Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

The Artist

A movie set in Hollywood's silent era that is virtually wordless: a gimmick? No: sustained cinematic inspiration. For our first No. 1 movie since 2007 that's not an animated feature (you could look it up), we choose this delightfully inventive comedy about a swashbuckling star (supreme Gallic charmer Jean Dujardin) and the peppy waif (Bérénice Bejo) he befriends. Historians of antique cinema will tell you to imagine that Douglas Fairbanks had John Gilbert's talkie troubles while Ginger Rogers was on the rise. We'll just say: Think Singin' in the Rain, but silent and in black-and-white, and reveling in the same fondness, acumen and effervescence. French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius transported the two stars of his OSS 117 films to Hollywood, hired American actors (James Cromwell, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller) in supporting roles, had the cast speak their dialogue (shown in intertitles) in English and somehow achieved the impossible balance of comic pastiche and earned emotion. There's also an adorable dog. Skeptical readers are welcome to discount the praise of old movie critics for a movie about old movies, but we see a treat in store for anyone open to sheer joy. Here's a film so seductive it could leave you...speechless.