It all seems a little too cute, doesn't it? THE ARTIST is a black-and-white silent film, shot in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio, about the Old Hollywood silent film era. And it's French! And it won the Best Picture Oscar!
I was skeptical, too—this seemed like the sort of artsy, delightfully impertinent gesture the Academy likes to make every few years. But I was wrong. The Artist is a pure delight from beginning to end; a genuinely inspired piece of popular entertainment with bonus resonance for movie history geeks. (Read Laura Boyes's review for the Indy.)
Debuting this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital, The Artist stars French actor Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, an aging movie star navigating the end of the silent film era. The talkies are coming, bringing with them a new breed of movie star like the young and radiant Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).
The film follows George and Peppy as their relationship shifts from mentor and rookie to something else entirely. The story is told without dialogue, and with a minimum of intertitles. As such it relies on music, staging and strong physical performances from Dujardin and Bejo and the supporting cast (including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Uggie the dog.)
The real star here, though, is writer and director Michel Hazanavicius, who puts it all together and makes it sing. The Artist is first and foremost a love letter to the history of cinema, reverently evoking the silent film era in both content and form. But it's also a elegantly rounded story, a comic melodrama that earns its laughter and thrills. The movie never feels gimmicky.
The end of film features an extended song-and-dance routine that's among the most joyous spectacles I've ever witnessed on screen. As Dujardin and Bejo cut the rug—they studied tap for five months to get it right—the music and choreography evoke a kind of delirious elation. The dance number seems to echo back and amplify the spirit of the film that's gone before. It's the feel-good moment of the year. Did I stand and applaud, by myself, in the living room? No one can prove anything.
Format: DVD, Blu-ray and digital
Extras: a Q-and-A with filmmakers and cast, about 45 minutes total of assorted featurettes on aspects of the production and another 45 minutes of Q-and-A with the filmmakers and cast.
Also New This Week:
Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year, the Belgian thriller BULLHEAD is a hard piece of work concerning a 'roided out mafia enforcer with a dark past. Kind of a Flemish Scorcese thing, with bovine growth hormones. Seriously.
ORANGES AND SUNSHINE tells the awful true story of forced child migration from the UK to Australia in the late 1800s, with Emily Watson and Hugo Weaving.
Kelly Macdonald, voice of the wee Scottish princess in Pixar's Brave, stars in the lightweight but charming British rom-com THE DECOY BRIDE.
The 40th anniversary Blu-ray reissue of 1972's DELIVERANCE adds about 90 minutes of retrospective material and an audio commentary from director John Boorman. Worst. Vacation. Ever.
Wholly unnecessary yet actually pretty funny, 21 JUMP STREET reboots the 1980s TV series with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
Plus: Julia Roberts and bad apples in MIRROR MIRROR, Sam Worthington and special effects in WRATH OF THE TITANS, and Eddie Murphy and the dubious comic premise in A THOUSAND WORDS.