The Artist won Best Picture (2011) beating out The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. It’s certainly a suitable and deserving winner out of that group of nominees (the expanded field that year wasn’t quite top-notch, but there isn’t a clear line that separates the top five films from the rest of them, although there is definitely a line that separates the top three films from the rest). The three titans that year were The Artist, The Tree of Life, and Midnight in Paris. Hugo was definitely the closest of the rest to cracking into the top three, but the Best Picture contest really came down to those three films.
The Artist was written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, starring Jean Dujardin (the first French actor to ever win a Best Actor Oscar) and Bérénice Bejo. A meta-film written about Hollywood during 1927-1932 during the phasing out of silent films into the ‘talkies’. The film’s focus is on an older silent film star (Dujardin)’s relationship with a young fresh-faced up and comer actress (Bejo). The first major silent (and black & white) film to be widely released and praised in decades (note the keyword: “widely”, which means things like Ed Wood and the like wouldn’t count), The Artist evokes the silent films of eras past and transports the viewer into a time where real acting meant acting with body language, not simply holding one’s face into an awkward pose for the entire film while hoping that their vocal inflections alone would carry one’s performance throughout the film.
Fortunately for us, we’ve been gifted with The Artist as an updated relic of a forgotten time. Leave it to the French to resurrect the silent film to its rightful place of glory. Done properly, the silent film is far superior to most of the movies currently being made today. If you’re aware of the history of Hollywood, especially during the silent film era and its upheaval, The Artist is a fitting tribute to that time. It’s faithful to what happened during that period of time (as many of the silent-film greats got pushed aside, except for the great Tramp, who struggled and eventually transitioned to talkies). This is as a realistic portrait of Hollywood as we’ll be graced with in quite some time.
A towering giant of the silent film era, George Valentin (Dujardin) is pecked on the cheek by a fan – Peppy Miller (Bejo), whom the tabloids take note of. Peppy is inspired to audition for films, and begins a meteoric rise within the industry as the ‘talkies’ take ahold of Hollywood. Valentin’s fortunes take a downturn, and his latest film – despite being applauded by critics, bombs at the box office. Soon destitute, Valentin continually rebuffs the offers from Hollywood to make a talkie, until finally the offers stop rolling in. A touching story that ends in a crescendo as the story arc continues to a predictable but satisfying end.
My favorite parts of the film are the scenes in which John Goodman stars as a studio producer. He literally steals the show with his outsized expressions and acting – perfectly suited for his role and the film itself. It’s nice to see that Goodman has had an enduring role within “smaller” or “indie” or “foreign” films as a supporting actor, be it The Big Lebowski or Argo, or even the aforementioned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Goodman’s performance helps contribute indelible scenes to The Artist. I’d watch the entire film again just to watch his scenes again.
Dujardin deservedly won Best Actor for his role – he transformed the entire film into a cinematic time-travel experience. You believe that you’re watching a silent film maestro act his life out, that he’s creating his own Citizen Kane biopic about the film industry (Kane was about the newspaper industry). It transcended beyond acting and lifted the film above its competitors in 2011. And Dujardin had perfect chemistry with Bejo, whom you feel you’ve seen before in other films, but you can’t quite place her (A Knight’s Tale). The chemistry between the two is palpable, and helps fan the flames that fuel The Artist‘s passion.
MPAA Rating: PG-13