The Artist: The silent film that's an Oscar frontrunner?

Critics promise that a black-and-white French silent film will either leave you speechless or singing its praises

The silent film "The Artist"
(Image credit: The Weinstein Company)

On the surface, The Artist might seem like a long-shot to pick up accolades as Hollywood's awards season looms. The film is silent. It's black and white. And it hails from France. Set in late-1920s Hollywood, the subtitled movie (watch trailer below) recounts the intertwined stories of a popular silent-film actor whose career collapses with the advent of sound, and a pretty young starlet whose career takes off along with the talkies. Yet despite The Artist's art-house trappings, critics are calling it an Oscar frontrunner with mass appeal. Really?

Yes. It's a superb film: The Artist is "one of the year's best," says Rex Reed at The New York Observer. It's sure to be a "smash hit." The performances are wonderfully charming, and "French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius (a name I cannot pronounce, much less spell) pulls out all the stops, embracing every trope of silent cinema with a crowd-pleasing resonance that is fresh and satisfying." Come awards season, don't be surprised if this foreign film takes home Hollywood's top trophies.

"The Artist. Black and white. French. Silent. What isn't there to like?"

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And it gets nearly everything right: "The Artist encapsulates everything we go to movies for: Action, laughs, tears, and a chance to get lost in another world," says Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. Jean Dujardin is "simply marvelous" as the lead, the cinematography is beautiful, and the score is "vivacious." "A Star is Born blended with Singin' in the Rain," it's a "unique and unforgettable" film that "just might leave you speechless." I can't see how Oscar voters could resist it.

"The Artist"

Well, not everything: "The Artist is disappointing [and] staid visually," says Jake Coyle at the Associated Press. It apes the style and production of the old silent films, but suffers from a shortage of visual flair. The script is "smart if predictable." Ultimately, it's the exquisite performances, especially Dujardin's charming and elegant turn, that make the film. It's not quite a masterpiece, but it's certainly an audacious, affecting ode to the beautiful, bygone era of silent cinema and a "favorite horse in the Oscar race."

"Review: An ode to silents, the mute Artist sings"

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