BOSTON (CBS) – I started yawning somewhat uncontrollably the year that “Chariots of Fire” took the gold. My interest continued to wane over time with Best Picture selections such as “The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “American Beauty,” (and dare I speak ill of the great one James Cameron) “Titanic.” I’m a movie lover who holds to the belief that 1939 and pretty much the decade of the 1970’s brought forth upon this land the finest films ever produced by the Hollywood factory with say “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stage Coach,” “The French Connection,” “Godfather I and II,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” et al…need I say more?
The Oscar race and the overdrawn ceremony have lost luster. The pomp and circumstance has long since given way to the pomposity and schlock. I began wincing thirty years back when millionaire actors suddenly couldn’t do something as simple as reading the damn cue cards, excruciatingly fumbling their way through shallow acceptance speeches. It seems that once David Niven headed to that Hollywood mansion in the sky, class and poise disappeared as well. The film industry’s actors, writers and directors started laying eggs, largely embarrassing ones, engaging in political diatribe or unfunny puerile jokes. I eventually turned to my trusty VCR and ultimately my DVD’s of classic films on Oscar night to lovingly relieve the pain.
But this Academy Awards season has been playing a tease, to the extent that I might just want to tune back in, at least periodically to catch highlights. The reason? Two simple words—-“The Artist.”
Perhaps you’ve caught the buzz. “The Artist” is the black and white SILENT film about the SILENT film era, written, directed and produced by a Frenchman, starring two endearing French actors with charisma reminiscent of Gable and Colbert, circa 1934. There is a healthy dose of Americana for us as well (John Goodman turns in his usual superb performance as the blustery studio chief). “The Artist” is an international hit. Critics are raving. And that’s what has had me chuckling from the get go. Those same critics who decry camp, demanding deep, thoughtful story and character development, who hate anything on film that even hints at sentimentality, those same celluloid mavens who abhor cliché anywhere they find it have taken the bait. Yes, those same critics, worldwide, have been sucker punched by this low budget little film in which nary a word is spoken. What a marvelous gag on all of the phonies in and around Hollywood.
“The Artist” is one of the most rehashed tales about the movie biz ever filmed. A popular silent actor’s fame fades as a young ingénue passes him on the way up. Tragedy nearly ensues, but love conquers all, the couple dance up a storm ala Astaire and Rogers and everyone lives happily ever after. (No spoiler here, you get exactly what you hoped for and don’t mind at all being “played.” I call that cinematic heaven). Also featured, the cutest, most intelligent spunky little dog since Benji took the country by storm. The pup in “The Artist” steals every scene he’s in and should win an award paws down if you ask me.
The film is totally predictable, derivative, schmaltzy and done with the kind of devotion that sparkles frame to frame. Each scene is homage to the Hollywood of old with outstanding attention paid to the musical score, costumes, sets and lighting. Hark, do I sense something profound? You bet and it is this. That sometimes the simplest of displays done right is THE most artistically satisfying. The number one reason “The Artist” is a fan and critic favorite. It’s good. It’s just plain good. It works. I didn’t want it to end and as soon as it did I wanted to watch it all over again. Which I did. How often does that happen? We know the answer.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of reading the predictable four-star reviews for the depressing foreign film of the week, while most of the rest of the movies appealing to flesh and blood audiences out looking for a few hours of entertainment are generally panned. Just ‘more of the same old thing.’ Sure, many of the movies in theaters right now are mediocre or worse. But there are some that audiences like despite what the experts say. “The Artist” features a ton of ‘the same old thing’ but it’s overflowing with heart, a love letter to the magic that is the movies. I might just tune in on Oscar night with the hope that this little silent movie sweeps the Academy Awards, leaving Scorsese, Pitt, Damon, Clooney, Streep, big Jim Cameron and the rest of the Hollywood crowd decked out in their finest totally speechless. Don’t you just love a happy ending?