Why THE ARTIST Should Win Best Picture

The Academy Awards are upon us. It is no surprise that in the run-up to the Oscar ceremony, numerous awards have coalesced around one movie, giving it ‘frontrunner status.’ This happens most every year. What is surprising this year, though, is the movie itself. It was filmed in black and white, not color. It’s a true silent movie with virtually no sound or dialogue, save a few key, clever moments. And the two main characters, George and Peppy, are played by actors heretofore unknown to 99.9% of Americans, those of us working in the movie business included. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Artist.

Also not a surprise is the backlash that has erupted against the movie. This happens to the frontrunner each year and it happens for a variety of reasons, from the desire to have a good horserace rather than an inevitable winner to the love for a personal favorite that has no chance in hell of winning (see Tree of Life fans). This year the backlash is intensified by the jealousy and resentment of Harvey Weinstein, a brilliant producer who was smart and passionate enough to snap up The Artist at Cannes while everyone else stood around praising a movie they didn’t have the balls to release. Go Harvey. (He’s a hero of mine, what can I say?)

While the backlash has revolved around a number of arguments, the possibility of Harvey releasing yet another Best Picture included, the main attack I keep hearing is “the movie is fluff. It isn’t about anything. Or, well, it’s about a rich actor who suddenly can’t find work. My heart is breaking.”

I’d like to take a two-pronged approach here: Bullshit. And so what.

Let’s start with the latter. Oscar history is strewn with Best Picture winners about something that are near impossible to watch. They won not because they were good movies, but because they were about something. Ok, fine. But they sure as hell don’t tell a good story, nor do they entertain. Telling an entertaining story, by which I mean holding someone’s attention in an engaging way, is ultimately what movies are about. Sure, if I learn something or am deeply moved while watching, wonderful. But ultimately a movie’s reason for being is to entertain. I’ve seen The Artist four times now and each time I’ve seen it, the audience has laughed, cheered and clapped their way through the movie, then literally danced out of the theatre, appropriate given the deliriously joyful way the movie ends. My Facebook post when I saw the movie the first time was ‘Pure. Unadulterated. Joy.’ I stand by that. When a movie is as joyous and wildly entertaining as The Artist, and is also incredibly well crafted on every level, that’s reason enough for me for it to win Best Picture.

But what about being ‘about something’?

Every person I know who has seen and loved the movie has repeated to me in their comments a variation on a theme. While certainly loving the movie for the experience it provided, each also said they found it relevant to their lives and the world today. It resonated deeply with them. When you talk to people who feel this way about The Artist, some universal emotions and themes emerge that the movie explores beautifully. The fear of losing your job and the problems that occur if you do lose your job. Not only your job but your place in society and your identity. The struggle to define or redefine yourself in a world that seems to be changing faster than is possible to keep up with. How to survive personal adversity and find a way to overcome emotional and circumstantial strife.

The Artist addresses all of this, at times in very dark, emotional fashion. The journey George takes in the movie is a journey all of us take at some point in our lives, if not repeatedly. And he survives. One of the supremely satisfying things about great movies is the chance to see characters we love triumph over adversity. The Artist allows us to experience this yet again and it does so while also veering brilliantly from the traditional Hollywood formula. Usually in such stories, a lead character like George, after a series of obstacles and revelations, pulls himself up from the gutter on his own strength and ingenuity. In The Artist, however, George is redeemed not through his own wiles but through the love of another… an extremely talented and successful woman, no less! (Hello, feminists?? Peppy is a remarkably strong female character. Smart, talented, able to stand up to a studio boss, capable of great emotion and love… she rocks.) Only by humbling himself, admitting his pride and accepting the love and care of Peppy is George able to come back from the brink and survive. This is pretty original in terms of classic Hollywood fare, which tends to celebrate the individual over community. It isn’t often that a Hollywood hero has to rely on others for help. Given the adversity many in our society are facing currently, The Artist not only entertains, it resonates.

