I Won't Say A Word: The Artist (2011)

A friend of mine described The Artist as being as beautifully simple as a well-drawn straight line, and while this synopsis is an appropriate way to describe such a stellar piece of filmmaking, I do believe that beneath the films rather simple plot and earnest composition is something grand, complex and intense. The best picture winner at last years Oscars, The Artist is a friendly movie, one that is accessible to a wide array of people, despite entrenching itself in a narrative format that is well over a century old.  Between the peppering in of some rather notable actors and a heavy dose of spectacular experimental cinematography, The Artist formulates into something so watchable that it almost seems as though the film was curtailed specifically for each viewer sitting in the audience.  With this being said, I am not quite sure it is deserved of the accolade of last year's best picture.  Simply put, it is far to minimal in its complexity to be so praiseworthy.  The Artist is by no means bad, and while it is certainly not as heady as a film like Tree of Life, it is not as socially realized as something like Moneyball.  This is purely an aside on my part though, because The Attist is genuinely quite good and easily one of the best films of last year, just not the absolute best.  Furthermore, everything in this film was much more captivating when it was done in Singin' In The Rain.

The Artist focuses on the career of veteran silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who is basking in his relative power as a big Hollywood name.  It would appears as though George is assuredly a staple within Hollywood, considering his incredible wealth and loyal fan base, and despite a rather tumultuous relationship with his wife, George is clearly on his way to making much more money.  However, things change drastically with the introduction of sound to cinemas.  At first, George dismisses the innovation as nothing more than a fad and continues to make his movies, at one point aiding an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) in the process.  While it is clear that he has feelings for the young girl, George is too tied down with work and a frustrating marital life to pursue a relationship.  As time passes, George begins to fade from the spotlight, due almost entirely to his refusal to step into the world of sound acting and he slowly falls into a realm of crippling debt.  In the mean time, Peppy excels as an actress receiving part after part within film until she finally gains a leading role, one which plays off of a fake birthmark on her lip, and idea originally posited by George.  George's despair continues to grow as he loses money and becomes disillusioned by the changing Hollywood system that no longer favors his presence.  As the sadness becomes too much, George attempts suicide, only to be saved at the very last moment by Peppy, who admits to having a fondness for him ever since their initial encounter behind stage.  Realizing a way to twist the advancement of sound in their favor George and Peppy become dance partners using their movement and the subtle sound of tap to bring George's career back and we has viewers can easily imagine that the end result is the couples happiness.

The question remains then as to why a silent film with a rather conventional plot did indeed win Best Picture at this years Academy Awards.  A handful of people will jump to the notion that the Academy only picks feel good movies for winners.  While this does happen quite often with the Oscar winner, films like No Country For Old Men and American Beauty stand as contradictions to this notion.  Another argument posited is that a political commentary overrules the logic for a decision, while this certainly rules the decisions of categories like Best Foreign Film or Best Documentary, it seems a bit unlikely for Best Picture winners as the past decade has seen a considerably diverse set of films win.  If anything, I would be more inclined to argue that the winners have been decided on their global appeal.  This is at least the case for the past three winners.  Slumdog Millionaire is certainly global, with its British director and Indian subject matter.  The King's Speech is less global, but nonetheless manages to encapsulate a global theme in discussing the emergence of World War II.  In this case, The Artist is even more widespread than the previous two considering that it involves a French director and actors from France, England and The United States amongst others.  Furthermore, it manages to finds its setting in Hollywood, in some way validating the entire existence that is The Academy of Motion Pictures.  Now there is always the possibility that the film won simply because it is quite good, but that would be giving the frivolity that is The Oscars far too much credit.

If you are lucky, The Artist may still be floating around a theater near you.  If so, watch it there, because it makes a world of difference.

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