It's Christmas weekend, and you're looking at moviegoing options galore: Cruise, Damon, Spielberg (twice!) and many others. With all this excitement, do you really want to see "The Artist," a movie that's French, black-and-white and silent?
You definitely do. It isn't arty or intellectual, though it is artful and ingenious, and it's the rare crowd-pleaser that never feels obvious or pandering. Film snobs will appreciate the glorious revival of a lost art form, but if you're simply looking for a charming, romantic, endlessly entertaining movie, this is your winning ticket.
The self-reflexive narrative (I did say it was French) follows silent-film star George Valentin, marvelously played by Jean Dujardin as a hammy charmer who's equal parts Douglas Fairbanks, Gene Kelly and William Powell. In the opening scene, Valentin hogs the limelight at a premiere, sidelining his unhappy actress-wife (Penelope Ann Miller) in favor of his other co-star, an Asta-esque terrier (Uggie, with understudies).
But the limelight shifts when Hollywoodland discovers sound. "If that's the future, you can have it," Valentin says -- via title card, of course -- to studio mogul Al Zimmer (John Goodman). Zimmer turns instead to young chatterbox Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, utterly beguiling), whose star rises as Valentin spirals into alcoholism. His faithful manservant (James Cromwell) sticks by him, as does the dog, but Peppy secretly remains Valentin's biggest fan.
Dujardin and Bejo are absolute magic; their scene on a movie set, botching take after take as they gaze into each other's eyes, is one of the loveliest things I've ever seen. Meantime, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius swoons over cinema itself, paying tribute to countless classics and toying with nearly every aspect of the medium (you'll have to listen as well as watch). "The Artist" isn't just what movies used to be. It's what movies are supposed to be.
PLOT When 1920s Hollywood discovers the talkies, one star insists on remaining silent. RATING PG-13 (some racy humor)
PLAYING AT Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE An absolute winner, with romance, comedy, drama -- even dancing. As the old studio moguls used to say: It's got it all.
Awards fever for 'The Artist'
When the Academy Awards nominations are announced next month, "The Artist" seems a lock to nab multiple nods. The movie has amassed quite a collection of awards nominations and wins already:
Critics Choice Awards (announced Jan. 12) -- Best acting ensemble
Golden Globes (Jan. 15) -- Best comedy; best actor (Jean Dujardin); supporting actress (Bérénice Bejo)
Independent Spirit Awards (Feb. 25) -- Best male lead (Dujardin)
Cannes Film Festival -- Best actor (Dujardin)
Hamptons International Film Festival -- Audience award, best narrative feature
New York Film Critics -- Best film, best director (Michel Hazanavicius)