The Artist is a gimmick. And I think it's going to win Best Picture, or rather, I should say that I hope it wins Best Picture, because if it is a gimmick (and it is) it is the most clever gimmick I've seen in years.
See, The Artist is a silent film. It's made in black and white and also in the old 1:37 aspect ratio. There is a gorgeous Old Hollywood score undergirding the whole thing (just like silent pictures of old) but we don't actually get to hear the actors (Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell) actually speak.
And it works. It works like gangbusters. Of course, silent movies worked too, and many of them still work, a fact to which anyone who has seen Sunrise or 7th Heaven or The Gold Rush can attest. The Artist is delightful: movie magic from start to finish, drawing particular attention to an aspect of the cinema that is not given a lot of attention on its own (think of how very much we always comment on camerawork, or editing, or acting, and how little on the audio in a movie!).
Ludovic Bource, who scored the film, has, as far as I can tell, never scored anything this enormous, but his music is great: instantly hummable, was nominated for a Golden Globe, and seems destined to be nominated for Best Original Score come January.
The acting in this movie is also wonderful. It is impossible not to fall in love with Dujardin and Bejo. They're simply the most lovable pair I can think of. Dujardin in particular has such a charismatic way about him that it is hard for me to imagine anyone else achieving anything anywhere near what he does in this role. I was in love with him within the film's first ten minutes. He's simply astounding.
The film is indebted, of course, to Singin' in the Rain – any film about the transition from silents to talkies is bound to be – and the plot is heavily dependent on the iconic plot of A Star Is Born, but none of that matters in The Artist. If it's derivative, it puts such an original twist on its source material that I didn't mind one bit. Instead, I went along for the ride, mesmerized by the audacious filmmaking, the sheer cleverness, and the sheer magic up on that screen.
(Just as a sidenote, I can't help but think of last year's silent film, The Illusionist, and how much I absolutely loved it. And, as you can probably tell, The Artist is also (as people are so fond of saying) a love letter to the movies, but Michel Hazanavicius's love letter is so much more interesting than Scorsese's. (I know, I know. I should leave Marty alone. I'll stop now.))