If you’re in the vicinity of Los Angeles or New York for the holidays you’ve already had a chance to catch such awards season players as “My Week with Marilyn,” “Hugo,” “The Descendants” and maybe even “Melancholia” if you didn’t watch it on VOD already. Today, one of the frontrunners in the race finally hits screens on this side of the Atlantic, “The Artist.”
Since premiering at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in May, Michel Hazanavicius’ ode to the silent films of yesteryear has been laying in wait to win over not just moviegoers, but savvy Academy members. The story of a superstar silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who tries to fight the transition to “talkies,” “The Artist” is simply a glorious homage to Hollywood’s past. Frankly, Hazanavicius and his production team have created a picture that looks and feels like it could have been shot in 1929 (and that’s meant as a sincere compliment).
As I noted in my review out of Telluride, “A hundred years plus off filmmaking has taken the form to amazing heights, but ask a modern day director to create something memorable without all those fancy tools and visual effects and that’s when the real talent truly steps up. Impressively, that’s exactly what Michel Hazanavicius has done with [this] charming silent comedy.” It’s an achievement that should easily resonate across all branches of the Academy.
Intriguingly, once “The Artist” begins to expand nationwide most moviegoers will likely have no idea that not only is the director French, but the film’s star, Dujardin, barely speaks English and his co-star, Bérénice Bejo, is an Argentinian French-speaking actress who speaks English as a third language. Both Dujardin and Bejo are already being lauded for captivating audiences with non-verbal performances that would be incredibly hard for any actor to pull off. And, of course, as awards season progresses you’ll literally start hearing more from them.
I sat down with the charming duo a few weeks ago in an interview embedded at the top of this post. They spoke about how successful the picture has already been in France, the long list of classic silent films that inspired their work (no joke, “Lassie” is one of them), how a silent movie set is “the noisiest set ever” (but that was actually a good thing) and the five months of rehearsals it took to pull off the picture’s amazing dance number. It’s well worth checking out even if you’ve still got some time before “The Artist” hits your local multiplex.
For more of a taste of this best picture contender check out two clips from “The Artist” below (and yes, that’s John Goodman and Penelope Ann Miller in supporting roles).