So this it, we’ve come full circle and apart from a little housekeeping in the final few posts we’re on to our last Best Picture winner. Five years ago when I started this blog, the first winner I watched was the very first Best Picture victor Wings. Some eighty-four years later, The Artist became the second silent film to win the award and it’s the film I’ve selected to end this portion of the blog.
Rather than just being a silent film, Michel Hazanavicius’ movie is a silent films about silent films. Jean Dujardin became the first Frenchman to win the Best Actor award for playing one of the biggest stars of the silent film era George Valentin. Ironically the film begins in 1927, the same year as the Oscars did, where Valentin finds himself loved by movie bosses and audiences alike. He also has a brief moment with the beautiful newcomer Peppy Miller who he advices to where a beauty spot to make herself distinctive. George’s advice works as soon Peppy rises up the credits list and becomes a star singing to the same studio as her idol. Unfortunately for George his star starts to decline as he refuses to succumb to the new trend of the talkies. George’s life only gets worse as his self-funded movie bombs whilst at the same time he loses everything due to the Wall Street Crash. He also almost dies in a fire and is only saved when his beloved dog Jack alerts a policeman to the ensuing blaze. The fire brings Peppy and George back together again as he learns that she brought all of his possessions when they were auctioned off and later she tries to get his career back on track. The final scene in which Peppy and George tap dance together intentionally evokes memories of Fred and Ginger, a very odd sight for me as Top Hat was the very first film I watched for this blog.
The first time I saw The Artist I really enjoyed it and found everything about it delightful from the performances down to the costumes. However, this time around I found myself being annoyed by certain things namely the fact that Peppy Miller winked so many times that I thought she would have some sort of seizure. It’s clear to see why the academy went crazy for The Artist as it includes many nods to the sort of films that the ageing members of the group would’ve remembered the first time around. To be fair to The Artist there are certain brilliant elements about it namely Ludovic Bource’s score which essentially has to anchor the narrative of the film due to there being almost no dialogue. Bource’s score perfectly conveys the emotions of each of the characters and even if you were just listening to the film you’d probably be able to guess what was going on. Dujardin’s lead turn is equally fantastic as he is able to make you care about a man who loses everything mainly due to his own pride. Even the gorgeous Berenice Bejo makes Peppy Miller likeable rather than irritating even though that constant blinking really got on my nerves. The fact that Dujardin and Bejo weren’t known outside of their native France aided the film’s success as they made the film more believable than a couple of recognisable movie stars would’ve done. The film does contain some recognisable faces in supporting roles namely John Goodman as the larger-than-life movie producer and James Cromwell as George’s loyal butler. Another cast member who garnered a lot of buzz during the film’s initial release was Uggie the dog whose performance as Jack was utterly charming.
I think it’s quite interesting that The Artist found success at the same Oscar ceremony as Hugo as both films praise the early cinematic era. Both films won five awards with The Artist finding more success in the lead categories, picking up awards for Dujardin and Hazanavicius as well as the big Best Picture prize. The success of both of these films beggars the question whether the Academy’s tastes have really altered in the eighty plus years since the ceremony originally began. It could certainly be suggested that the Academy has a love of the past as films set in days gone by often do better than those set in the present. But, judging by the eclectic mix of films nominated at the most recent ceremony it would seem that the Oscars are at least heading in a contemporary direction. To that point the next four posts will be ones that I wrote prior to this year’s ceremony in which I reviewed all eight movies that were in contention for Best Picture.