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'The Artist' should leave you speechless

Published January 30. 2012 05:04PM

"The Artist" is one of the front-runners for the 84th Academy Awards.

With 10 Oscar nominations, "The Artist" was second only to director Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," with 11 nominations.

Oscar nominations for "The Artist" are: motion picture, director (Michel Hazanavicius), actor (Jean Dujardin), supporting actress (Bérénice Bejo), original screenplay (Hazanavicius), score (Ludovic Bource), art direction, cinematography, costume design, and film editing

"The Artist" won three Golden Globes for comedy or musical; actor comedy or musical (Dujardin); and score (Bource). The film was a winner at the Cannes Film Festival last May for actor (Dujardin). It won the Producers Guild of America Darryl F. Zanuck Award Jan. 21 for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures (Thomas Langmann).

In this era of Computer Generated Cinema (CGI) and 3D movies, "The Artist" presents itself as a throwback to a simpler era movie-making: that of the silent film.

"The Artist" may not be to everyone's taste. It is filmed in black and white by cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman. There are title cards for dialogue.

"The Artist" is a title not automatically applied to cinema. The title more often refers to a painter, sculptor, recording artist (Prince, for example) or movie technical credit (art director, for example).

The story of "The Artist" begins in 1927. The title pertains to silent movie star, George Valentin (Dujardin). Valentin is effete, impudent and snobbish enough to want to continue to make silent movies, refusing a request by producer Al Zimmer (hilariously over-the-top John Goodman) to do "talkies," or movies with synchronous sound.

In other words: When the lips move, the words come out.

Convinced the public wants to see silent movies and see him as the star, Valentin sinks his fortune into "Tears of Love," a silent movie, which he produces, directs and stars in. Few fans turn out.

Meanwhile, movie-goers line up for "Beauty Spot," a "talkie" opening the same day and starring Peppy Miller (Bejo), a young woman discovered at the premiere of one of Valentin's films, who advanced from chorus to bit parts to star.

"The Artist," a love letter to the silent movie, has a story that echoes "A Star Is Born" (1937, 1954), "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) and "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), the latter's storyline inspired by the impact of sound motion pictures on the careers of silent movie stars.

Hazanavicius (French spy spoof, "OSS 117" and its sequel) advances the simple story of "The Artist" relentlessly. Part of the film's charm is Hazanavicius's screenplay's clean, crisp approach to story.

The film's formalism is foremost. Most shots are framed with a view toward symmetry, depth of field and facial close-ups. Old-fashioned film-making techniques (irises, wipes, newspaper headlines) are used. Lighting is often film-noir like (high contrast between dark and light).

The film was shot on location in Los Angeles. It was shot at 22 frames per second, rather than the standard 24 frames per second, to give it the jumpy feel of a silent movie. The editing is textbook steady to the story's beats.

Dujardin ("OSS 117") is splendid. In the role, with a pencil-thin mustache and athletic physique, he resembles Walt Disney and Gene Kelly. He projects a grounded air of sophistication, with a bit of an overinflated ego.

Bejo ("OSS 117:Cairo Nest of Spies," "A Knight's Tale") has the big eyes of a Leslie Caron and the gamine stance of a Bianca Jagger. Bejo creates an upbeat presence true to her character's first name, Peppy.

Bource's sensitive score is superior to many new scores grafted onto the "Silent Sunday Nights" fare on Turner Classic Movies. In "The Artist," as the story becomes more melodramatic, the music moves from the innocent sounds of the xylophone to more complex and darker symphonic strains, including a musical passage from Bernard Hermann's "Love Scene" composed for director Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo."

Fine in supporting roles are Penelope Ann Miller as Doris, Valentin's wife; James Cromwell as Clifton, Valentin's chauffer; Malcolm McDowell, as a butler, and a cute dog.

One qualification concerning "The Artist" is that it's not really telling a new story and relies a bit too much on its premise. When the film's storyline enters the talkie era, "The Artist" continues on as a silent movie.

There is a segment in "The Artist" of synchronous dialogue. While "Goodman talks" is not the headline-grabber that "Garbo talks" was, it has a certain veracity since Goodman plays the producer.

"The Artist" should still leave you speechless. In this era of CGI and 3D, "The Artist" reminds us that a simple story told simply and told well is still the mark of an artist.

"The Artist," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for a disturbing image and a crude gesture; Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama; Run time: 1 hour, 40 minutes: Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Credit Readers Anonymous: George Valentin's Jack Russell terrier in "The Artist" is played by Uggie, who played Queenie opposite Reese Witherspoon in "Water for Elephants."

Box Office, Jan. 20: "Underworld; Awakening" opened at No. 1, $25.4 million, keeping "Red Tails" opening at No. 2, "$19.1 million, and dropping "Contraband" to No. 3, $12.2 million, $46.1 million, two weeks;

4. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," $10.5 million, wide release; $11.2 million, five weeks; 5. "Haywire," $9 million, opening; 6. "Beauty and the Beast 3D," $8.5 million; $33.3 million;

7. "Joyful Noise," $6 million, $21.9 million, two weeks; 8. "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol," $5.5 million, $197.3 million, six weeks; 9. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," $4.8 million, $178.6 million, six weeks; 10. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," $3.7 million, $94.7 million, five weeks; 17. "The Artist, " $2.3 million, 662 locations; $12.1 million, nine weeks

Unreel, Jan. 27:

"The Grey," R: Liam Neeson stars as the leader of an oil well drilling firm trying to survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilds. Dermot Mulroney also stars in the action-adventure movie.

"Man on a Ledge," PG-13: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks and Jamie Bell star in the crime thriller about a police psychologist who tries to prevent a man from jumping from a Manhattan hotel rooftop as a diamond heist unfolds.

"One for the Money," PG-12: Katherine Heigl stars as Stephanie Plum in the big-screen adaption of the action-comedy based on Janet Evanovich's series novel.

"We Need to Talk About Kevin," R: Tilda Swinton stars in the drama based on Lionel Shriver's novel about the mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree in the drama

"Albert Nobbs," R: Glenn Close stars in the drama as a woman pretending to be a man in order to work in 19th century Ireland.

Continuing: "The Artist," "My Week With Marilyn," "Carnage," Civic Theater of Allentown; "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," "Carnage," ArtsQuest Center Cinema.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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