The Artist

20 Dec

Title: The Artist
Year: 2011
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writer: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell
MPAA Rating: PG-13, a disturbing image and a crude gesture
Runtime: 100 min
IMDb Rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Metacritic: 87

A day after seeing The Descendants, Alexander Payne’s new perfectly imperfect film which I have ranked as my number 2 of the year so far (behind Drive), I get to watch the film that will supposedly keep it from winning the Best Picture Oscar a couple of months from now. And look, this film is undeniably great, and the fact that there’s a silent black-and-white film in everyone’s lips right now, the front-runner for every big award of the season, is reason to celebrate. But, as outstanding as this film may be, it’s just not my favorite of the year. But still, that’s pretty much the only negative thing I can say about it, because even if it’s not my #1, it’s certainly Top 5 material. The Artist works as a wondrous tribute to the silent film era of Hollywood, it looks damn good and in Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, to say nothing of Uggie the dog, it has brilliant performances that really set this one apart as a truly unique crowd-pleaser that will certainly put a smile on your face.

If for a second you think that this isn’t a film for you because it’s a black-and-white silent film with leading actors you don’t know (familiar faces like John Goodman and James Cromwell round up the supporting cast, though) then please seriously reconsider. The Artist is one of the most charming flicks to have come out this year, it has that bravado that the good ol’ films of the golden era used to have that really make you believe in the magic of show business of which you don’t see much nowadays, all done in this really spectacular way, by a director who really knows what he’s doing and a cast that’s determined to make the magic translate on screen, and boy does it work. This is not a matter of whether the film will appeal to your or not, it’s just a matter of whether you’ll be willing to give it the chance.

When I finished watching The Artist I felt that this was unlike anything I had ever seen, a feeling I hadn’t felt so strongly since Avatar redefined what could be done with 3D technology. Obviously the steps The Artist takes are in the opposite direction of the steps Avatar took a couple years ago, and obviously it’s not as though silent black-and-white films are coming back to theaters by the dozens, but the stuff that The Artist shows you will probably make you wish they were. How much this film gives us is tremendous; there are laughs aplenty, your fair share of emotional moments, a lot of fast-moving action and the ability of seriously transporting you to a foreign era. And, when you think about it, that’s what movies are all about.

That final quality of The Artist I listed was its most spellbinding to me. I obviously didn’t live in an era in which films were silent and a magical experience to behold, but The Artist makes you feel like you did, it’s just a really touching and all-around charming tribute to that era, full of a tangible passion for the art of film from every single player involved in its making, it presents you with all of the power the medium has, and once it does that you’ll realize that it’s fine no words are used, because everything that had to be said already was. Great films have spoken about what the arrival of the talkies meant for Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard and Singin’ in the Rain certainly come to mind, and The Artist joins their ranks, as George Valentin is a silent-film megastar in the late nineteen-twenties and his career seems to be heading towards the end with the advent of talkies, while Peppy Miller’s seems to be headed for superstardom. It’s their relationship this film touches upon with so much love, the fact that this is a black-and-white silent film about just that is something you’ll love the minute you set eyes on this film.

There is sound in The Artist, though, if that will assuage your beating heart that’s grown up with the sonic distortions offered by Michael Bay and his counterparts. There’s quite a bit of music in the soundtrack, and a couple of moments in which sound comes from within the action that will surely surprise you and delight you all at the same time, though I’m not going to give those away. If you’re gonna be dumb and get picky about this one not really staying true to the rules of silent film or something along those lines, I’ll only say one thing: The Artist is a French film, and the French make their own rules when its comes to their cinema. Not to mention that those instances add a lot to the film and that, other than those few times it bends the rules, it usually sticks to them pretty loyally: there’s the title cards, the score that accompanies all the action, the melodrama, everything you’d expect to be here is.

Jean Dujardin also adds a lot to the film, and people have him as one of the front-runners (alongside Mr. Clooney, who turned in his best performance yet in The Descendants) for the Best Actor Oscar, and rightfully so. He is impeccable as George Valentin, look as dashing as any true movie star of the era would have, the sleek shiny hair, the classy mustache, the smile. You get why he’s revered by the public and why he, narcissistically, lives for that adoration. And so you’ll be really interested in what happens when he blatantly refuses to change along with the times, being left by his wife and ignored by the studios that would’ve killed for him before, only having his dog and driver (kind of like the Erich von Stroheim role) at his side. But at least that dog of his is Uggie, and he’s the most charming character in a movie all year for my money.

Though not a history of film, this is a movie that film geeks will love. It’s not as though this is exactly like watching a silent film, because it’s not and you just experience it like an homage of the very highest class to them, but how Michel Hazanavicius manages to recreate the charm of them, the effects of them in a way that shows how understanding and knowledgeable he is about the art he pays homage to in this one, it’s no wonder why he, too, is considering the front-runner for that Best Director trophy come Oscar night. Mr. Hazanavicius knows how to thrill his audience, he knows what will be fun to watch and, thankfully, he also has two stars with faces the camera loves, and thus we will follow suit. Because Mr. Dujardin and Ms. Bejo (who’s Mr. Hazanavicius’ wife) are just incredibly gifted physical performers, with features that speak louder than words ever could. It’s their ability to sell all of this so well that makes The Artist such a masterful film, the way they make everything feel like just the right balance of melodrama and organic emotions, it’s impossible to resist going along for the ride.

Grade: A+

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