Silent movie making big noise in Oscars race

AFP, Sunday 4 Dec 2011

The award-winning homage to silent films The Artist is one of the leading Oscars hopefuls

The Artist

The Artist, a black-and-white homage to the era of silent movies, has a growing number of film insiders talking in Hollywood, where it is increasingly tipped as a leading Oscars hopeful.

The movie by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius won best film and best director this week by the New York Film Critics Circle, lending weight to its hopes for the Academy Awards. On the same day it secured a best picture nomination for the Independent Spirit Awards, another key pointer to who will vie for a golden statuette at the climax of Hollywood's just-started awards season, in February.

Distributed by The Weinberg Company -- a veteran Oscar-backer which produced last year's Best Film The King's Speech -- it tells the story of silent film star George Valentin whose career is torpedoed by the arrival of the "talkies."

As his fortunes plummet, a young dancer and actress who initially idolizes him -- Peppy Miller, who catches his eye, and heart -- is on her way up to Hollywood stardom in the new movies-with-sound era.

Without spoiling the plot, the climax brings the pair back together in a dramatic and touching finale. Shot in black and white with a remarkable attention to period detail and dance routines recalling the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the movie has won critics' praise on both sides of the Atlantic.

Actor Jean Dujardin, who plays Valentin, won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and the movie has won a series of other awards in Europe and the United States, before it opened in US cinemas on November 23.

The San Francisco Chronicle called the film "a profound achievement," in a review published Thursday. "A silent movie -- or rather, a sound film with a music soundtrack -- it evinces such mastery of form that it could easily be mistaken for a real classic," it said.

More recently the movie's director and key cast came to Los Angeles to present it at the American Film Institute (AFI) festival, staying long enough in Hollywood to leave few doubts about their Oscars campaign hopes.

Hazanavicius said that, while silent films were made by many countries in the 1920s including Russia, Germany and France, he decided to pay homage to US movies of the era because "they took most care" in telling stories. "Feelings described in the masterpieces of that era are human, based on real emotions, and that is what I was looking for," he said.

Dujardin, speaking after the screening at the historic Graumann's Chinese Theatre, said he was inspired by Hollywood icons led by Douglas Fairbanks, "but also Gene Kelly, for the smile and energy, or Clark Gable... for the moustache."

Not content with eyeing prizes for best film, picture and actor, another co-star in the movie -- a dog called Uggie -- is also being touted for an award. The terrier, Valentin's constant companion throughout the film's emotional roller-coaster ride, already scooped an unofficial award, the Palm Dog, in Cannes. Film website Movieline this week launched a "Consider Uggie" campaign for the pooch to win more gongs.

"That he and his trainers have yet to receive so much as an honorary nod beyond the Palm Dog prize praising the year’s most noteworthy Cannes-ine (ahem) performance is an oversight worth correcting," it wrote.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will announce Oscar nominees on January 24, while the winners will be announced at the annual Hollywood awards season-closing extravaganza on February 26.

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