Thursday, July 19, 2012
"It's an honor to meet you. My father is a big fan."
If ever anyone needed proof that winning Oscars often has more to do with pressure from studios and aggressive campaigning than with pure quality, look no further than the fact that this won the Best Picture Academy Award for 2012. Except for a dream sequence and at the very end, The Artist is a black and white silent movie with titles and music [more about that music in a moment]. There have been quite a few classics from the silent movie period -- King Vidor's The Crowd instantly comes to mind -- but The Artist is not on that level. Instead it's yet another variation on A Star is Born with a Valentino-type actor, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) -- who resists the idea that talkies are taking over -- giving a break to a young female newcomer, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), only to watch her become a big star while he becomes a forgotten has-been. [It is never explained why Valentin won't be hired for sound movies, as no mention is made of any problem with his voice.] However, Peppy doesn't forget her one-time mentor's kindness and comes to his aid. Penelope Ann Miller is Valentin's unloving wife and John Goodman and Malcolm McDowell are movie biz types. There's a cute little dog who nearly steals the picture, but the lead characters are not that sympathetic, and the film is full of show biz cliches without having anything new to add. Yes, The Artist may be an "homage" to motion pictures, but surely it should be as good as the best of the movies it honors before it wins major awards? [Sometimes the Oscars get it right; The King's Speech was a genuinely great picture and deserved to win Best Picture.] Ludovic Bource's music is very good and does a lot of the work, but talented Bource couldn't have been thrilled with the director's decision to score a climactic sequence with, of all things, Bernard Herrmann's love theme from Hitchcock's classic Vertigo! Not only does this pull you out of one movie into another -- as some critics noted -- but it's unfair to Bource, Herrmann, the movie, and the audience. Herrmann [nor Hitchcock] is not alive to protest, but Kim Novak certainly did -- and should have. It was a very bad decision to use such famous music, especially in a scene where it is completely inappropriate.
Verdict: Handsomely produced and well-acted, but we've seen it all before. And the Vertigo steal is disastrous! **1/2.