As Oscar season approaches and odds are weighed, "The Artist" has become the favorite to win. But we've been here before: in 1999, "Life is Beautiful" -- another foreign-born film redistributed as an American awards success by Harvey Weinstein -- stormed the Academy Awards. Which makes you wonder: Is 'Artist' star -- and potential Best Actor winner -- Jean Dujardin the new Roberto Benigni?

The animated Italian actor made history twice during the 71st Academy Awards: he was the first male performer in a non-English-speaking role to win the gold and, when "Life is Beautiful" won for Best Picture, he freaked out. Like, really freaked out. And we've never really forgotten it since.

Unfortunately, Benigni's seat-walking cheer-fest did not yield a fruitful career, post-"Life is Beautiful." He went on to star in two not-so-warmly received films ("Pinocchio" and "The Tiger and the Snow"), while also appearing in a segment of Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes." His comeback, of sorts, could happen later this year, when he costars in Woody Allen's "Nero Fiddled" opposite Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Alec Baldwin and Woody himself.

Now we have an eerily similar situation on our hands; audiences and critics love "The Artist" and Dujardin's performance but (wince) no one really cares about him beyond that. In New York Magazine, "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius said that he seduced the actor with global notoriety: "I said to Jean, 'If the movie is good, it is going to be for you. I mean, people will know you out of France.'"

So far, so OK! After all, Dujardin is rubbing elbows with Robert De Niro. And while the ceremony is still more than one month away, Dujardin has already nabbed a new role as an experienced intelligence officer in the spy-thriller "Mobius". We may be ushering an era of Dujardin-stardom! But, just in case things don't work out all that well, Jean should certainly pull out all the stops if he wins Best Actor. Maybe not seat-climbing, but bringing the dog certainly wouldn't hurt.
CATEGORIES Movies