I am not one to rag on Best Picture winners the day after the Academy Award show. I don’t always agree the Academy, but this year… I didn’t get around to watching The Artist before the ceremony, mainly because I love silent film so much. Watching movies like Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (239 min. version) and King Vidor’s The Crowd on the big screen remains very much one of my favorite cinematic experiences.
Another one of my favorite experiences with silent film was before Peter Jackson’s King Kong was released. I watched the original King Kong for the first time in preparation and it blew me away. So much so that I almost didn’t want to see the remake. It was still that good. My main problem with The Artist was that I thought it used the silent medium for its own advantage, and that seemed disingenuous to me.
Now, the day after The Artist won Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards I decided to watch it after all. All the while trying to keep an open mind. And I am sad to say that I do not agree with the Academy’s decision on this one. If you take offense with the decision to give the Oscar for Best Picture to movies like Crash and Shakespeare in Love (a movie I love), then this time you should be upset as well. This is not the best picture of 2012, not by a long shot. Let’s not get into the whole debate whether Drive or Melancholia should have been nominated (they should have been), but movies like Moneyball, The Tree of Life and The Help are much better movies than this.
Don’t get me wrong, The Artist is a decent movie. It is shot beautifully in black and white and the lead, Jean Dujardin, is an excellent interpretation of the big stars of yesteryear. There is also a lot that doesn’t feel right about The Artist. For instance, although in black and white, the photography feels much too modern for it be a silent movie. If you go for this exercise of recreating the silent movies at the end of roaring ’20s, you should stick to the photography used back then. Now it just feels like a modern movie trying too hard to be a silent movie.
Another element I found to be incredibly annoying was the exaggerated gestures used by the cast. This is something a lot of people struggle with when watching a silent film and when you want people to fall in love with this old medium you shouldn’t highlight the aspect that is putting people off. This just adds to the feeling that this is more a pretensious art project than a product for the masses, which the movies ostensibly were and are.
The trouble with a movie like The Artist is that nobody dares to speak out against it. “Utterly absorbing”, “spellbinding love letter to silent cinema” and “smile-inducing entertainment” are but a few accolades that The Artist can add to its resume. I just don’t see it. It all feels like another one of those movies that were pushed really, really hard by Harvey Weinstein to be considered for an Oscar. And the Academy seems to be susceptible to this kind of extreme Oscar campaigning. As the Weinsteins have demonstrated several times in the last two decades.
What I see is a movie that tries so incredibly hard to be liked that it forgets to be a movie in the first place. The plot is actually really thin and borrows heavily from one of the greatest movies of all time, Singin’ in the Rain and even doesn’t hesitate to mimic Citizen Kane in one scene. It would have been much, much, much more interesting to have seen a story presented in this manner that didn’t rely so heavily on the history of talkies versus non-talkies. Movies about movies were, after all, not made back then, they made sprawling adventures, incredible dramas and inventive science fiction movies. Not here, regrettably.
As I said, I tried to keep an open mind about The Artist, something I did fairly well. I just can’t get around the fact that this movie is nice, but nowhere near the masterpiece everybody makes it out to be. I suggest you pick up a copy of the true greats of that era and leave this for what it is. In the years to come this will be the year in which The Artist stole the Oscar from a plethora of better movies.