Better late than after the Oscars, right? The Artist finally hit Australian screens last Thursday, so 11 weekends into its U.S. run, I at last can add my two cents to the hundreds of shiny pennies that already have been tossed into the critical pool.
1. Was there a better-cast actor in 2011 than Jean Dujardin? He not only perfectly captures the carriage and mannerisms of a 1920s screen star, but his dark good looks actually seem to be straight out of the early part of the last century. Every time I see him on the red carpet or at award shows, I need to check my calendar to make sure it’s not circa 1930.
2. I’m still not sure how a (mostly) silent film gets a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod, but “Make way for the young” might be one of the most resonant movie lines in years. So declares Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) during an interview on the eve of the 1929 stock-market crash/fall of George Valentin (Dujardin). The movie’s turning point hinges on this bold statement, which is applicable not only to the film’s 1929 silent-to-talkies setting but to the chronological middle ages, too. As anyone who’s ever turned 40 knows, Hollywood celebrities aren’t the only ones who have to learn to adapt and reinvent when fresh meat arrives on the scene.
3. Is Peppy short for Penelope? It took me a minute to make the connection: Is Peppy Miller, the rising star played by Bejo, somehow related to Penelope Ann Miller, the actress who was almost famous in the ’90s and appears here as Valentin’s wife? It’s a pretty thankless role, but she does get one of the best unspoken lines. Too bad it comes when the actress is off screen, at the end of her character’s “Dear George” note.
4. Is James Cromwell 7 feet tall or what? The former best supporting Oscar nominee (for 1995’s Babe — did anyone else make the connection when Valentin jumped over that pig?) towers over Jean Dujardin, and in one scene his head practically touches the top of the doorway.
5. I must love dogs because this movie wouldn’t have been the same without Jack. I wonder how many takes it took for them to get the adorable Jack Russell terrier played by the adorable Jack Russell terrier Uggie to roll over and play dead on cue.
6. And the award for my favorite film of 2011 that I can enjoy as much as admire goes to… You know you are watching a near-perfect movie when A) you could you watch it all day on repeat, and B) you wouldn’t mind seeing the full-length versions of the movies within the movies.
7. In lieu of Tears of Love, I’d take The Lost Weekend. Director Michel Hazanavicius really nails the look and the feel of Hollywood’s silent era right up to the ’40s (though the film only goes up to the early ’30s). Dujardin’s later scenes, from when he drunkenly hallucinates in the bar on, remind me of The Lost Weekend, the 1945 portrait of an alcoholic for which Ray Milland won the Best Actor Oscar.
8. Speaking of the Best Actor Oscar, it might not be as much of a done deal as people might think. Even if he hadn’t won the Screen Actors Guild award, I’d say Jean Dujardin, ironically, playing a George Clooney-type star some 70 yeas B.C. (Before Clooney), might have a slight edge over Clooney and Brad Pitt. And I secretly want Berenice Bejo to pull the Oscar out from under Octavia Spencer, too, though that’s about as likely as a full-blown silent-movie revival!