Were there other great movies this year? Certainly. Two of the best movies of the year, Warrior and MI:4, were not even nominated. Moneyball is nominated, thankfully, and like The Artist, Moneyball is also one of the best crafted and most entertaining movies of the last few years. (That Bennet Miller’s direction is not being cheered to the sky is perhaps this year’s most egregious oversight.) But The Artist is the movie that should win. I haven’t even discussed how difficult it was to pull this off so effortlessly, and for a modern audience no less. And along with everything else, it celebrates the medium as well! The opening strains of Ludovic Bource’s brilliant score call to mind Franz Waxman and Sunset Blvd (click link below for one of the best CD’s you will ever purchase), and from that opening moment each successive shot or scene celebrates and references great movies of the past, reminding us of why we go to the movies, why we love the movies. This movie cheers, it entertains, it sweeps you off your feet with a wonderful romance, and, dammit, it instructs as well.  The Artist is magical in all the ways a movie should be. And for that alone it deserves Best Picture.

There are many great composers out there. We’ll debate many of them in upcoming posts. But Waxman is amazing. If you don’t have this CD, it’s incredible:

The Best Of Franz Waxman (CD on Amazon.com)

(click on comments section to leave a comment… would love to have you join the discussion!)

20 thoughts on “Why THE ARTIST Should Win Best Picture

  1. Your arguments and discussion are interesting and compelling but I just didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy it before it was nominated and even with a bunch of noms I’m not impressed to enjoy it now. It’s an interesting piece about film history and a great experiment in film making; but I really knew where it was headed and got tired of watching it – great performances and all.

    Both “Moneyball” and “Warrior” were better movies – but maybe not quite as cool as “The Artist” to the filmmaker crowd.

    1. Hey, Ken! There do seem to be a lot of people who did not enjoy it. Or thought it was bland or fluff. It really entranced me, obviously, much more so than Hugo, which I thought was beautifully done but very slow. With Hugo, I felt as you did with The Artist, I knew exactly where it was going to go and so I kept wanting it to hurry up and get there. I had no idea how The Artist would end or if it would even end well. It seems people tend to split over these two and like one over the other. (Not sure what you felt about Hugo). As you know I love Moneyball and Warrior. Warrior is such a great film. Thanks for checking out the site.

  2. Great points Tom! The Artist is really a different film in terms of style but also in narrative and theme as you said. It’s also different without being edgy and I think that in the past, edgy films have been nominated stood little chance to win. Oscar winners are usually the “safe bets”. Think about films like Crash or last year’s The King’s Speech. Speech beat out Black Swan and The Social Network and while all three were good, I don’t hear people talking about it at all anymore. Also it, to me anyway, has the least replay value of the three. I hope that the wind carrying The Artist will be more for the elements fo the film as you describe and not “oh that was a sweet nostalgic tale and peppy film to boot”. If that’s the case I could easily see The Artist and The Help (which was also very good and a bit ‘different’) going down to the wire.

    1. Good points yourself, Marc! I think this is a movie that will endure, though I know some people who just didn’t warm to it. I think it plays so well, it seems effortless, yet this was not an easy movie to make work. And they cleverly updated some things to enable it to play better to a modern audience. I think it was brilliantly crafted so for me it is not just the nostalgia aspect that makes it a good pick.

  3. I’m a movie lover since age 4, and I’m 58 now. I went to this movie with no particular expectations, other than the preview looked nostalgically “retro” b&W /silent film, then found so many, sometimes, oblique and loving references to classic movies (“Vertigo”?? “Singin In The Rain” “A Star Is Born” so many others), and old Hollywood lore (John Gilbert’s swift career decline with sound). Plus, as noted, it hits home about the temporal plane we all live in now – no job security, failing to adapt to new technology, etc. Of the films in the “best” category, this was by far my favorite. In fact, the one with Sandra Bullock was a real dog, but there you are.

  4. Tom,

    My wife Susan and I set aside 3 days very recently to see virtually every film we did not get screeners for this year, especially those I needed to vote on in the 2 Guilds of which I am a member. And what a blessing that was. There is still nothing like seeing a film, well made, on the big screen, as you or I (I can say that as we are both film directors) intended. The professionalism, craftsmanship and pride of workmanship stands out in almost no other (reduced) screen format. I cannot imagine watching “Drive” (not one of the films we went to this time around) on anything but a large screen, in the dark, wall to wall movie, with no distractions, sound blaring. Blaring in a good way.

