THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC.

He is a MLB columnist for Bloguin's The Outside Corner and editor at The AP Party. Previously, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report, and has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, SB Nation and MLive.com. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

Someday, he'll get around to writing that novel.

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Tuesday
Jan312012

Movie review: The Artist

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. 

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Dujardin is a star in silent movies, but with the advent of sound, "talkies" are the new rage and he's quickly seen as a dinosaur. Yet he still has major film ambitions — Get it? He's an artist! — and funds a tragic war epic with his own money. There's really no reason why he couldn't still be a star in movies with sound, though perhaps we learn why eventually. 

What he seemingly needs to do, above all else, is get over himself and realize that the movie industry is bigger than him, that the newest star is a flashy audition and discovery away from taking over the marquee. Or maybe he just needs the nurturing love of a good woman.

By the time the credits roll, you just feel good having watched The Artist. And I think that's what people are responding to, more than anything else. Do you have the feeling that you saw something "great"? No, but you have a smile on your face and maybe you want to do a tap dance in the lobby afterwards. That's what the movies used to make us feel before they got so damn serious. Or stupid. 

The AV Club's Nathan Rabin also astutely points out that The Artist doesn't have anything that would automatically raise a red flag as to why it would never win Best Picture. There's no unlikable lead character. It doesn't play loose with the facts. Nor is it a genre film. There's nothing at all challenging about this movie. So that's probably exactly why it will win the big prize. 

And in a way, that will probably be unfair. The Artist is the kind of movie that will probably win Best Picture, yet we'll look back in five to 10 years and wonder why the more "important" film didn't win. The Oscars do this all the time.

Yet I don't think the filmmakers ever had Oscar ambitions with this. (That could be incredibly naive of me, given Harvey Weinstein's involvement.) It's not Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or War Horse. It's just a film that was fun and utterly charming — while harkening back to a simpler, more innocent era — at the right time. 

In my opinion, The Descendants is a better movie and should win the Best Picture Oscar. But I wouldn't have a big problem with The Artist winning, either. There's nothing not to like about it. 

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