1937, and extending to Cocteau, Bresson, Tati, Truffaut, Godard, Malle, Resnais, Rohmer, Chabrol... you get the idea. It's a list you wouldn't mind being on, and for Hazanavicius, I imagine that's no less enticing an honor than an Academy Award. 

Not that he'll have an easy time winning it. The Delluc, determined annually by a jury of lofty critics and cultural figures, is as famously unpredictable as it is highbrow: for every obvious champion in its history, there's a left-field surprise. It wasn't hard to call the win for "A Prophet" two years; less easily seen coming was last year's victory for "Mysteries of Lisbon" (ahead of heavyweight competition including "Carlos," "Of Gods and Men," "The Ghost Writer" and "White Material").

This year, "The Artist" faces some particularly academic pets of the French critical fraternity. Alain Cavalier's "Pater," Bertrand Bonello's "House of Tolerance" (reviewed here) and Bruno Dumont's "Hors Satan" may have split the critics at Cannes, but have devoted home champions: it's easy to see the jury, in a severe mood, awarding any one of them the prize over Hazanavicius's frothy cinematic valentine. If they do, I hope they at least have the guts to go for Bonello's deranged provocation, with its Moody Blues interludes and semen-eyed prostitutes, over Dumont's vacantly punishing bore. (If you're wondering why the shortlist is so Cannes-heavy, it's no coincidence that the jury president is Gilles Jacob -- which makes the omission of this year's Cannes Jury Prize winner, Maiwenn's "Polisse" all the more surprising.)

The highest-profile nominee besides "The Artist," Aki Kaurismäki's whimsical immigration-themed comedy, could be a compromise choice if it isn't also deemed too lightweight: co-productions from non-French directors have won before. The Finnish Oscar entry is one of two foreign-language Oscar entries in the list -- the second being, surprisingly enough, the French submission, "Declaration of War." (I have a screener of that one waiting atop my DVD player.)

My favorite film on the list, however, is one with little festival or Oscar buzz behind it. Céline Sciamma's "Tomboy," a perfectly formed miniature detailing the gender confusion of a pre-teen girl with painstaking care and complexity, is a film I've been meaning to write up on the site, and this is a further reminder that I need to do so. It opened in limited release in New York last week in release and I implore anyone in the area to take a look while you can. Make my day, Delluc judges.

The shortlist:

"The Artist," Michel Hazanavicius
"Declaration of War," Valérie Donzelli
"Hors Satan" Bruno Dumont
"House of Tolerance," Bertrand Bonello
"Le Havre," Aki Kaurismäki
"The Minister," Pierre Schoeller
"Pater," Alain Cavalier
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Robert Guédiguian  
"Tomboy," Céline Sciamma

Plus the finalists for their Best Debut Film award:

"17 Girls," Muriel Coulin and Delphine Coulin
"Donoma," Djinn Carrenard 
"Jimmy Rivière," Teddy Lussi-Modeste
"Mafrouza," Emmanuelle Demoris
"Nous, Princesse de Clèves," Régis Sauder

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on December 16.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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