Review: The Artist

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The ArtistSimply put, The Artist is an utterly charming homage to cinema that proves the old can be new again, and just how universal it can be.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the zenith of stardom in the silent film era; his mere presence is a spectacle. And in the case of aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), merely being in George's orbit can launch a career. But there's only one place to go from the top, or the bottom, especially when the revolutionary technology of sound transforms silent film into talkies.

Director Michel Hazanavicius has written a perfect film, balancing vintage tropes and pacing with familiar, beloved character archetypes. It's impossible not to fall under Valentin's spell even when being unsurprised at the consequences of his hubris. But it wouldn't be half as interesting without the alchemy of the pacing, editing, and the ever-present, equally perfect score by Ludovic Bource. Being essentially a silent movie itself, The Artist relies on Bource's evocative, often playful score to keep a modern audience from being distracted, and it does it very well.

The Artist is not a new tale; anyone can tell when someone's at the top of their game there's going to be a fall involved. That's part of the beauty of The Artist; the familiarity of the characters and their situations makes it comfortable, so much so it seems like it might falter under the weight of nostalgia or expectations ... but it never does.

Jean Dujardin could give Douglas Fairbanks or Rudolph Valentino a run for their money for all the charisma he exudes on screen. Although perhaps it's better to compare him to William Powell -- best known for The Thin Man franchise -- and not just because he has an Asta-inspired dog as a frequent costar. Dujardin embodies the debonair man of the era, with a smirk that suggests a quick mind and the panache that made women swoon back then and wistful today. He may not be known to American audiences now, but that will change.

Dujardin isn't working in a vacuum; Bérénice Bejo holds her own as Peppy, his ingénue. Bejo previously was best known to American audiences as the demure lady-in-waiting Christiana in A Knight's Tale. This time around, Bejo embodies the sassy dreamer who more than holds her own with Dujardin. Her best moments are early in the film, first with Dujardin, and then in a particular scene with just herself and a coat.

There are also several memorable cameos by more familiar faces. John Goodman plays the quintessential movie mogul. James Cromwell is the chauffeur and personal assistant to Valentin. The comedic timing of Missy Pyle may not be onscreen long, but she is just one of many performers sprinkled throughout The Artist that only add to an already delightful film.

The Artist is the best film of 2011, bar none.  Go see it now, and be reminded just how magical a movie can be.