For Your Consideration: The Artist Is More Than Just A Simple Crowdpleaser
Every weekday from now until the Oscar ceremony we'll be running a For Your Consideration piece on behalf of every Best Picture nominee, arguing why it deserves its nomination or even a win, arguing why it's important, or even pointing out why it doesn't belong at the Oscars at all. Here is Kristy with a personal argument on behalf of The Artist.
With plenty of critical love and an impressive 10 Oscar nominations, The Artist is easily one of the frontrunners for the Academy Award's Best Picture. Of course, with so much widespread praise, the recent backlash was inevitable. The Artist's detractors have accused this winsome crowd-pleaser of being Oscar-bait that willfully appeals to Hollywood's own ego and love of Golden Age nostalgia. However, there's something sinister and wrongheaded about this assertion, and that's what I'd like to discuss.
Now, nostalgia is a word that is thrown around pretty loosely when discussing films, and like "ironic" its actual meaning had become generally distorted. Literally nostalgia means a wistful or sentimental longing for a bygone age. There must be a sense of sadness about this longing that paints its subject in an idealized glow, or else it's not nostalgia. Of course, critics also bend the definition of "nostalgic" as a code word that essentially accuses a movie of cheating by appealing to an audience's already established love of something. For instance, many of us recently called Super 8 nostalgic, implying it plays upon modern movie audiences' urge to revisit the Amblin movies of their youth as a means to draw them in to a sentimental monster movie. And this appears to be how The Artist's disparagers are using the word, though some have said worse.
While The Artist is set in Hollywood's Golden Age and certainly revels in allusions to some of the era's masterworks, it hardly paints a glossy picture of its setting. Instead, Hollywood is portrayed as a fickle community that will celebrate its stars one moment and leave them in the gutter the next. It's shown as a place obsessed with the next big thing and lacking in loyalty. The feature is nowhere near the lacquered love letter to filmmaking and cinema that is Martin Scorsese'sHugo, where he rewrites the tragic tale of Georges Méliès and goes far beyond allusions by actually including Méliès' own films in his own. Alternately, The Artist's allusions—which for many classic cinema devotees are a joy to pick out—only serve to enhance the viewing experience. Basically, even if you've never seen Singin' In the Rain or Citizen Kane--arguably the film's biggest influences—you'll have no trouble following The Artist's story. Conversely, fellow Best Picture contender Midnight in Paris offers up array of allusions to life and work of 1920s art scene celebrities, from the Fitzgeralds and Ernest Hemingway to Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. But if you are one who is unfamiliar with the details of these figures' private lives or their work in particular, the film itself would be hard to follow. (Basically it's little wonder Anthony Bourdain accused it of being "elitist.")
Finally, some have attacked The Artist's leading man, the undeniably charismatic Jean Dujardin, claiming his performance is one giant allusion to such famously enchanting Hollywood legends as Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly. Dujardin himself admits they were an inspiration, and while what he crafts is certainly reminiscent of Fairbank's debonair and Kelly's exuberance, it is still a mean feat to pull off that level of charm and poise. And why hate on Dujardin but hold up Michelle Williams for her far more direct personification of a Hollywood icon in My Week With Marilyn? I'll tell you why—because The Artist is just too damn likable.
See, another crafty coded word that critics use is "crowd-pleaser." Sometimes this term is used as to imply that the movie being discussed offers nothing new or challenging to the audience, pleasing them by pursuing the lowest common denominator. Now I could get high-handed and point out that even Shakespeare used dog tricks and physical comedy, to attract this so-called lowest common denominator, but instead I'd like to point out why this application of "crowd-pleaser" is absurd in conjunction with The Artist. Simply put: it's a black and white, silent movie, that has no American A-listers to draw it notice. In fact, the only Stateside stars are relegated to bit parts that are technically under-fives! Instead its leading man is a French comic few Stateside have ever heard of before, and its leading lady's most memorable English-speaking role was as a lady-in-waiting in the anachronistic adventure A Knight's Tale!
At the beginning of awards season, The Artist seemed an underdog on all fronts. Yet because of its masterful visual storytelling and wonderfully charismatic cast, it proved to captivate audiences without the cinematic innovations we now not only take for granted but often require. Ultimately, The Artist made us remember why the movies are glorious and have been since their earliest incarnation. It's not because they are made for everyone, it's because of their capability to speak to anyone.
For more arguments for and against this year's Oscar nominees, go right HERE.
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