The Artist (2011): 5/5 stars

So far on this blog, I’ve written reviews for two excellent works. One day I’ll write a scathing review of some mediocre piece of media, but today is not that day. I could look for something negative to say about The Artist, but given that I’m having trouble wiping the smile off my face from just thinking about it, I’m afraid I might find that difficult.

When I first heard about The Artist, I was skeptical. A black and white silent film in 2011? It sounded gimmicky. Was this some sort of backlash against the 12-D MegaIMAXplex futuristic movie extras that have taken over every film and theatre lately? Was it going to be a slapstick farce (not that there’s anything wrong with that)? However, the more I heard about it, the more I was intrigued. By the time I had the chance to see it last night, I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I do know that it exceeded any expectations I could have had.

The Artist, a French and American-made film directed by Michel Hazanavicius, takes place at the end of the 1920s and the start of the 1930s, in the transition from the silent film era to the days of movies with sound. The atmosphere is rich and complex with the flashy costuming on the movie sets and the incredible score by Ludovic Bource (with a little help from Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo score in a climactic scene). The Artist looks and feels like a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood, with several clever, modern twists—not to spoil anything, but there’s a dream sequence with an absolutely brilliant use of non-orchestral sound that just blew me away.

The plot is simple and straightforward—an actor sees his audiences moving on and struggles to keep up, while falling in love with a young, popular actress. This simplicity translates well to a film with very little dialogue (important lines are occasionally shown as cards on screen, as they were in the silent film era), and allow for a focus on the fantasy and theatrical elements of the story. While the film runs a little long (it probably could have cut out ten or fifteen minutes), everything keeps moving, and when it’s over you’ll still wish there was more.

As for the acting, well, I’ll say this: I’m still rooting for Gary Oldman to win the Best Actor Academy Award for Tinker Tailor, but I won’t be disappointed if Jean Dujardin gets it for his role as George Valetin, the popular silent film star turned has-been with the advent of “talkies.” Dujardin conveys Valentin’s arrogance, his confidence, his passion, and his desperation through every motion and every emotion (not to mention his magnificently expressive eyebrows). Bérénice Bejo is only marginally less fantastic as Peppy Miller, the young up-and-comer who bursts onto the silver screen and becomes a star as Valentin’s star fades. Then of course there’s Valentin’s dog, whose antics are one of the most endearing parts of the film.

And so, with slightly more data than I had when I made my last set of Oscar predictions, I still believe that the award for Best Picture should and will belong to The Artist. Also: Check out this blooper reel!

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