The Artist is going to win Best Picture, make no mistake about it. You may want to see The Descendants win (If only to see Jim Rash/Dean Pelton on the Oscar stage), but you won’t see that. The Artist is a great film, but more importantly, it’s got the hype; and that my friends, is an unstoppable beast.
The silent film opens with George Valentin played by Jean Dujardin (Or John of the Garden as I shall now call him,) who is at the top of his game. He is THE silent film star; fans adore him almost as much as he adores himself and he’s got a loveable pooch to boot. A chance encounter connects Valentin to actress hopeful Peppy Miller, played by Bernice Bejo. We see Miller’s rise to fame with the dawn of “Talky” films, while Valentin’s marriage and career slowly falls apart. Fearing that the talkies will make him obsolete, Valentin soldiers on in directing, producing and acting in his own silent films to no avail. Depressed and destitute, he loses his fame and fortune and finds himself drinking his days away. Peppy Miller still believes in Valentin however, and tries to use her own fame to put Valentin back in the spotlight.
John of the Garden really makes a great performance here; showing one of the biggest smiles on the planet when he is movie star king and then portraying the sorrow of losing that power. Bernice Bejo is beautiful and captivating; she has the classic build and look (and moxy!) of the character she plays. (Side note: I think that in the 20s and 30s everyone was secretly European.) Though they spend only a small portion of the film performing together, these two really mesh well. The Artist is excellent because it is self-aware of being a silent film. I was absurdly pleased with a scene where Valentin dreams that everything has sound but his voice; metaphorical delight!
The one beef I have with The Artist may seem extremely snobby, but I can’t let it go. At the climax of the film, we see Valentin at an emotional low; it’s a powerful scene. The problem is composer Ludovic Bource accompanies the scene with a rendition of Bernard Hermann’s famous score from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. (Vertigo star Kim Novak called the use “rape”.) Since this is a movie about movies, this is meant to be homage to a classic film. For those who recognize it however, it’s a jarring experience to have another film’s theme playing at such a pivotal moment in The Artist; it’s a superfluous addition to a film that is good on its own merits. It may seem like a snooty complaint, but snootiness is what is going to get this film the Oscar. Even if you haven’t seen The Artist, your snooty friend has, and he/she LOVES it. And that’s why it’s already won.
Final Grade: A