Silence is golden as The Artist charms the Oscars
By Andy Goldberg Feb 27, 2012, 9:55 GMT
French actor Jean Dujardin (R) holds the Oscar for \'Actor in a Leading Role\' for \'The Artist\' and US actress Meryl Streep (L) holds the Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role for \'The Iron Lady\'. EPA/PAUL BUCK
Los Angeles - The Artist was the toast of Hollywood as the jaunty tribute to the golden age of movies was named the year's best picture by a movie industry in the throes of its own crisis.
It was the first mostly silent movie to snag the top US film prize since the pre-talkies Wings won best picture at the very first Oscars in 1929.
The win also makes The Artist the first ever film to win both the best picture Oscar and France's Cesar Award for best film, as well as only the second movie to win both the Independent Spirit Award and the Oscar.
The movie tells the story of silent movie star George Valentin, who falls from celebrity to poverty when silent movies are replaced by talkies.
The only one of the nine best picture contenders filmed entirely in Los Angeles, this ode to the Hollywood of yesteryear was only made thanks to the gritty determination of its French creator, Michel Hazanavicius.
He struggled for years to raise money for the movie, at the same time as he studied the conventions of silent movie-making to rediscover the trick of communicating with audiences without the aid of spoken words.
The almost 7,000 members of the Academy obviously appreciated his efforts, as did the critics and industry pros who handed out a bevy of other prestigious prizes to the film during an award season in which it was recognized again and again and emerged as the top Oscar contender.
But audiences have not been convinced. While no-one expects blockbusters to win best picture Oscars anymore The Artist's box office receipts of 31.8 million dollars in the US are paltry even in comparison to other recent highbrow winners like last year's The King's Speech, which earned 135 million dollars, or 2008 winner Slumdog Millionaire.
That didn't matter to Oscar voters who, according to awards expert Steve Pond, had failed to be equally enchanted by any other contender. 'The Artist was named the Best Picture because it charmed Academy voters in a way nothing else did, because box-office figures no longer mean much to the Academy,' he commented.
Many criticize this as a reflection of the irrelevance of the Academy, and its overwhelmingly white, old and male members, to the general movie-going public.
But others see it as one of the last bastions of quality adult-oriented films in a movie landscape dominated by mindless, computer-generated action franchises. 'Oscar saves the day for grown-up movies,' critic Ann Hornaday wrote in the Washington Post.
The Artist's resonance has also been attributed to the fact that its portrayal of cinematic upheaval mirrors the technological innovations such as the internet, 3D and globalisation that are threatening the current way of doing things in Hollywood, where ticket sales seem to be in a permanent slump.
Perhaps that's the true allure of The Artist to Hollywood's insiders, hoping for their own happy ending.
After he is brought low by the changes in the industry, it seems Valentin can only be saved by the love of a good woman. But will he overcome his pride and learn the new skills required to survive in the world of new-fangled musicals?
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