Monday, February 13, 2012

The Oscar Goes to … “The Artist”

Michel Hazanavicius’s film “The Artist” exceeded every one of my expectations by smashing them. Is it a silent film? A talkie? It’s both. A comedy? A drama? Both again.

It recalls nothing so much as “Singin’ in the Rain,” but combined with “The Lost Weekend,” a grim study of alcoholism. And it is better than “Singin’ in the Rain” if only because it keeps two hands all but tied behind its back, using neither color film nor spoken dialogue.

It is about a silent film actor who cannot make the jump to talkies, but it is also about every human being who comes to the end of his or her illusions.

I can’t remember finding it so hard to write about a film I’ve loved, because “The Artist” piles surprise on surprise, and to describe it is to spoil it. There are at least a dozen scenes that will make your jaw drop, not with special effects but with pure surprise and delight.

Just when you think you have it figured out, it spins you around again, like a ballroom dancer throwing his partner across the floor. Although it may sound like the oldest of old hats—a “silent movie” made in 2011—it stretches the medium of movie-making more than any other film I’ve seen this year.

You know more or less what to expect from a drama starring George Clooney (“The Descendants”), a Woody Allen comedy (“Midnight in Paris”), a serious film about race relations in the Old South (“The Help”), or even a Tom Hanks–Sandra Bullock film about 9/11 that aspires to greatness (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”). I promise you, you can’t possibly know what exactly to expect from “The Artist.” That’s why I think it has to win the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.

Read no more about it. Drop everything, especially your expectations, and just go see it.

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