There’s a reason that critics and awards committees are falling all over themselves for The Artist – it’s really that good, really that accessible, really that much fun.

What makes this 21st century silent movie work is what makes all the great silent films of yesteryear work, what makes them universal, in fact: the ability of silent cinema to bypass the routine left-brain approach with which post-Jazz Singer audiences have grown accustomed to processing their movies, and to penetrate to that part of us that accommodates our dreams. In some hands, this silent movie that is about silent movies could have emerged as a tiresomely ironic bit of meta postmodernism; but fortunately for us, director Michel Hazanavicius understands what makes silent film work and draws on those strengths. In his hands, The Artist is a dream about a dream, which makes its pleasures doubly delicious.

Highfalutin critic-speak aside, the movie’s considerable charm is due largely to the talent and charisma of its star, Jean Dujardin. The camera loves this guy, and in playing a man for whom the love is mutual, he embraces the entire film and makes us love it along with him.

Armed with Fairbanksian brio and a megawatt smile, Dujardin – who bears a passing resemblance to Gene Kelly both physically and in terms of sheer irrepressibility – plays silent movie star George Valentin. When we meet him, he’s at the peak of his profession – rich, powerful and wildly popular – but when sound becomes the next big thing, he refuses to get on the bandwagon and finds both his career and his life swirling down the drain.

As that scenario plays out, there are moments of outright melodrama, but they’re extremely well acted by Dujardin, and by the time those scenes are played out we’ve been so thoroughly seduced by classic silent technique that we’re willing to follow him into areas that would have been dismissed as over the top 70 years ago. For the most part, however, this is a film unashamed to be funny and romantic, filled with characters we care about and told in terms that are unabashedly and unfailingly entertaining.

Dujardin is matched in charisma by the incandescent Berenice Bejo, who embodies Jazz Age perkiness in her performance as Peppy Miller, an ambitious movie extra who Valentin befriends at a crucial moment in her nascent career. With the advent of sound, she begins a rise to stardom as rapid as his own descent, their paths diverging until circumstances reunite them years later.

The stars are supported by some first-class talent, notably John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Malcolm McDowell. Shot on authentic old Hollywood locations in vibrant black and white, Hazanavicius’ film recaptures the past in a manner more authentic than nostalgia, making full use of period techniques from optical transitions and montage to a dramatic race against time featuring a plucky Jack Russell terrier. Though nearly a century old, those techniques still work beautifully.

This silent is golden.

January 21, 2012 · Posted in Now Playing  

Conquering multiple ballots and defying eyestrain, my fellow deep thinkers about cinema at the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle have released their list of the best films of the year, celebrating some of the most ambitious and accomplished work on the big screen in 2011. Among the highlights are these winning achievements:


(Best Film, from Best Director winner Michel Hazanavicius)


(Best Actor, The Descendants)


(Best Actress, My Week with Marilyn)


(Best Supporting Actor, Drive)


(Best Supporting Actress, The Help)

For the complete list of awards – including the Not-So-Obviously-Worst Film and Best Guilty Pleasure – go to the OFCC website.

December 24, 2011 · Posted in Legends