    So when we sat down for “The Artist” I was only somewhat prejudiced, as I had seen the trailer maybe once or twice. And the trailer, for whatever reason, did not impress me at all. So I did not have high expectations for what I was about to see.

    What I did see blew me away. I fell in love with film again (not that I ever fell out of love with the medium). I fell in love with film history again. But most of all I fell in love with the two lead actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo and their performances. The film stayed with me for days. I haven’t seen it yet a second time. I am almost afraid to see it again. I don’t want the magic to leave.

    Now, a confession. I cheated on The Artist. I cheated on Director Michel Hazanavicius. When it came time to vote for Best Director with the DGA I voted with my head. For Martin Scorsese and his finely crafted Hugo. I knew that the Artist did not have everything that was fully representational of a classic silent film. I knew that it fell short in so many areas. I knew that it didn’t stand a chance. So I cheated on my true feelings and voted for Marty. And was I ever delighted to learn that my fellow voting DGA mates went with their hearts!

    1. Beautiful words, Michael. That’s how I felt as well, made me love movies yet again. I also agree about the big screen, though I’ve had some interesting debates with people about iPads and iPhones… Let’s drop movies on iPhones for the present (ugh) and use iPads… if we know people are going to be watching movies on their iPads, should we adapt our shooting style to it? The idea makes me cringe and yet I do want a movie I direct to be at least semi-accessible. It’s a tough decision.

    1. Here’s the thing… It IS just a straight-up re-hash of A Star is Born. The lead actor was GREAT. (Though Brad Pitt gets my vote and I am NOT a swooning Pitt fan). The gal was a little pat. The dog was great. The dog is prob 50% responsible for the accolades. People LOVE cute little dogs. It’s a clever homage/conceit and the fact that they pulled it off is commendable, but BEST PICTURE? The one you want to watch over and over and talk about scenes and moments? Masterful? Meh. It had pacing issues as well. How did they break NEW ground? By employing an old method of filmmaking how did they advance modern filmmaking? I don’t think they did. In the end it was just an ‘exercise’ with a cute dog. What gets my vote? Hugo. Another tribute to the silent era but even cleverer. Stylized as well. A wonderful STORY. STORY is important. Even more so when nobody is talking.

      1. The world definitely seems divided between fans of Hugo and The Artist. I thought Hugo was beautifully shot, but very slow, whereas The Artist was light on its feet. For me it broke new ground in that it took something from the past and reinvented it for a modern audience. I’ve seen it 5 times and will watch it again, I’ve learned something new each time. Hugo I’ll probably not watch again. But many people I respect, yourself included, share your view.

        1. But more people share YOUR view, because it’s going to WIN WIN WIN. Maybe if I’d had a cocktail before viewing! 😉 Hugo was a little slow at times AND long, but the payoff made up for it. I studied French Silent Film at UCLA so… it was kinda made for ME.

  5. Thank you for the Franz Waxman suggestion. The music is so critical to my film watching experience. I really like Jerry Goldsmith. I put “Sleeping with the Enemy” on over and over again just to hear “Morning on the Beach”, the haunting sounds of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”, and many others. I should probably give in and buy the soundtrack.

  6. I saw “The Artist” a few weeks ago and loved it. OK, so what if it isn’t a 100% accurate homage to the silent era, or that its story borrowed from “A Star Is Born” (which in turn borrowed from “What Price Hollywood?”) The film had plenty of heart, fine acting from the leads, a Jack Russell who will do more to advance that breed since Eddie from “Frasier” and a loving tribute to movie history.

    Incidentally, I like your blog quite a bit, and cordially invite you to check out mine, “Carole & Co.” (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com). And here’s what I wrote about “The Artist” earlier this month: http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/483696.html.

    1. hey! Thanks for the comment, I am glad you are enjoying it, many thanks. Your blog is terrific as well. I loved what you wrote, and also loved the link to the locations. I was so excited to see them all in the movie. The Bradbury bldg is so incredible in person. I go there occasionally just to sit in wonder.

  7. I strongly recommend all of the Gerhardt/National Philharmonic releases. Owning the entire collection is a good foundation for your soundtrack collection.

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