This year’s two biggest standouts and award winners are “Hugo” and “The Artist.” Both films have a big thing in common. Besides being beautifully directed, artsy, and uplifting, “Hugo” and “The Artist” are an homage to classic cinema. The movies also both champion the preservation of film.
Martin Scorsese surprised many by directing a film that children could actually see. “Hugo,” set in Paris, is about a young boy who has lost his father. Hugo lives in a clock in a train station, where he must hide from gendarmes who would take him to an orphanage. His life changes when he finds the key to a robot that his father was trying to fix.
Scorsese’s Paris looks almost unreal in “Hugo.” The young actors are the real standouts in the film. Ben Kingsley, who plays an old movie director, is the only one miscast as his intensity weighs down an otherwise light film. The themes of finding one’s place or finding a home are sweet, but “Hugo” does not stay on one’s mind for long. I must admit that although the film has garnered the most Academy Award nominations this year it is not the most ground-breaking and it is easy to see what Scorsese’s aim was. Scorsese shows his love of cinema with a movie about movies which becomes obvious relatively early.
“The Artist” is a clever, black and white, silent film. Michel Hazanavicius uses the “silent” factor smartly, relying on the actors’ talent to convey emotion without using long and tiresome subtitles. In one of the awards shows a producer from “The Artist” said that Hazanavicius made a “love letter.” Indeed he did. Perhaps the “love letter” is to Hollywood, as “The Artist” was the only film nominated that was shot there.
Jean Dujardin plays a famous actor, George Valentin, who is at the top of his game in the realm of silent movies, until sound begins to make its way onto the screen. Berenice Bejo is an up and comer named Peppy Miller who is the next big thing when George loses everything. Jean Dujardin is simply wonderful, using his expressive, good-humored face to his advantage. He shines but also is able to deliver nuance in the smaller, quiet (no pun intended) scenes as well. Berenice Bejo, Hazanavicius’s wife, is old Hollywood beauty mixed with spirit. Bejo and Dujardin have a tangible connection on screen. Uggie the Jack Russell Terrier who plays George’s best friend, steals the spotlight.
“The Artist” seems like the type of film that would be a sleeper at most. Who would have thought that a silent film could fill theaters and even possibly win Best Picture? Dujardin might even run away with the Oscar for Best Actor. “The Artist” is the type of uplifting film that people seem to want to see presently and one of the strongest films overall this year.