Old is new again
The top 20 box office films from 2011 share a number of elements, including being geared toward younger audiences, being sequels, and being films that showcase the state of the art technology that requires legions of graphic artists or animators. But no film in that group, nor any other film from last year for that matter was better crafted or more emotionally satisfying than “The Artist.”
That’s right. A black and white film shot almost entirely without audible dialogue, representing the antithesis of modern filmmaking not only was somehow given the green light to be made in the first place but is one of the best films of 2011 and might just win the Oscar for Best Picture.
It’s easy to see why cine-files and classic movie buffs would adore such a throwback film, with its homage to the silent film era. Others might call it more of a kitschy concoction that would never succeed if it didn’t rely on its anachronistic conceit. But whether you see the “The Artist” for its nostalgia or its novelty, its joyous spirit is undeniable.
French actor Jean Dujardin is George Valentin, a Douglas Fairbanks-type of handsome silent movie star whose career is about to bottom out with the emergence of “talkie” films. A chance meeting with beautiful admirer (and aptly named) Peppy Miller (a sparkling Berenice Bejo) seems to change the fortunes of both, with the younger aspiring actress becoming an overnight sensation in the newer, more exciting movie format. Similarites to “42nd Street” and “A Star is Born” abound.
Valentin, convinced that talkies are a fad, desperately tries, unsuccessfully, to restore his fame, while the stock market crash of 1929 leaves him broke and living with his loyal and scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier and his passionately devoted chauffeur (James Cromwell). Meanwhile, movie magnate Al Zimmer (John Goodman) throws his support behind his new client and America’s darling, Peppy. But in her rags-to-riches ascent, something, or rather, someone, is missing in Peppy’s life.
The way writer/director Michel Hazanavicus (who is also Bejo’s husband) weaves charming humor and genuinely heartfelt sentiment from such a stripped-down format is a testament to the essence of good acting, a solid screenplay, and the purity of gimmick-free filmmaking. That is a formula that will never go out of style.
Rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.