As if there were any question following the releases of Midnight in Paris and Hugo earlier in the year, The Artist cast into stone 2011's status as the Official Year of Post-Great War Nostalgia in Cinema. Sharing a common interest more specifically with Hugo, The Artist pays homage to the bygone Silent Era, choosing to show it at its winding down as cinema transitioned to talkies leaving many of its silent idols in its dust.
What really breathes life into this film, though--what really infuses it with verve--is the chemistry between its leads: Jean Dujardin playing George Valentin, the established star of silent films, and Bérénice Bejo playing Peppy Miller, the ingenue trying to break into the trade. With George taking an interest in Peppy following their cute public meeting following the opening of his film A Russian Affair, he serves as a mentor of sorts, using his sway to help get her career kickstarted. They play fantastically off one another, and each lights up the screen whenever they're on it.
Then there are the technical steps that Hazanavicius & Co. took to make The Artist as reminiscent of its forebears as possible. Between attempting to emulate the speed of old films by shooting at a slightly slower exposure rate of 22 fps and fine-tuning all the camera moves, lighting, and lenses to achieve an authentic look and feel, they took painstaking care to have The Artist be true to form.
Really, The Artist is very good. It's when the label great gets bandied about that reticence creeps in. By and large, the thing that keeps George from moving into the talkie era is his foolish pride. Hell, it's really the only thing keeping him from being happy, and it does become a hurdle for the viewer to have to jump to continue to buy into the film. It's a small but not insignificant thing and does take away a bit from the overall film. Luckily there's plenty to love; and while it certainly is not the best film of the year (the year being last year, of course), its inclusion amongst the Best Picture nominees is absolutely warranted.