It has no color, no big spectacle of CG or special effects; other than the score, little to no sound, and it doesn't have Tom Cruise in it; yet it's arguably one of the best films of 2011.
Cinema has been revolutionized since the early 1900's, with inventions like animation, 3-D, digital projections, color and sound. The way audiences experience movies is changing year-by-year and growing within this digital era. The next step would be something like 4-D. We can wait another 15 years for James Cameron to develop that or we can look to the past to remind ourselves of how far cinema has come and pay tribute.
Michel Hazanavicius does just that in his latest film The Artist. Much like Scorsese's Hugo, The Artist also pays tribute to black and white cinema. Where Scorsese paid homage to the birth of film and early directors, Hazanavicius focused on the late 1920-30's when sound was introduced to film.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent-film star at the peak of his stardom. Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is a lively 20-something trying to make it in Hollywoodland. After a much publicized run-in with one another, Peppy ends up as an extra on Valentin's latest movie set. The chemistry between them can't go unnoticed, but the two part ways for he is a married actor on the cusp of his career and she is just fighting to get noticed. 1929 was a huge year for film, with the introduction of sound in The Jazz Singer, or 'talkies' as they were coined. This is problematic for George, he believes this is a "phase" and continues acting in and directing silent pictures, but as we all know this "phase" has lasted almost one-hundred years. As his career dwindles down, Peppy's is thriving and soon becomes the next "it-girl." George is now struggling to get noticed on the streets and Peppy is hurting to see the man she has always admired at such a low-point; the question is can the two find happiness again?
You can call it a love-story; the women crying in the row in front of me, in the theater, certainly would have. Or you can look at the respectively paid acknowledgement to early cinema, like I did. For movie-lovers it's an egg-hunt to search for those marks of respect. It's easy, the film is a homage to black-and-white, silent pictures. But if you're a cine-phile, you'll easily pick out the opening scene's praise to Metropolis, how a later scene parallels to a famous low-key lighting scene in Citizen Kane and pick up on a quote from Grand Hotel, not to mention a score inspired by Vertigo.
Never mind Kim Novak's obvious dislike, this film respectively gives thanks to such films and most importantly--is such an entertainment to watch. Dujardin's gives a superb performance as an actor trying once again to rise in an age of sound. His dramatic scenes are punctuated by the lovely Bejo whose enthusiasm radiates off-screen. The only show-stealer is perhaps the amiable Uggie the dog (Water for Elephants).
I can't go without mentioning Ludovic Bource, whose score effortlessly carried the various moods and tones throughout a film with almost no talking in it. For a film that showcased the early days of film, with no sound, it also demonstrated how far music has revolutionized cinema today. I'm going to take my chances now and say this film wins Best Picture at this year's Oscar's (or at least, I hope).