It took me long enough, but I finally got around to watching The Artist–this year’s winner of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and a whole slew of other awards. I’d intended to see it for a long time, but it didn’t all come together until this week.
It’s a fine movie. A good movie, even. Three stars out of four. Best picture of the year? Not in my book. Of the other nominees that I’ve seen so far, The Artist is beaten by Moneyball and The Help, and it’s slaughtered by Midnight in Paris. It might duke it out with War Horse some and eventually emerge victorious, but winning the whole thing?
It mainly doesn’t work for me at that level because the whole film feels like a gimmick. In Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie, that’s fine–because it is a gimmick. In this film? It felt like they were trying to make art with one arm tied behind their back. Put false constraints on themselves in some kind of “I wonder if we can make a great movie without sound” sort of way.
This is most noticeable in the first third of the movie. It took a long time for me to really fully engage with the characters, and by the time I started caring, they had a lot of ground to make up. Don’t get me wrong–it’s well acted, and for what it is, it’s certainly well directed. But if you take the gimmick away, you don’t have the level of movie that people were claiming this was.
You’ve got a three star movie. I don’t give bonus points for gimmicks, just like I wouldn’t expect someone to review one of my books higher because I successfully managed to avoid using the letter “v” for the entire novel. (The Artist wasn’t helped by the fact that it’s essentially going up against Singing in the Rain in terms of subject matter, and that movie just can’t be beat.)
Finally, I think what held the movie back from achieving its full potential was the fact that it never really knew what it wanted to be. It dabbled a bit in comedy, sauntered over to drama for a while, meandered into romance, and then drunkenly wove its way to a sort of bildungsroman fusion of I-don’t-know-what. Like the main character, you certainly couldn’t accuse the movie of not thinking too much of itself.
Did I enjoy it? Somewhat. It got better, like I said. But it wasn’t a wholly pleasurable experience, and so maybe me giving it three stars is already me giving it some bonus points for the gimmick. (Curses!) I found myself wanting to check my email several times in the film, and I wasn’t even expecting any important emails, if that says anything.
If you want to check the movie out for the gimmick, go for it. If you want to watch an awesome film, rewatch Midnight in Paris, instead.