The Artist – Best Picture?: a Recommendation from Steve

The Academy got it right, or did they? In one sense, I would say that giving the Best Picture Oscar to The Artist was the right thing to do. I say this despite the fact that I rank three movies ahead of it. My recommendations for each of those three movies are restricted in some way. I would only recommend The Tree of Life to those who don’t mind a bit of metaphysics in their movies. Moneyball is more than a baseball movie, but it is a baseball movie, and thus it will not appeal to everyone. Midnight in Paris is only for fans of Woody Allen and/or those with at least a working knowledge of the 1920s Paris art scene. On the other hand, I would recommend The Artist to just about anyone from teens on up. That is the movie’s strength, but also its weakness. The movie is charming, delightful, effervescent. You would have to be a stick in the mud to not enjoy it, even if you don’t exactly love it. But, is that enough for it be considered a Best Picture? In 2011, I guess that it is. The negative side of this broad appeal is that the movie is far from challenging or original. It is basically a romantic comedy. Of course, the catch is that it is a silent film presented in black and white. Believe me, it is a strange experience to watch a silent film in this day and age. They do handle the concept well, but it does limit the story and the novelty does wear off well before the end of the film.

Even as I grant The Artist Best Picture, I would argue more about its other two big Oscars. Although Michel Hazanavicius did a fine directing job, there just weren’t enough great scenes to merit Best Director. I would give that honor to Martin Scorsese’s brilliant work on Hugo or Terrance Malick for Tree of Life. Likewise, I was not overly impressed by Jean Dujardin as George Valentin. Clooney should have received Best Actor. In The Artist, Berenice Bejo’s character, Peppy, gives an interview after she moves from silent films to the talkies. She says that silent actors only mug for the camera, but that talking actors bring something more to the performance. That’s how I felt about Dujardin’s performance, that he was simply mugging for the camera. Ironically, Bejo, although not actually speaking in the movie, does bring something more with her performance. She truly was peppy and delightful. It was her performance that really made the movie for me. Her scene interacting with George’s coat on the coat-stand was one of the best I saw all year. Although I downgraded Dujardin’s work due to mugging, I must admit that no one is better at mugging for the camera than John Goodman, so he fit perfectly in his role as the producer.

Although not deeply spiritual, the movie does give us something to ponder. George struggles with accepting the change from silent films to talkies. This gives us all a chance to think about how we handle change and how an inability to change can trap and limit us. Another issue concerned me at the start of the movie. Clearly George and Peppy are going to fall in love. That is all well and good, until we find out that George is married. I was concerned that this was going to be yet another movie that buys into the notion that marriages are disposable and that it is perfectly fine to dump your spouse if something better comes along. I simply have little tolerance for movies that present that view and that glorify affairs. Fortunately, I felt that The Artist avoided that trap. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that George’s marriage does come to an end and that he and Peppy do end up together, but it is not simply because George dumps his wife for Peppy. There is more to it than that and I felt that the movie didn’t let George off too easily. So, if you are just looking for a good time at the movies, by all means see The Artist. Just don’t expect too much. It does seem strange to say that about a Best Picture winner!

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