We finally, finally watched The Artist Friday night, which we missed due to a series of unfortunate events. I had a madcap day today of yoga, jewelry classes, Saturday errands, and a date with the Katy Perry movie, but I kept returning to the movie during quiet moments throughout the day and didn’t have time to blog about it until now. My major challenge was how to say I understand why the Academy chose it for best picture because its completely fresh and charming, innovative, and something new, while, for example, The Help was a good movie based on a good book with a couple of outstanding performances, but the Academy should be awarding innovation and excellence, without sounding like a complete snob?
My conclusion, I’m pretty sure I can’t, but I’m going to do it anyway.
The problem for The Artist was that it has been reviewed to death by people who don’t get the references (referring to Valentin the main character as something like Valentino, which he was nothing like, far more like the hilarious and charming William Powell) and instead of saying this is a fresh, charming movie about an actor in the 20s, who much like the 20s, takes a hard fall and needs a girl with moxie to help him find his place in the world and oh, there are some really interesting things with sound and music, which actually make the story way more 3 dimensional (read: romantic comedy with a cool twist), they say something like this:
Sparkling, Swooning and Suffering Wordlessly
By A. O. SCOTT Published: November 24, 2011
Remember the old days, when movies were glorious, magical and mute? Neither do I. But the passing of the silent era from memory into myth is what “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius’s dazzling cinematic objet d’art, is all about. This is not a work of film history but rather a generous, touching and slightly daffy expression of unbridled movie love. Though its protagonist mourns the arrival of sound, “The Artist” itself is more interested in celebrating the range and power of a medium that can sparkle, swoon and suffer so beautifully that it doesn’t really need to have anything to say.
Really, New York Times? I don’t know how A.O. Scott got his gig, but I’m guessing he wasn’t toiling away in film school or, for that matter, actually WATCHING The Artist. Because if one wanted a work of film history, the fantastic Hugo would be the obvious choice, although The Artist gives plenty by reference.
What I find most compelling about The Artist, and why all of you who have turned your nose at it should give it a shot, is that it never loses the charming story. In fact, the subtle (and not so subtle) references to sound are like any setting in a film – they enhance the tale rather than get in its way. This is not a silent movie (if it were, there would be many more subtitles on the screen), nor is it a movie about silent movies. It’s a great story about a man needing to find his place in the world and the cute girl (and dog) who help him on his way, shot in a completely original and exciting way. A movie you actually want to watch rather than have on while you play on facebook.
********Note: I loved The Help and was really torn between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep for Best Actress. But for Viola, I wouldn’t have nominated it for Best Picture, in part because I don’t think it lives up to the book and in part because there is nothing new in this film outside of Davis. What Viola Davis does is bring a new vision (a non-stereotypical vision) of the “help” in the South to life and gives a much beloved literary character life. But the Oscars are not for most enjoyable picture or most approachable picture – the box office and myriad popularity contest awards provide that prize. The Oscars are, in my mind, the Academy choosing which films to hang in its museum of films every year, which is probably why comedies often get short shrift. Had the producers pushed this story, and in many places they had the cast to do it, it would have been more than Best Picture material. But shooting for the approachable and in many cases humorous way through the book, they lost the underlying fire of how deeply wrong things were in the 1960s and diluted the power that Viola Davis brought to the film. On the other hand, we have a lovely, inspiring, in many ways happy vision of a girl attempting to tell the stories of the black help in the south. Because the book was so popular, it was probably the best choice for the production company. **********