Nothing heats up an Oscar race like an underdog for Best Picture. On the surface, The Artist limps out of the gate with a host of handicaps: It's a silent film (OMG, subtitles!) in black-and-white about Old Hollywood when talkies killed the silent-screen star. But it doesn't take this captivating and steadily surprising movie very long to tickle your funny bone, take a piece of your heart and pull you in deep.
The Artist is a total pleasure, written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius with a keen eye for detail. French actor Jean Dujardin, who collaborated with Hazanavicius on two OSS 117 spy satires, is simply marvelous as George Valentin, the dashing star of countless silent-movie epics. George resists the efforts of studio chief Al Zimmer (a wonderful John Goodman) to try talkies. Stuck in a loveless marriage, George is sparked by Peppy Miller (Argentine beauty Bérénice Bejo), a bit player who hits it big in the sound era while George's career crumbles. Dujardin's face is a resonant reflection of George's subtitled rage ("I'm the one people come to see. They never needed to hear me"). Only Clifton (the peerless James Cromwell), his driver, and the star's dog Uggy (a scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier) stick with George through his fall. It takes Peppy – Bejo is dazzling in every particular – to save the man she loves.
It's A Star Is Born blended with Singin' in the Rain, and yet somehow bracingly fresh. Credit the tantalizing magic of Hazanavicius, who only twice breaks the no-sound rule (I'll never tell) and creates something unique and unforgettable. Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman and with a vivacious score by Ludovic Bource, The Artist encapsulates everything we go to movies for: action, laughs, tears and a chance to get lost in another world. It just might leave you speechless. How can Oscar resist?