The Artist is a fabulous film, but it’s a film that’s more fabulous for film buffs, film historians and people with a general interest and knowledge in the golden age of cinema. At first glance, I admit, it comes across gimmicky. The strategic use of sound in an otherwise silent film is almost to wonderfully conceptual to see on the screen itself – it seems like it would read better on paper. Director Michel Hazanavicius had a hard task ahead of him when he took on this film. For one, the attention paid to things otherwise unnoticeable in most films (unless they’re terrible), such as continuity, are brought to the forefront in The Artist. I mean really though, when dealing with a live, trained Jack Russell Terrier, continuity is likely never going to be perfect.
I loved this movie because it completely engaged me and that was after I’d forgotten that it was a silent film. There’s a moment going into it, when you think, wow, this is going to be long, and there’s even a moment in the middle a little bit (about the point where Valentin is selling off all his earthly possessions) where you might start to doze off if you’re not careful, but on the whole this is an expertly realized vision of what late ’20s cinema used to be like. The best part is the acting is pitch perfect for this film – unlike most actual moviestars of the time period, the expressiveness of the cast is not overblown (unless it needs to be), but at the same time, you get better, more subverted performances by actors like John Goodman who are known for their present day overblownness.
You could probably almost say the film is based on true events, because it’s true that at the dawn of the “talkies,” many silent-era actors and filmmakers were quickly left behind for the new style. Most endearing to audiences though, is likely not the look back at our cinema’s early transition to a new style, but the damned Jack Russell, Uggie, who is a star very much in his own right. Uggie is not only the hero of the film, but the comedic relief and the dramatic TED (or tension-enhancing-device), as I like to call them. TED’s are characters that do not necessarily seem integral to the plot at the onset, but quickly become a reliable audience grabber to help push the narrative. In the case of The Artist, it’s extra unqiue and deliberate because the director knows that what better to help an audience emote through a silent film, than an animal which can’t talk anyway?
The Artist is a perfect combination of all the critical elements of true Hollywood cinema, but snuck upon you like you never expect. While Tree of Life may be amazing, and Malick in my mind deserves at least three statues to date, I think The Artist is a good fit and worthy candidate for Oscar gold.