I know this is said every year by a number of critics and it’s gotten to the point where people roll their eyes when they hear it, but this hasn’t been a great year for movies. If my favorite movie of the year so far, Warrior, had come out last year, it would have been closer to the ten spot on my “Best Of” list than number one. That’s why, coming just before the new year rolls around, I’m delighted to tell you about The Artist, a delightful, enchanting, marvelous, joyous celebration of the magic of movies, of a time when everything was simpler and stories were told without the assistance of words. It’s not just the best movie of the year, it’s now one of my personal favorites and if all is right with the world, it will be the frontrunner in this coming Oscar season.
The Artist takes place in 1927 and follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star who is cherished by the world. However, the film industry is about to make a major change; they are about to introduce talking pictures. Like many stars of the day, this departure creates problems for Valentin and he is quickly forgotten. Meanwhile, a beautiful up and comer and former object of affection Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is hitting it big. Although separated for the time being both physically and professionally, Peppy and George might just end up helping each other in more ways than one.
Admittedly, part of The Artist’s appeal comes from the novelty of seeing a black and white silent film in a world of cinema where the most popular franchises involve robots beating up on each other and a silly romance with sparkling vampires and a shirtless hunk who can turn into a werewolf, but that certainly doesn’t detract from how great it really is. Compared side by side with silent film classics like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The General, and City Lights, The Artist fits snugly in with only a couple exceptions.
When Grindhouse came out in 2007, directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino crafted a love letter to old grindhouse films, complete with missing footage and degraded reels. They captured the essence of those pictures down to the letter. The Artist too is an ode to a style of film past, the silent film, but it’s far too visually clean to completely evoke the feeling of one. Similarly, an early inclusion of a woman flipping the bird is out-of-place; classic silent films were never so brash. But to complain about clean and technically impressive visuals seems frivolous and that one instance of tactlessness is so minor, it’s hardly worth focusing on.
On the whole, The Artist is a grand recreation of the beginning of film, before it evolved (or some may say, devolved) into CGI explosion fests and 3D spectacles, and the two lead stars are truly wonderful, capturing the grandiose nature of cinema’s classic stars. Jean Dujardin is handsome and clean as the lead man, but it’s Bérénice Bejo who really shines. She has a simple, yet elegant beauty and a smile to die for. When the world falls in love with her in the movie, it’s easy to understand because you’ve already beaten them to the punch.
The Artist is endlessly delightful, to the point where mere words can’t explain it. There isn’t an adjective in the English language that can describe the euphoria one feels while watching it. It’s heavenly, a splendid romance that puts every other movie to be released this year to shame. It may slow down a bit towards the end, but it never bores, and it does it all without the use of spoken word. If you aren’t left with a big stupid smile on your face when the end rolls around, you may need to check your pulse. The Artist is what going to the movies is all about.
The Artist receives 5/5