berenice bejo, best picture, citizen kane, comedy, jack russell terrier, james cromwell, jean dujardin, martin scorsese, michel hazanavicius, oscars, sunset boulevard, the artist, uggy the dog
Grade: A- (SEE IT)
I CAN THINK of plenty of reasons – five, in fact – that “The Artist” collected a total of ten Oscar nominations for February’s ceremony and why it’s a likely Best Picture winner. The only film, nomination-wise, from 2011 to outdo “The Artist” is Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” another nostalgic crowd-pleaser similarly interested in the advent of cinema and the rising tide of talkies in 1927. In a class all its own, however, Michel Hazanavicius’s silent black-and-white film is a valentine to vintage Hollywood and shines for these five, fine reasons:
- Best Actor nominee Jean Dujardin as matinee idol George Valentin and Best Supporting Actress nominee Bérénice Bejo as starlet Peppy Miller. The two form a fast friendship early on in “The Artist” and moving in opposite directions, Valentin can’t make the leap from silent film to talkies whereas Peppy becomes the 1920’s version of Hollywood’s it-girl. It’s staggering to think that Dujardin and Bejo needn’t even speak to create chemistry as memorable as this. In one dazzling sequence, Valentin sees only her legs below a screen and begins to match the pep in Peppy’s step; in another, the two cross paths on a staircase right out of Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), equally obsessed with megalomaniacal actors from a bygone era.
- Uggy the Dog! If Dujardin and Bejo aren’t already the year’s most attractive duo, there’s scene-stealer Uggy as the leading man’s loyal friend. It was a busy year for Uggy, who also appeared in “Water for Elephants.” He’s now ten years old and, according to owner Omar von Muller, retiring after the Oscar ceremony. Animal tricks are about as low-brow as it gets but when Uggy plays dead in “The Artist,” it’s a metaphor for his master’s demise. Plus “The Artist” transports us to the era when a pooch walking on his hind legs had audiences enthusing: That’s entertainment!
- The sudden sound in the dream scene. Give me any vociferous action movie from 2011 – yes, “The Green Hornet” or “I Am Number Four” – and the number one most startling moment on film last year is the sudden intrusion of sound into “The Artist.” I know that the cardinal sin of any creative writing class is to end a story with the ol’ it-was-only-a-dream line, but here, the eruption of a dog barking, a telephone ringing, and human laughter echoes the film’s exuberant heart.
- Everything’s a metaphor. In the hands of a lesser director, “The Artist” would run out of steam if the plotline weren’t so universal. But Hazanavicius gives us a movie-within-a-movie with Dujardin sinking fast in quicksand. Given that he’s stuck in the age of silent film in a city that would like to bury him, the metaphor is obvious enough. Isn’t the film itself a comment on the perils of resisting change? “I’m not a puppet!” Valentin declares, “I’m an artist!”
- Finally, a feast for film geeks. As Valentin’s driver Clifton, James Cromwell recalls the hired help, again, from Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” while the score by Ludovic Bource reverberates with echoes of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” composer Bernard Herrmann. There are traces, too, of “Citizen Kane.” Music is, of course, vital in a film without dialogue. Dartmouth professor James A. W. Heffernan once wrote “movies speak mainly to the eyes,” but “The Artist” speaks to the eyes, ears, and heart.
I loved this movie! For me if it doesn’t win best picture there is something wrong with Hollywood.
Glad we agree! Snuck up on me as I ignored the fact that it got all this praise but it’s well-deserved, me thinks!
Uggy the Dog should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Lassie had doubles. If he was animated Charlotte would spin “Some Pig!”. He was an integral as any human actor. I too saw the resistance to change aspect and fear of failure in changing roles. Am I only one who thinks Jean Dujardin looks incredibly like Gene Kelly and has his physicality in dance as well? One a classic, the other playing in The Artist a modern homage to them.
Gene Kelly indeed (w/ an even better dentist)! Dogs nominated for Oscars?!? Love that idea! Why not the dog from BEGINNERS, too (also a J.R. Terrier)…I suspect a Terrier Takeover!
That wouldn’t be a terrierably bad idea. Just watch they don’t kill the pooch as they did in Turner and Hooch. Bad for business. I just saw The Artist again and while I doubt my fav Midnight in Paris won’t win for best picture anyway I’m even more sure The Artist will win. What a way to truly honour the history of film. Yes Hugo did that too but did it with some much extra not needed story lines (SBC for one).
Agreed, “Turner and Hooch” is a favorite from my childhood, ah hooch! Tell me SBC stands for and yes, “Hugo” did feel a little long but that’s because it’s part (film) history lesson.
I didn’t like Hugo by far as much as you Colin. Sasha Baron Cohen’s character was almost as annoying as the prissy know it all girl. Both characters could have been replaced with others that would still lead to the film history aspect. Hugo was almost two movies: a fanciful clock story with an orphan out of Oliver Twist and a documentary on film history. The former former didn’t work and the latter while I enjoyed it would bore little kids. So yes The Artist is a deserving best bet for Best Picture, Hugo hmm hardly IMHO.
You and your acronyms, ha ha! IMHO! Yes, HUGO was a bit meandering. My money’s on THE ARTIST (loved that!) So unique. I wonder if the Frenchman will beat out a much-deserving Brad Pitt…it’s looking that way!