Black and white movies are frequently associated with ‘Old Hollywood’ icons such as The Marx Brothers, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. This era, while important and iconic in film history, is long over. Or is it? 2011’s surprisingly successful film, “The Artist,” was not only shot in black and white but without sound.
Ever since the invention of color motion picture film technology, only a few brave movies have been shot in the ‘old’ style. Most notable of these include 2005’s political period piece, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” and 1993’s Oscar winner “Schindler’s List.”
By keeping “The Artist” as historically accurate as possible, director Michel Hazanavicius shocked the average moviegoers out of their comfort zone. He succeeded in forcing the audience to pay attention, as well as transporting them to a different time and place.
The beginning of the film opens on a situation familiar to many – a successful movie star and his career in the ‘Old Hollywood’ era, very similar to “Singin’ in the Rain.” Handsome and talented George Valentin, played by French actor Jean Dujardin, is a typical actor, similar to Fred Astaire or Humphery Bogart. Valentin and his faithful dog have a wonderfully successful career.
Peppy Miller, played by French actress Berenice Bejo, comes onto the Hollywood scene as an aspiring actress and dancer. She dreams of becoming a famous movie starlet and is quite confident in her abilities. Miller ends up working as an extra in a film Valentin is shooting. The two meet and have instant chemistry, and the plot seems to be predictably happy.
However, all is not well for Valentin. The industry shifts from silent films to the more popular “talkies” with sound. For a reason unknown to the audience, Valentin is unable to make the transition to these new movies and his life and legacy begin to crumble, while Peppy Miller’s career begins to skyrocket.
“The Artist” won three Golden Globe awards: Best Original Score, Best Actor – Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy (Jean Dujardin as Valentin), and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. The film has been nominated for several other awards, both in France and the United States. Recently, it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards.
Out of the nine films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, “The Artist” is surely the most deserving. Not only is the concept of a modern silent film new and different, it also pays homage to the origins of cinema.
While it can be argued that other films up for the prestigious award can also be classified as new and exciting, “The Artist” is more understandable than Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” Malick’s visually stunning masterpiece is extremely abstract and left many movie critics scratching their heads, trying to interpret the symbolism.
Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” is full of incredible acting, but not even an outstanding performance by George Clooney can make this film universally applicable.
The rest of the nominated films easily pale in comparison to “The Artist.” Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is a family-friendly, feel good movie shot in 3-D, but it lacks the depth Oscar winners usually contain. Stephen Speilberg’s “War Horse” is based on a British children’s novel and a stage adaptation of that novel. To some in the Academy, this third medium may be the equivalent of ‘beating a dead horse’ — pun intended. It appears evident to the author that the other nominees are not even worth mentioning
The film is about overcoming life’s challenges, a universal theme that audiences world-wide can easily grasp. The superb acting, delicate storytelling and the throwback to older times are a winning combination that will lead “The Artist” to win on Oscar night.
The 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast on ABC at 6 p.m. on Sunday, February 26th.