Best Picture Winner 'The Artist' 10 Years Later
The legacy of The Artist remains one of the most disliked Best Picture choices in history.
In the 10 years since the release of The Artist and it's eventual Best Picture win at the Academy Awards in 2012, the film's lasting legacy is that a lot of people really liked the dog in the movie. Beyond that, it’s the hatred many hold for this admittedly lovely movie because it should not have won Best Picture. Now, most people likely could not name one of the several nominated movies that lost out and were more deserving than The Artist but I am not here to call anyone out or say that anyone is wrong for thinking The Artist as less than Best Picture caliber.
I fully agree, there is no world in which The Artist was the apex of film achievement in any year. It’s a lovely homage to film history and a marvel of technical masterwork in recreating the era of the silent film, but it wasn’t the game-changing, era defining movie released in 2011 or any other year. In reality, the Academy did a grave disservice to The Artist and what should have been its legacy as a lovely treat for those who love a bygone era of Hollywood.
Instead, this trifle of a movie, this delightful dessert of a film, was burdened with being named Best Picture and has been forced to bear the weight of our collective film fan hatred for a decade since. I can’t change that, I know. It’s likely those who take the time to even remember The Artist will always hold against the movie that it was not worthy of winning Best Picture. Instead, I’d like to just try to remind people that The Artist was a really terrific piece of work. It wasn’t deserving of Best Picture, but as a popcorn love letter to the movies, it’s a wonderful artifact.
With that, here’s a review of The Artist in appreciation of it 10 years later.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is one of the biggest stars in all of silent film. George’s adventures are thrilling; his romances are enthralling and his comedy leaves'em rolling in the aisles. George is a Hollywood icon when we meet him in The Artist but that is all soon to change with the introduction of talking pictures on the horizon. You see, George is a Frenchman with a thick accent that likely will not translate well to the talking pictures in America where he’s become a beloved star.
For now however, as the story of The Artist begins to unfold, George remains such a huge star that when an aspiring actress leaps into a photo with him and plants a kiss on his cheek she becomes an overnight sensation. The girl is Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) and while she's adorable it masks an ambition to be a big star. Over the course of The Artist Penny and George will pass each other as her star rises and his star falls.
Director Michel Hazanivicius has an extraordinary artistic vision. One truly beautiful example of that artistry is a scene in The Artist that is set on the stairs of an agent's office. The camera is positioned at a distance to capture several floors with the stairs in the forefront and many people making their way up and down. George happens to be heading down while Peppy is going up, a pitch perfect visual metaphor, and when they meet in the middle, a fantastic bit of choreography keeps the scene buzzing with life.
The Artist is a marvel of technique in both the direction and acting. The amazing cast, which also includes John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller, are remarkably at home in this throwback to the silent era. That said, the often frothy storytelling and the lack of substance to underline the dazzling style of The Artist renders the movie more of a popcorn flick than something that can be taken seriously. The story is a direct riff on A Star is Born, with a hint of Singing in the Rain, but The Artist lacks the substance of the A Star is Born story story and lacks invention in telling that story in a different way, beyond (SPOILER ALERT) the main character being rescued by his dog and a crowd pleasing finish.
As I said at the start of this look back at The Artist , for all the wonders of recreating the silent era in immaculate detail, the lasting legacy is that of a really great movie dog. The dog, by the way, is barely credited anywhere these days, even though he essentially steals the movie. His name was Uggie and he was so popular that he has a book about his life called Uggie: My Story. Uggie tragically passed away in 2015. That said, in hindsight, there is a great deal more to The Artist than a great dog. The costumes, makeup, set design, cinematography and direction are wonderful. There are amazing elements to The Artist but it’s all very ephemeral. Little about The Artist lingers after you see it.
One could argue, and I am sure some have argued, that the technical achievement of The Artist, the astonishing ways in which the production brought silent films back to life, is what the Academy was really honoring. That's a fair argument. The movie pleased every branch of the Academy from costumes, to cinematography to even the screenwriters who praised the screenplay for this silent feature for demonstrating the virtuosity of scripting action with minimal dialogue. That said, while those elements are the bones of a movie, essential for making a movie, the story doesn't work hard enough to justify the hard work that went into bringing it to life.
The Artist remains a very charming film, a romantic film and an immaculately well constructed film but there is just nothing there at the core of the movie. It's all homage, it's all lifting from other, more substantive takes on the same material. The Artist is a love letter to the silent era but it’s also a near complete lift of A Star is Born and Singing in the Rain, minus the dialogue, of course, without crediting either for the inspiration. Even the film score, praised roundly by critics, features direct lifts from Bernard Hermann's legendary score for Hitchcock's Vertigo. The Artist is a crowd pleaser and in a year where it faced off against far better and more resonant movies such as Tree of Life, Moneyball or the un-nominated Young Adult, The Artist remains unsatisfying as the Best Picture of 2011.