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The Artist

Year: 2011
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writer: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Ken Davitian, Malcolm McDowell, Nina Siemaszko

Every now and then a little film starts off slow and then huge critical praise and word of mouth carries it to glory the way movies used to do, years before the art and science of trying to force them through ad spending. The Hurt Locker and Slumdog Millionaire are two examples.

The Artist is the latest film to gather a steamroller of awards buzz around itself, having garnered several wins in the 2012 awards ceremonies so far and talked up as a cert for best Picture at the 2012 Academy Awards as I write this.

While it's undoubtedly good quality, it's a strange movie in that I think the love is coming from movie types, not common moviegoers (most of whom will, like me, see it out of curiosity at all the fuss). It certainly has charm and what it does it does very well, but Best Picture? I think that's just Hollywood being in love with itself, a state of mind that ends at the edge of Beverly Hills.

It's a historical document and if there's any subtext that justifies awards kudos it's simply the juggernaut of technology changing the movie industry by brute force. In the late 20s, Errol Flynn-like silent movie star George Valentin (Dujardin) rules Hollywood with his suave smile, pencil thin moustache and faithful terrier.

But after crossing paths with fan Peppy (Bejo) at the studio, she's spotted in the crowd and shepherded to stardom as the face of a new medium – talkies. While Peppy's star rises, George descends into the life of a has-been, selling everything and unable to pay his loyal manservant Clifton (Cromwell).

But he and Peppy still share something from the one time they danced together on film, something they've never admitted to nor acted on, and The Artist is as much about the love between them as it is about love of a bygone era.

The look, the style and the design is near-perfect. Some audiences have been genuinely shocked at discovering it's not only about the silent movie era, it's a silent movie itself. Director Hazanavicius includes a few meta moments where sound emerges and George himself is surprised, apparently having lived in a world of no sound but the lilting orchestral backing, but they're more about self-referentiality than adding to the story.

The problem I had with it is that there's really no antagonist. If Peppy had been a brazen careerist determined to knock George off his pedestal, then turned into a snob who mistreated everyone and gave us a reason to want George to beat her at her own game, it would have had some dramatic tension.

But even as George falls from his perch everybody surrounding him seems to be his friend and wants to help him, Clifton refusing to leave his service even after George fires him. There was no real conflict and the result felt like a spirited and beautiful but empty spectacle.

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