I thought that by seeing over 60 or so movies this year, including nearly all of the “best” ones, I was in fair shape to write my Top Ten of 2011 list. Sometimes I’ll see a film after the fact that probably should have been included, but I’ve never have a made an omission this glaring, and I felt I needed a whole post/review to explain why The Artist is in fact the best film of the year, even if you haven’t heard of it. You will.
The film is topping many critics’ lists, and is racking up more award nominations than I can count. With a mostly unknown cast and director, and it not playing at any theaters near me for months, I figured it was an arthouse fluke. When I heard it was a modern day silent film, I figured the gimmick must be what was drawing all the attention, and what I’d find would probably be the height of pretention.
But you don’t have to be a film snob or classic cinema buff to appreciate The Artist. Despite it looking and sounding (well, not sounding, rather) like a 1920s feature, it can be enjoyed by anyone of any age or knowledge of film.
The concept is meta, as it’s a silent film about silent films. It takes place in the late 20s, when the big screen stars of Hollywood didn’t have to say a word to be famous. The Artist in question is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star who goes from fame to ruin when “talkies” surge into popularity, and his old, silent art form is left in the dust. Peppy Miller, an aspiring young actress whom he helps early in her career, turns into a shooting star that blows right by him, though continues to harbor deep affection for him, even in his downtrodden state.
The Artist is a wonderment of filming technique and acting. From a cinematography perspective, they had to recreate the look and feel of films almost a hundred years old at this point, and do so beautifully with sets, cars and costumes from the period, and the physical, flawed black and white film and rough cuts to match.
Acting is an even greater challenge, as the film is completely silent, much more attention is giving to the subtle nuances that might normally go overlooked when watching a film. Gestures and facial expressions are everything, and though some of the most important dialog is thrown up on the screen as text, it only happens rarely.
Rather, emotion is conveyed by acting in a pure and silent form, accompanied by a constant orchestral soundtrack that would normally have been played by live performers in theaters of old and helps to provide each scene with thematic context.
All of it combined creates far and away the most fascinating film experience of the year. A modern day silent film could have been a gimmick like I imagined it to be, but it’s a real story with heartache and humor, despair and redemption, and is filmed and acted so beautifully, you can’t help but be moved by it.
If The Artist and everyone who worked on it or acted in it was nominated for an Oscar, they would deserve it, and a sweep would be more than justified. And the fact that it tops my best of 2011 list now, when the previous top two films were Fast Five and Planet of the Apes, that should be an indicator that it’s incredibly enjoyable as a film, not just a technical or dramatic masterpiece.
Find this movie somewhere near you and see it. It won’t have the same effect on Netflix streaming, as seeing it a tiny art theater will likely help to transport you back to a simpler time of film. It will probably expand after its slew of Oscar nominations, but you’ll get extra cool points if you see it before the general public starts raving about it.
I simply can’t say enough about what a truly wonderful film this, and it reminds me why I love the movies so much. Hopefully when you see it for yourself, you have the same experience.