I doubt I'm going to see all nine Best Picture nominees before the Oscars broadcast on Feb. 26. But of the six I hadn't seen previously, The Artist was the one I wanted to see the most.
Maybe it's buying into the hype, but there's been so much talk about this movie from film festivals (including Asheville's) and year-end best-of lists that I figured I'd see it at some point. Of course, the idea of a modern black-and-white silent film getting so much acclaim was also intriguing. But was this a gimmick meant to stoke feelings of nostalgia among moviemakers? Or is The Artist actually a really good film?
At the risk of a cop-out answer, I think it's both.
It's impossible not to be charmed by this movie. Everyone on screen seems to be having a great time. No one more than John Goodman, who really seems to relish overacting with his facial expressions and pantomimes. You don't even need the title card to know what he's saying.
Jean Dujardin captures the smiling, preening, swashbuckling, high-wattage style of the old-style movie actors. It's not at all hard to buy that his George Valentin is the kind of matinee idol that women want to be with and men want to be. With a thin mustache and hair slicked back by pomade, he's dashing in romances and rugged in adventures.
Berenice Bejo plays exactly the sort of spunky gal that typified stars of the era, beautiful enough to make anyone turn and look at her, but ready to shake off that coat so she can dance. She's no China doll, Mister! Even her name, Peppy Miller, has moxie. ("The name's Miller! Peppy Miller!")
And then there's the dog, Uggie. You will love that dog.
Perhaps you could say the movie is about the constantly changing nature of art. What was popular and successful in one era becomes obsolete as technology and cultural tastes move on. Adapt or die. I think The Artist wants to believe this is what it's really about.