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Silence is Golden

The Artist is the best film of the year


For me, Christmas came early this year.

I remember opening my favorite gift in early September. It wasn't colorful (though it burst with a spectrum of delights). It made not a word (though the lovely music still rings in my heart), and it came from a foreign land (France, to be precise). All I could think about was Christmas while watching The Artist last autumn at the Toronto International Film Festival. Coincidentally this sugar-plum of a movie has been slowly opening in select cities, just in time for a joyeux Noel.

First, some caveats. Yes, The Artist is a silent, black-and-white production. But it's a great film, and my favorite of 2011, due in large part to those 21st century oddities, not in spite of them. In fact, being black-and-white makes it an ideal companion piece to some cinematic classics. The Artist has a bit of A Star is Born, a touch of Citizen Kane and a smidge of Singing in the Rain.

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When I returned to Idaho from September's TIFF, I told anyone who would listen about The Artist. Eyes quickly glossed over as I raved about a silent, black-and-white movie. But the last few months have been very kind to The Artist. Movie critics in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., have chosen the film as the year's best. Last week Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations followed, and I'm certain that, come Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, The Artist will be on Oscar's short list as a Best Picture nominee.

Of course, the risk of praising The Artist too much is putting it on too high a pedestal. So consider yourself warned--the movie solves no world crises nor offers any great Proustian insights on the human condition. The Artist is quite simply, and quite wonderfully, charming, amusing and even gimmicky, and yes, it may grate on some people's nerves who prefer their saccharine with a touch of arsenic. For those cynics, I can only say tough beans. It's a joyous movie, and I embraced every moment of its celebration.

The plot is rather simple--a silent-film star loses his personal and professional luster as sound is introduced to the movie industry. But the story serves only as a quite-basic frame to a masterwork of art, featuring the best acting, cinematography and musical score in a decade. Someone please put this film in a time capsule.

As The Artist, Jean Dujardin is a wonder of the world. Dujardin's George Valentin dances, mugs and dazzles his way into your heart. Co-star Berenice Bejo is Peppy Miller, the chorus girl who ventures up the winding staircase of fame as George is coming down. And kudos (or better yet, a bowl of biscuits) to a Jack Russell terrier named Uggie, who practically steals the whole show.

Who's to say why The Artist is resonating with so many filmgoers? Maybe it's our cynical times. Maybe it harkens to a more innocent era. Maybe it's just a swell film. And that's all I ever wanted for Christmas.