Tuesday, February 07, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: The Artist

The Artist
Running Time: 100 minutes
Nominations: 10 (Best Picture; Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius; Best Actor: Jean Dujardin; Best Supporting Actress: Bérénice Bejo; Best Original Screenplay;Best Original Score; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Costume Design; Best Art Direction)
Availability in the US: Now in theatres
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture

A silent film star falls into obscurity and spirals towards insanity at the dawn of the talking pictures era; sound like a film you've seen before? To the cinephiles among you, this may sound a lot like 1951 Best Picture nominee Sunset Boulevard, but in fact we are talking about 2011 Best Picture front-runner The Artist. While Sunset Boulevard takes place several years after The Jazz Singer made silent films a thing of the past, The Artist starts in 1927—just before The Jazz Singer. The film follows silent-film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who, upon seeing a demonstration of a film with sound, insists talkies are just a fad and that no one wants to hear actors speak on screen. Meanwhile, a young dancer named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)—whom Valentin cast in his last film—seems to be on the verge of her big break. When the studio stops production on all silent films in favor of talkies, Valentin refuses to take part. His career, his marriage, and his life begin to fall apart as he fades into Hollywood obscurity. Conversely, Miller's star grows bigger and brighter as she becomes America's sweetheart in a series of talking pictures.

Films about bygone eras have been Oscar-bait for years, so what makes this film special? Well, there's a bit of a twist: Instead of just being about the silent-film era, The Artist is actually a black-and-white silent film. The film's lack of spoken dialogue (some intertitles are used, but they are used sparingly) in no way mutes its emotional impact. The Artist is at times funny, tense, gripping, and heart-breaking. Dujardin and Bejo effortlessly revive the art of silent-film acting as if it hasn't been dead for nearly 90 years. The film is a love-letter to old-time cinema, and the cast and crew's devotion to the authenticity of the time period shows. Michel Hazanavicius chose to use color film and add the black & white as an effect in post-production in order to allow for fuller grays, and the decision paid off as the images burst from the screen as vibrantly as if the film were in color. The Artist is a nearly perfect film, so get over your reservations towards silent films and go see it!

The Artist looks to potentially make Academy Awards history in several ways if it wins big on February 26. At present the film is considered a front-runner for Best Picture; if it wins, not only will it be only the second silent film ever to win the Academy's top honor (the first and, so far, last was Wings (1927/28)) but it would also be the first fully black-and-white film to win since 1960's The Apartment—though 1993's Schindler's List was primarily in black and white. The Artist could also potentially be only the second black-and-white film to win Best Cinematography since the separate categories for Black and White Cinematography and Color Cinematography were combined in 1967.

The Artist is the front-runner in a number of categories, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and perhaps Best Art Direction. In a weaker year, Dujardin and perhaps even Bejo might have a shot, but up against George Clooney and Octavia Spencer, respectively, they don't seem to have much hope. Still, never discount the possibility of Academy voters going sweep-crazy and giving The Artist all kinds of unexpected awards.

Grade: A+

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