20 February 2012
I went to see The Artist yesterday, and since a friend this morning asked me some questions about it, I thought I'd take a moment here to record a few thoughts, and, more importantly, link to people who have more interesting things to say about it than I do.
It's a nice little movie.
I really have trouble coming up with more than that. Its clear frontrunner status in many categories going into the Oscars is a bit baffling, but not inexplicable. I can think of three major reasons it's such awards bait, and I'm sure there are more: 1.) it's different enough from other movies released last year to stand out from the crowd, but not different enough to alienate any crowd; 2.) if you know things about movies and you like movies, it makes you feel good for being you; 3.) Harvey Weinstein is distributing it, and Harvey Weinstein is one of the most successful people in the history of the motion picture industry at getting awards attention for his movies.
Also, it's a hard movie to hate. You could, like me, find it a pleasant enough entertainment that isn't a lot more, but it's perfectly inoffensive. Certainly, the hype and awards are annoying, especially if you step back and realize what a good year 2011 was for interesting films, but the hype and awards aren't the movie's fault. And there are good things in The Artist that can get obscured by frustration with the huge acclaim.
(What would I say are the best of the year? you ask. I haven't seen tons of 2011 films, so I wouldn't make an absolute Top 10 list, but here are 2011 features I got more from than The Artist, in alphabetical order: Albert Nobbs; Attack the Block; Beginners; A Dangerous Method; Incendies; In Darkness; Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Tree of Life; We Need to Talk About Kevin; Weekend -- and I'm probably forgetting a few. Oh, Hugo, which I actually wasn't very enthusiastic about, but definitely enjoyed more than The Artist. And Le Havre, which, again, I had problems with, but think is certainly more substantial than The Artist in lots of different ways.)
Ultimately, I'm with Jon at Films Worth Watching, who said, "its uniqueness, as I see it, is the fact that it’s a silent film in a non-silent era." His entire post is well worth reading. (And a commenter notes that the movie's charms are more apparent on a second viewing. Perhaps.)
In contrast to that negative opinion, there is the thoughtful, extremely positive view of the film offered by James Clark at Wonders in the Dark.
Richard Brody at The New Yorker has an interesting post on the Oscar contenders, with some insightful comments on The Artist.
Glenn Kenny and Glenn Whipp have a pro-and-con discussion of the movie at MSN.
Chuck Tryon's post at The Chutry Experiment on "Navigating Nostalgia" has some useful thoughts when considering why it is that Oscar voters so love movies like The Artist and Hugo.
Finally, don't forget that Oscar voters are primarily old, white, and male.