Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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The Artist

Film #217

THE PLOT

A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions.

Year 1, Day 214

BEFORE: You know how I said yesterday that Warm Bodies would be the last alteration to my schedule for Oscar month. Well, I lied. There’s passes for another advanced screening tomorrow so I’m calling a Squarespace: Change in Plans and moving The Artist to today, which means Oscar month is ending. I’m still planning on seeing Les Misérables at some point before the Academy Awards on February 24 to complete my goal of seeing all the Best Picture nominees for the first time. Shortly after that, I’ll also be posting my predictions for this years Oscars so stay tuned for that. Another bit of housekeeping, my plan as of now is to use March as a leftover month and watch all the films that were rescheduled during Oscar month and expected alterations to the two chains in February, but more on that in the future.

Oscar month wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the awards for The Artist. It was nominated for 10 and won five including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Original Score, and Best Costume Design.

AFTER: Gimmick is a word that people may associate with The Artist. It’s a black and white silent film released in the 21st century; in other words, it sticks out like a sore thumb. But the filmmakers stayed away from gimmick-land and made a great film just like any other; it just happens to look, and sound different.

Towards the beginning I felt as if the film was testing the waters. Everything was done well but there wasn’t really anything that hooked me and made the case for why this film is so special and why it merits this distinct style. Not far into it though, I had that hook. The conflict of the film is revealed and the purpose of these characters was firmly established and it was all done in a way that had my jaw drop. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is still a big name and Al Zimmer (John Goodman) is trying to convince him to join the new trend in film: talkies. George laughs him off but that night he has a dream and in that dream he can hear things. The subtle, and sudden, addition of sound effects for that one scene had me speechless. I don’t know why it was so powerful but it got me fully invested in the film. Another scene at the end had a similar effect just by intercutting a title slide in between two actions. Oh, and don’t forget the final final scene which also has a memorable hook to it (although I was aware of this one going into the film it still was very effective).

But you still may be wondering why should I watch a black and white silent film? To be honest, I’ve either dozed off or very nearly fallen asleep during many of the silent films I’ve had to watch for my film classes. Most of that reason I feel is just based in the setting (a classroom) and being forced to watch the film (much like being forced to read a book - it rarely ends well). But with The Artist I never felt that at all. In fact, in being a silent film I have a much greater appreciation for telling a story through visuals only. Sure there were title cards and music to help with the comprehension of what was going on, but take both of those away and I feel you would have still gotten the sense of the story and have been able to connect with the characters. Many modern day films struggle with this concept and here you have The Artist with a lack of dialogue, a major limitation, and it makes it unnecessary. The music compliments the picture beautifully (although I felt it was just a tad too in-your-face towards the end) and the cinematography captures the expressive, yet subtle, performances given by the leading characters, and of course the wonderful puppy Jack (played by Uggie).

Looking at this a year after the fact, I think The Artist is by deserving of its five Academy Awards including Best Picture. Of the other contenders I’ve seen, Moneyball, Hugo, and The Descendants are all very good and have their own unique qualities to them. The Artist definitely stands out the most but the characters are developed well, the story is well told, and sound or not, you’re still whisked off on an exciting journey. A great way to end Oscar month.

RATING: 5 out of 5